The British Museum is one of the world’s few encyclopaedic museums: it tells the story of how civilisation was built; it boasts seven million visitors a year and is committed to free entry; it holds a unique place of authority in the nation’s – perhaps the world’s – consciousness. A few days ago I resigned from its Board of Trustees.
My resignation was not in protest at a single issue; it was a cumulative response to the museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency: the young and the less privileged.
The seven-year trial of Warren Hastings for high crimes and misdemeanours while governor-general of Bengal began in 1788. 'There have been spectacles more dazzling to the eye,' Macaulay wrote in 1841, more gorgeous with jewellery and cloth of gold, more attractive to grown-up children, than that which was then exhibited at Westminster; but, perhaps, there never was a spectacle so well calculated to strike a highly cultivated, a reflecting, and imaginative mind...
When George Clooney and his friends got special leave to be photographed in front of Leonardo's Last Supper the Italian newspapers couldn't resist pointing out that the last man to have that privilege was Silvio Berlusconi. And when he said off-the-cuff in Berlin that it would be very nice if the Parthenon frieze that Lord Elgin brought to London 200 years ago were returned to Greece, Clooney didn't help his case by confirming his view to the press in London but calling them the 'Pantheon' marbles.
As the first signs of autumn began to appear last week I went horseriding with my sister in Trent Park, just north of London. It's mostly woodland, and for a lot of the time you can go without hearing or seeing another person, or car or any sign of modernity, even though it’s only a couple of miles from the M25. When you’re alone you can ride as fast as you like, which is to say as fast as you can, feeling the earth kicked up behind you, the forest a blur, the burn of little branches whipping you in the face. The horses we ride are only stable cobs, but the fantasy horse is always an Arabian.