Eccentric England: The Headington Shark

Headington Shark
Henry Flower

Once again, I’m back in Oxford for my annual summer working holiday. I love this place. This quintessentially English city offers beautiful colleges, the world’s coolest museum, even the chance to bump into the Queen.

But all this pales in comparison to the sight of a giant shark crashing into a roof.

The Oxford suburb of Headington is a bit dull, so local resident Bill Heine at 2 New High Street decided to commission sculptor John Buckley to create a 25-foot shark to adorn his roof. It was put up on August 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. As Heine explained, “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation … It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”

The clipboard Nazis in the local council were not amused. They tried to have it removed as a pubic hazard. When their engineer said it was perfectly safe, they tried various other excuses. Much legal wrangling ensued.

Decades later, the naysayers are all gone and the shark is still there. It’s a much-loved local landmark, a modern folly. I see it every time I come in on the bus from London and enjoy pointing it out to newcomers. There’s even a Headington Shark Appreciation Society on Facebook with more than a thousand members. So if you’re coming to Oxford, pop on over and see the Headington Shark.

Iconic London Skate Park May Be Turned Into Chain Of Shops


A famous skate park on the South Bank of London may be turned into yet another stretch of retail sameness.

Underneath the Southbank Centre, which is home to several performing arts centers, is a covered area that looks like a cross between a cellar and an overly graffittied parking lot. It’s been a meeting ground for skateboarders for 40 years. Every day you can see them doing tricks on the concrete ramps and benches while tourists and locals stop to watch and take photos.

Now the Southbank Centre wants to use the skate park as retail space to fund its new Festival Wing. It’s offered to turn an area under a nearby bridge over to the skateboarders, but the local skateboarding community has rejected this, saying the new place wouldn’t have the same history or sense of tradition. They’ve started the Long Live Southbank movement and launched an online petition to save the skate park that’s garnered more than 38,000 signatures. They’ve also filed a request to the government to make it a protected community space.

While I’m not a skateboarder and am only in London part of the year, I’d be sad to see this place go. I’ve always enjoyed strolling along the South Bank. There’s an open, lively feel to it that you don’t get in most parts of the city, and the skate park is a big part of that. I always stop to watch the skateboarders do their thing. It’s obvious that this place is important to them in a way that it isn’t to me, and I don’t want their community to lose it.

Archaeologists Digging At Lincoln Castle Uncover Early Christian Community

Lincolnshire County Council

Archaeologists excavating at Lincoln Castle have discovered the remains of an early Christian community, according to a Lincolnshire County Council press release.

The team, which was digging inside the castle to clear the way for an elevator shaft, found the remains of a church that dates back at least 1,000 years. Inside a sealed niche in the wall they found human bones. They had been wrapped in finely woven cloth and while the cloth has long since disappeared, it left its impression on the surrounding mortar. Excavators theorize that these may be the remains of a holy person, as it was common to put relics in church walls and altars in order to make them holy.

An even older find included several skeletons and a stone sarcophagus. The archaeological team is planning to put an endoscopic camera into the coffin to see what’s inside without disturbing it.

%Gallery-188672%Both the cemetery and church date to the Anglo-Saxon period, when England was a patchwork of different kingdoms before the Norman conquest. Lincoln had been a walled Roman town. The Romans left Britain in the early fifth century and were soon replaced by Anglo-Saxons coming from Denmark and northern Germany. They took up residence in Lincoln and many other Roman towns.

The present castle was built by the Normans in 1068 on the foundations of a Roman fort. William the Conqueror, after defeating the English King Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066, built this castle to control the important town of Lincoln and its surrounding area. While the castle has been modified over the centuries, it’s still one of the best-preserved Norman castles anywhere.

The typical Norman castle has a tower on an artificial mound at the center and with a wall encircling it. Lincoln Castle has two mounds, each with its own fortification and a long wall encircling them both. This tough fortification was besieged twice. The second time, in 1216, was during the Baron’s War, which led King John into making concessions to the nobility in the form of the famous Magna Carta. One of the original copies is on display here.

Back in 2010, an earlier excavation uncovered a secret tunnel at Lincoln castle. Excavations continue at in the castle grounds.

If you visit the castle, also check nearby Lincoln Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic building from the 11th century.

In Fine Style: The Art Of Tudor And Stuart Fashion Opens At The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Tudor
The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, London, is putting on a fashion show, although the fashions are more than 400 years out of date.

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion” examines the luxurious clothing and jewelry worn by British monarchs and members of their court. It focuses on the two dynasties of the 16th and 17th centuries with everything from ornamental armor for a teenaged Prince of Wales to a bejeweled case for storing the black fabric patches that Queen Mary II stuck on her face to emphasize the whiteness of her skin.

Many of the items are on display for the first time, such as a diamond signet ring given by King Charles I to his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, in 1628. It bears her cypher and the royal coat of arms. Another never-before-seen piece is a pendant of gold, rubies and diamond with a miniature portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. There are also some elegant articles of clothing like a pair of lacework gloves.

Of course, most costumes and jewelry from this period have disappeared, no matter how important their owners. To augment the exhibition there are more than 60 portraits showing royalty and nobility wearing their finest, including a startling portrait of a Duchess dressed as a man.

“In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion” runs until October 6. If you make it to London before July 14, you might also want to see Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsarsat the Victoria & Albert.

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The Day I Was Mistaken For A Terrorist

For some reason, people sometimes mistake me for a terrorist. Once I got interrogated by an air marshal for merely looking out a window, and the following year in London I totally freaked out several people on a bus.

The second incident was, I suppose, partially my fault. I boarded a city bus with a large suitcase, which I put on the luggage rack. Since the rack was right next to the door, I moved a little away from it so I wouldn’t be in the way.

For a couple of minutes I stood there, keeping an eye on my bag and not listening to the buzz of voices around me. One conversation, however, began to get my attention.

“I just don’t think it looks right,” a worried woman’s voice said.

“Well, then mention it to the driver,” a man said.

“I don’t want to make a fuss,” the woman replied.

“Look, you’re worried about it just sitting there. You don’t see the owner. So go up to the driver and mention it,” the man said. He didn’t sound worried himself. Instead he sounded a bit condescending.

I turned to them.”Are you talking about my bag?” I asked.

A wave of relief washed over the woman’s face.

“Yes!” she cried. “I didn’t see you put it down and nobody was standing around it, and I got very worried.”

“Don’t worry, no bomb in it, just a bunch of dirty clothes,” I said. Then I turned to the man next to her. “But you didn’t seem worried.”

He shrugged. “Nobody would need a bag that big to blow up a bus.”

I laughed. “Well maybe I’m a really inefficient bomber and I don’t know how to mix explosives correctly.”

“Oh no,” he dismissed that idea. “That is a huge bag. If it was filled with explosives you could barely lift it.”

I studied them for a moment and said, “So how do you know I’m really not a terrorist? All you have is my word.”

They looked back at me – middle-aged, middle-class, white me. The woman suddenly looked embarrassed. The man looked defiant.

“You don’t fit the profile,” he said.

“Remember Timothy McVeigh?” I asked.

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “The right wing loons in your country rarely do such things. Most terrorists look nothing like you.”

I smiled at him. “Who’s to say I’m not a right-wing loon?”

“WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP THIS CONVERSATION?!!!” A woman squawked from a few rows back.

“Sorry ma’am. This was all hypothetical,” I said.

She immediately looked relieved, just like the first woman. All it took was a reassuring word from a complete stranger – a light-skinned, well-spoken stranger.

She, too, had missed the point.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]