Taking the train
I am starting this blog somewhere between Bath Spa and Chippenham, on the 5.30 a.m. train from Bristol. I was giving a seminar there last night (trying to offer a rather different take on the Roman Triumph and Mantegna’s Trionfi) and I have to be back in Cambridge for that 10 o’clock first year lecture again. I haven’t done a precautionary video this time. But why I should imagine that a train is more likely to get me back on time than an airplane? Hence, in part, the very early start.
Actually it isn’t the pre-dawn rise that has given me the biggest shock. It’s the price of the ticket. Because I need to leave Bristol at a peak period (well, there’s only one other person in the carriage so far – hence I’ve got the laptop out), it tots up to an extraordinary £158. That would have got me to Istanbul and back on a with-frills airplane. And as people have pointed out, when you take the overnight hotel accommodation into account, it would have been a lot cheaper to send a taxi from Cambridge to pick me up from the post-seminar dinner. I then could have had a lie-in till at least 7.
Anyway I vowed to myself when I started this blog that I wasn’t going to use it to rant about the trains (not even the appalling state of the lavatories on the service from Cambridge to London, which would shame the thirdest of third-world countries). And the reason for getting my lap-top out is to return briefly to the television and the ancient world (apologies to those of you who have had enough of this topic; I’ll try not to let it happen again).
There is a really dreadful new archaeological series that I must alert you to.
It’s called Codex, a quiz game set in the British Museum (after dark) and hosted by Tony Robinson (of Time Team and Blackadder). As the title hints, it’s a riff on the Da Vinci Code and features a group of contestants answering questions about various museum objects in order to get clues to solve a code which give the winner a free holiday.
The first episode went out on Channel 4 last Sunday at 6.45 (with questions on Mesopotamia). And I’ve been lucky enough (?) to see a preview of the second episode (on Imperial Rome) which is to come this Sunday.
As a quiz game, it rates pretty low. The contestants look vaguely reminiscent of Big Brother inmates and have obviously been told to smile all the time and to look very interested indeed in Robinson’s banal history lessons. Frankly, you end up not giving a toss which one of them wins the holiday, so it doesn’t have you at the edge of your seat.
As history, it misses almost every trick. I think the idea is that by giving the contestants and viewers a glimpse of some of the more intriguing little “treasures’ in the Museum (yes, everything is a “treasure’), they will be encouraged to find out more – and maybe even visit the Museum “in real life”. I can’t imagine that it will work. The information is all reasonably accurate (though pedants will see that in the next episode they have confused two different temples of “Mars Ultor”, imagining that a coin image shows the large temple from the Forum of Augustus, which it doesn't!). It is just plain dull.
The level is close to those awful “work-sheets on clip-boards” that kids get given when they go to museums supposedly to keep them occupied (“What is Medusa’s hair made of? Grass? A wig? Snakes?”). And just as things might get interesting we are on to the next object. If you wondered exactly why that head band on the cameo of Augustus was “not original”, tough. And no one pointed out the many of the wonderful Mesopotamian “treasures” came from what is currently our war zone.
Kirsty Lang on Front Row thought that, with a broadcast time of 6.45 it was aimed at kids plus families, and that it might work for that audience. I would have thought that most kids would have felt that they have done this kind of mind-numbing stuff far too often before.
I felt that it was a sad wasted opportunity. Give most of us free run of the BM at night and a camera crew – and we would do better than this!
. . . And now we are nearly in Reading and the train is, to be fair, getting full.