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.
Politics has always had a conundrum - whose duty is it to talk to whom? My Maui and Dad are of the tradition that saw it as a duty to always vote, who read a newspaper each day and who stayed up to watch election night. As a child I grew up with that vibe.
By the time I was in sixth form I was reading the politics pages of the paper myself and attending election hustings. When the 1987 election loomed I was handing out leaflets in Spalding market place and going with my Mum to watch her cast her vote. When Becky Bryan spoke at a public meeting I realised that I was liberal and so I joined and the rest followed.
So as I strode through Witney at a gentle jogging pace around a nice cluster of chiltern cottages, I was aware of previous deliverers who had been out ahead me. This awareness took several forms: laden recycling bins, tutting or positive greetings from folks at home at yet another delivery, or my leaflet landing on top of another from another party.
But as I went door to door I was aware of a leaflet that had been pushed through far enough that I could not retrieve or liberate a copy and so I had to watch and wait until I met a friendly voter or found an accessible recycling bin.
After a casual laid back semi-retirement from front line politics, I'm seeing if I can muster the energy to play again. Let me explain. For over 20 years politics drove me, amused me and dominated my time - it was a massive part of my life.
In 2010 it was finally declared after three recounts that I had managed to come third in the closest three-way election in mainland Britain. The experience was amazing, exhilarating and in so many respects personally rewarding - but I was exhausted, disappointed and wanted a break. Politics is all consuming and utterly unforgiving. So I stepped back and have done little active street campaigning since then.
Do I need to go into the church physical to enjoy it? Clearly not, but that short Sunday pilgrimage that I, and a reducing number of others, make does provide a great little window of opportunity.
Now, for centuries church and faith has been something enforced, something required - more to do with dictat, dogma and rules. My own church and faith don't have those elements. Indeed the whole approach of the Unitarian Church is fundamentally inclusive, tolerant and open. That openness applies to most things and in that respect I am grateful.
By wining the Battle of Hastings, William, Duke of Normandy, acceded to the English throne he felt promised to him by his cousin Edward III the Confessor, and so began an era of Norman hegemony. But it was not the start of England. That story rolled back to 871AD and King Alfred the Great.
But the date of 1066 has become one of the 'must learn' pit stops of English history. Rather tragically it obliterated any real understanding of the creation of England. It ignores the amazing and dogged work of 200 years of Saxon Kings in establishing the country we live in today. I believe it should be '871AD and all that' - the creation of England by King Alfred the Great.
So the issue facing most places of Christian worship in an increasingly secular Britain is what to do with the massive legacy of buildings sequester to it by Victorian England. Already most chapels have gone from the rural villages I know and churches are increasingly closing, or administered as united benefices in clusters of three, four, five or more.
The Unitarian Chapel I attend in Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead NW3, is no exception to the challenge of attendance, finance and the weight of responsibility. One of the ways we have survived, and indeed continue to thrive is that we have a wide catchment areas of worshippers - being in zone 2 of London helps that and makes transport easy for many, including non-drivers like myself. The daft pricing structure of property in London, especially north London, makes real estate valuable and so investment in our estate and buildings is possible by nature of our rent income. We also have an ethos, and have enjoyed Ministers, who are in every sense inclusive of all, including all from the LGBTI communities.
This morning I sat quietly in Chapel, the back row today, as my normal usual seat taken by a visitor who had arrived earlier (this is good). The sunlight was bright, low lying today and as I relaxed, contemplated the stillness and the beauty around me I happened to glance up. And there it was - the Chapel’s wooden panelled roof I have seen so often before. But today, because of the sun-stream, another feature I had not seen before stood out.
Let me share the roof with you: it is 14 panels long, rising 4 panels high either side joining above the congregation to the apex of the slow gothic arch that is the chancel arch at the front or the organ gallery window at the back. Each panel (112 in total) - they are a dark mahogany stained oak, I think - comprises broadly 6 equally sized planks - all conjoined by a crossing link beam up and down. It’s simple, it’s fine quality and it’s solid. Reassurring.
Out the unlocked alarmed front door, turn left and go
An early morning run for me, nothing unusual there.
The skies clear, breeze low, nice, just right.
A low curving bend, over the road, down the hill,
Aware that I was picking up pace over ground
So I was not expecting IT then at all, not at all.
A sheet of golden riot, lacquered deep red gilded sun
Clouds fanning the splendour into warm flames
William Blake, master of the heavens, is awake this morn
Appreciating it over much, I turned and jogged on.
Slow, nice, puffing as the hill started to rise under me,
And what I had enjoyed down rose up ahead.
But now, just minutes later, the fight of gold and grey
Over, finished - cloaks thrown down and the sun free
To bathe all those few out to see it and smile
Clouds scattered, armed golden spears startling the birds
An extreme beauty for me and it seemed no-one but me.
So I stopped and paused and drank the view in
The home and town ahead, I pressed on, and laughed
Allenby Drive came first - Field Marshall Edmund Allenby
Entered Jerusalem, the victor 11th December 1917
The deep beauty of Blake's Jerusalem over Allenby's triumph
Was not and should not be builded here, please no!
For the morning natural perfection of sun, cloud and breeze
A welcome unexpected injunction of beauty for me to recall.
Southwell, 6th October 2016