Back to Bush House on Friday afternoon, for a tour round the building where I spent the greater part of my working life. The BBC moved out two-and-a-half years ago. And the developers, making the building ready for prestige office suites, have done a spectacular job.
The exterior and indeed much of the interior - the marble walls and floors, the staircases, most of the doors and windows, even the antiquated internal post system - is listed. It can't be touched. The work has been respectful of the original design. And with all the interior office divides, the narrow corridors and rickety walls, swept away, Bush looks a lot more splendid now than when the BBC was there.
I thought it would be sad to see the place so changed - in fact it was uplifting. I hope the new tenants, whoever they should be, enjoy this wonderful building and location.
And by the way, yes the developers did uncover a decent size swimming pool - with some water in it still, we were told - where it was reputed to be, under the cavernous drama studio in the basement of south-east wing.
And we had the rare privilege of getting out onto the eighth floor terrace - where the old Outlook office used to be - with its majestic views of central London. Just see!
A first visit to Pondicherry this Christmas time - the former French coastal enclave a few hours drive south of Chennai, which still seeks to preserve a touch of the Gallic.
In the centre of town, there is a smattering of French colonial architecture, both public and residential - and along with the street signs, the police uniforms, and the ubiquitous French tourists, it has a hint of the Mediterranean about it.
There's an imposing French church just off the sea front - a French war memorial, a tribute to the dead of the First World War - and until a few weeks ago a 'Hotel de Ville', a grand building facing the sea which collapsed at the end of November in heavy rains and is so badly damaged it's difficult to see how this Mairie will be rebuilt.
Much of the town centre is given over to the Sri Aurobindo ashram and associated buildings, and just outside Pondi is Auroville, an international new age settlement, the point of which escapes me.
More enthralling, to my mind and in the view of most of the locals, is the Bay of Bengal, and the fine sea front embankment which is a great promenading stretch - and with an outdoor cafe to add to the merriment. There's no beach here, alas, but the sea has a certain majesty.
For an atheist, it is remarkable how I am repeatedly drawn to the beauty of places of worship - and their importance in affirming identity, and in mapping the tides that have shaped our communities and our world.
Two weeks ago exactly I was in Chennai (once known as Madras) in southern India, and made a point of seeking out the Armenian church there. I am glad I did. In a quiet street (still signed as Armenian Street) just north of Fort St George - the heart of colonial and current governance of this part of India - is a doorway into a calm and secluded space, the ancient and graceful Armenian church and adjoining bell tower, well maintained and in impressively spacious grounds.
The Armenians - most from Isfahan in current-day Iran - were once important traders and financiers across coastal south and south-east Asia. Madras was one of the oldest colonial-era ports and urban centres. There are Armenian churches where I have attended services in Calcutta and Rangoon - churches I have still to visit in Mumbai and Dhaka - and not simply churches but active Armenian communities in such cities as Bangkok and Singapore.
Trevor Alexander - it's him in the photo above - looks after the church, and lives on the premises. He's not an Armenian, but an Anglo-Indian and worships with his family at a Catholic church. 'The last Armenian left Chennai ten years ago', he tells me, adding pointedly - 'and he was only one per cent Armenian'.
Almost all of India's Armenians have emigrated, many to Australia. Only Calcutta has the remnants of an Armenian community - including an Armenian College, an old people's home and three churches (all this for a community of, however generously defined, no more than a few dozen).
The splendour of the church and its setting is a powerful statement of how important the Armenian community - probably never more than a few hundred families - was to the commercial life of India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Trevor Alexander told me that the Chennai church is now overseen by the community in Calcutta. There's only one service a year - when a priest and a group of elderly Armenians make the journey across from Calcutta.
A really wonderful and exciting acquisition, a bound volume of 'The Working Man' for 1862-63, one of the most notable and radical political papers in the fairly bleak period between the decline of Chartism and the upsurge in radicalism prompted by the Reform League in the mid-1860s and then the example of the Paris Commune.
'The Working Man' was socialist and internationalist, and bears the imprint of the followers of Bronterre O'Brien - about whom we have written before (he died in 1864 and is buried in Abney Park in Stoke Newington).
And this particular book is very special - it was the personal copy of George E. Harris, the secretary of the group of working class radicals who published the monthly paper. His signature is on the front end paper (you can see that below, the ink is faint but it reads 'Geo E. Harris / 1862') - and he has annotated some of the pages.
Harris was a bookseller with premises off Edgware Road, and a key figure in London ultra-radicalism: a socialist, O'Brienite, internationalist, individualist and one of a group of O'Brien-influenced radicals who later worked alongside Karl Marx in the International Working Men's Association (the First International), both delighting Marx by their class-based militancy and infuriating him by what he regarded as their 'crotchets' and eccentricities.
