I can't deny I was excited. I went to chapel this afternoon. Nothing hugely unusual in that - but this was the first visit for me into the chapel in my new town. Peeking through the gates and railings it had all the hallmarks of charm and history that I like, so I was a tad excited.
Now this is a new town for my husband and I. Neither of us know Chesterfield, never lived there before, but are learning fast and enthusiastically. When we looked at towns to move to (criteria: not a city and not a village) husband had very kindly done a list of towns with Unitarian Chapels. On one of our early visits to scout Chesterfield the Chapel had been part of the recce and despite being locked I had managed to get into the back car park and see the old grand gravestones of the proud late 18th century and clearly flourishing Victorian congregation. It was a good start.
I’ve spent the last few weeks back in flat rural Lincolnshire. One of the main benefits is being able to see the stars up in the night sky. Whilst there I spoke to a mate of mine. “There must be loads of stars up there" he said, "given how many greats have died in 2016”. Little did I think that just two weeks later that very same mate would be up amongst the stars, another in the crop of 2016.
Andy Lindup was a one off and truly fun and high quality. When I told him I was thinking of asking Russell to marry me if we won the Same Sex Marriage vote in the Houses of parliament his response was typical of him: “Dude you have to”.
So I'm sitting here photographing and cataloging some of my coins - mainly third century Roman Imperial coins, but heavily dominated by the breakaway Gallic Empire of Postumus, Victorinus, Tetricus I and Tetricus II (260-274AD).
I have collected them for over 25 years, but even now I am learning from them as I handle them, turn them and weight them in my hand. Every Emperor is different, but each coin and indeed each strike, mint, style and type tells you something - whether what we learn is fixed and firm varies, but there is much than can be garnered and relied upon. Let me start with the Emperor Postumus.
So students of Roman History tuck into Suetonius: Lives of the Ceasars. It is gory, gruesome, almost red top in modern newspaper style. But upon analysis the facts often ring true. The characterisation and the stereotypes are over-vivid, but it is at least semi-contemporaneous gossip and rumour.
Indeed, I am always minded of my historical muse, mentor and inspiration Peter Connolly. "Why read novels, when you can read Suetonius?"
So if this Gallic Empire broke away from Rome but essentially failed and lasted a mere 14 years why is it so interesting and so compelling? Surely it's just another grubby rebellion that litters Rome's history and adds to the notion of a decline in the Third Century? In part it was grubby and unsuccessful, but in other regards absolutely not. I will argue that in fact the Gallic Emperors were the very reason The Empire that was Rome was able to survive.
The context was that Rome as an Empire was in trouble. The rise of the Sassanian Empire was relatively new (c.240AD) but crucially it was real military threat and achieved early success under Kings Ardashir and Shapur I. The Emperor Gordian III had lead a major war against the Sassanian Kings and lost, losing his own life, probably in battle and the successor Emperor Philip I had to pay a significant financial tribute to achieve peace, fix Imperial borders and to withdraw the battered army.
Well we gathered in Newcastle to say goodbye, and I'm pleased I went. Saying goodbye to my mate Lenny, Leo, Lennie, LJ, Lucky LJ, Leonard, even Len.
I didn't know anyone really when I first arrived at the Crowne Plaza ("The Crowne Plaza - of course" I can hear you quipping), and as I sit here reflecting on last night I realise the only person I got to know better was you Lenny. So this is written directly to you, as right now I'm feeling very alone.
Some periods of history stand out, others are unknown. Some achieve landmark status - take Roman Britain as an example. 55BC is known as the initial invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar, 43AD as the successful invasion of Britain by the armies of the Emperor Claudius, and 60AD as the rebellion of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni.
The end of Roman Britain is much heralded as being dated to 410AD, but this is probably misleading and misrecorded. And some other key events are well known, but the dates less so - folks know about Hadrian's Wall, they know about Roman Londinium, and that Constantine the Great was declared emperor in York. Occasionally, people are aware of another wall north of Hadrian's Wall called the Antonine Wall.
The myth of Antinous is pretty strong and vivid. It has developed over the years immediate after his death and the centuries since, and as with all good myths, the facts are tricky to pin down. But always keen on a challenge and seeing the raft of folks out there, also keen on this topic - let's try and put the pieces together.
Antinous is thought (based on an inscription) to have been born on or around 27th November - but the year is estimated as being between 110 and 112AD. His year of death was 130AD but the date uncertain and thought to fall on or around 22nd October (24th being the feast of Osiris has been often used)
So folks, I am passionate about the ancient world, consider myself a sort-of campaigner for equality, am transfixed by the human stories from the past - not just of the high born but also of the ordinary. So by working with a fellow Classics-loving friend we were thinking of setting up an Antinous Society.
This would be a fun, informal, sort of friendly society for the appreciation of Antinous, beloved of Hadrian. Or to give it its full and perhaps it's Imperial definition "for the ongoing appreciation of the Deified Antinous, beloved companion of the Imperial Augustus Titus Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius".
So the Historia Augusta says this on Hadrian and Antinous;
"During a journey on the Nile he (Hadrian) lost Antinous, his favourite, and for this youth he wept like a woman. concerning this incident there are varying rumours; for some claim that he had devoted himself to death for Hadrian, and others - what both his beauty and Hadrian's sensuality suggest.
[Penguin: what both his beauty and Hadrian's excessive sensuality make obvious.]
"But however this may be, the Greeks deified his at Hadrian's request, and declared that oracles were given through his agency, but there, it is commonly asserted, were composed by Hadrian himself."
Historia Augusta, Hadrian, XIV. 5-7
From an early age the stories and exploits of Imperial Rome have gripped me. The mix of bravura, of ambition, of success all drew me in. The names themselves of people, places and battles roused my imagination. And the reality - of Britannia, of Gaul, of Rome itself was all around and me and within reason, accessible.
And so, with my father collecting coins of the Emperor Gordian III on one side, and the near neighbour and leading ancient historian Peter Connolly on the other, my fascination was set. I soon discovered Penguin Classics and tucked into Tacitus, Livy and Pliny the Younger. I well remember Peter himself saying "Why read novels when you have Suetonius?"
Over the last few weeks I haven't had much chance to be at home in north west London. And with that break of routine has also gone my guaranteed regular Sunday morning at Chapel.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm no attendance purist - I don't think the way to anything in any future existence is through Sunday mornings - but for me the Sunday ritual is about here, now today., some shared time with like minded folks reflecting on what has happened and what's ahead.
So just what is a by-election for? At its most basic it is replace the predecessor through a short election process. But increasingly, and this apples to all parties, it is an exercise in organisational strength and is heavily swayed by the immediate past electoral history.
Who are the candidates is at risk of being a side show, a lesser question, than the need to get a replacement in post from the previous party. This comes through in many different ways, but risks suffocating the choice itself for the local electorate.