Alongside Harris in the committee which published 'The Working Man' were Ambrose Caston Cuddon, an important if somewhat obscure libertarian leftist, and Charles Murray, a key lieutenant of O'Brien whose political career stretched from Chartism to the Social Democratic Federation of the 1880s.
'The Working Man' made a particular fuss about the visit to London of the revolutionary and anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, 'Brother Bakunin', who was to be Marx's great rival in the First International.
At a few places, Harris has added his initials in the margins, indicating that at an anonymous letter or article was his handiwork - here's an example, a letter in response to criticism of Bakunin.
The volume includes eleven monthly issues for 1862, January to November (alas, missing a few pages, apparently a collation error) - and added in is a poorly printed issue for May 1863. This seems to be the complete run of this series of 'The Working Man'. The title reappeared, much in the same spirit, in 1866-7. A gem!
In this over hasty publication, Harry Pollitt, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain asserted:
We support with all our strength Comrade Stalin and his comrades in the gigantic task to which they have put their hand and in which they have such magnificent achievements.
Trotskyism is terrorism. Trotskyism is anti-working class. Trotskyism is a foul conspiracy against the interests of all who want to ensure the preservation of democracy, peace and Socialism.
The Moscow trial will serve to strengthen a world-wide fight against Trotskyism. In its handling of this cancer within the Labour Movement the Soviet Union has justly earned the support of the best people in the world.
Not to be outdone, the party ideologue, Rajani Palme Dutt, declared: Trotskyism represents the spearhead of Fascism in the Labour movement.
The most wonderful inscription I have ever come across. This is a legacy of the Indian rebellion of 1857 - what was once described as the Indian Mutiny, and on occasions is now referred to (equally misleadingly) as the first Indian war of independence. You can find it on an old British Magazine, an arms depot, on a small traffic island in old Delhi. It's near Kashmere Gate, and just a few minutes rather treacherous walk from St James's church, which bears so many remembrances and marks of 1857.
The plaque is a counterblast to a tablet erected by the Imperial authorities in tribute to British soldiers who died at the spot during fierce fighting here in the heart of colonial Delhi...
It's difficult to read the initial plaque - but this in part is what it says:
On 11th May 1857, nine resolute Englishmen ... defended the Magazine of Delhi for more than four hours against large numbers of the rebels and mutineers until the walls being scaled and all hope of succour gone these brave men fired the Magazine - five of the gallant band perished in the explosion which at the same time destroyed many of the enemy.
What's truly marvellous is that after independence, the Indian authorities didn't remove or efface the relic of Imperial valour and attitude. The original was left in tact - and a counterblast, again in tablet form, installed just beneath. Would that all rival versions of history are expressed with such tolerance.
The Magazine itself, small and architecturally undistinguished, has been restored after a fashion, but remains dilapidated - and in the middle of a really busy road. It's difficult to access and distinctly hazardous to photograph (you can see my look-out and safety adviser above, we were there late last month). It is though quite the most remarkable physical embodiment of sharply conflicting historical narratives.
Remarkably, not far from the Magazine there are to this day businesses dealing in arms and ammunition.
I mentioned St James's - beautiful, serene and in every sense historic, with some very telling and elegiac 'Mutiny' memorials. See for yourself:
While in Lucknow at the end of last month, I called on Ram Advani, who has been selling books on Hazratganj for sixty years or more. Ram himself is now 95 - and still spends six hours or so a day at the shop, and still plays a few holes of golf.
I can't say how greatly I admire Ram, and I'm very proud to call him a friend. It's more than twenty years since I first visited his excellent shop - and came away with a gift from Ram, Attia Hossain's Lucknow novel, Sunlight on a Broken Column.
This visit was my daughter's first to Ram Advani, Booksellers (she took the photo). And she too has been blessed by Ram's generous spirit - she now has a wonderful photographic record of Hazratganj, including recollections by Ram and others.
In these troubled times, there is something hugely reassuring about the enduring presence of such intellectual landmarks as Ram Advani's bookshop.
I regard the hoopoe almost as a talisman - so it's great to have such a wonderful photo of this entrancing bird, by far the best I've ever taken, as this site's first post of the New Year.
I came across this hoopoe in the grounds of Humayun's Tomb in Delhi at Christmas time. The bird is not too hard to find in northern India, if you know where to look. I've seen hoopoes in the past in Kashmir and Agra as well as Delhi, and this last summer I was really chuffed to come across hoopoes in Tuscany. I've never seen one in the UK, where it is a rare and very occasional visitor. Perhaps one day.
Having said all that, this was the only hoopoe I came across in more than two weeks in India over Christmas and New Year. It's thrilling to see - and I would have felt cheated if I had been to India and not seen one.
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