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Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire, Revolution Exhibition

Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution Exhibition – Greenwich Maritime Museum, 20 November 2015 to 28 March 2016

“But so great a noise, that I could make but little of the Musique; and endeed, it was lost to everybody. But I had so great a list to pisse, that I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies…”  Samuel Pepys’ description of the coronation of King Charles II , April 23, 1661

How many of us have attended a big event with high hopes – whether a coronation or a concert – only to have our view blocked by the crowd, be unable to hear due to people shouting close by and worst of all, realising we need to pay a visit which means we’ve missed the big event it’s all been leading up to….

There are many official descriptions of the coronation of King Charles II, all written with one careful eye on posterity. For me, it’s this one that echoes down the centuries as it provides a unique personal perspective of the kind that’s often lost in the grand sweep of history.

Pepys – the unwitting historian

The joy of Samuel’s diaries lies in this authentic voice. They were written purely for himself rather than for eventual publication and as such they are bawdy, funny, perceptive and moving.

Pepys begun his Diaries on January 1 1660 and continued for 10 years, stopping only when he feared his eyesight was failing – noting that he could have others write his diaries but he feared the lack of privacy that would bring.

The diaries provide a fascinating account of a life lived in the glare of some of the greatest events of the seventeenth century.

Why aren’t the Diaries in the Exhibition?

It may therefore seem strange that the stars of the show are not to be seen in the Exhibition in physical form.  Pepys left them to his old Cambridge college Magdalene in his will and said if the diaries were ever to be removed, then their rivals Trinity were to have them. Hence, visitors to Greenwich Maritime Museum can browse the diaries digitally but not see them in reality.

Plague, Fire, Revolution

The Exhibition  leads us through the key moments of Pepys’ life in turn – from witnessing the beheading of one monarch (Charles I) to the deposing of another (James II, by his daughter Mary and son-in-law William), via the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

There are many grisly historical artifacts  ranging from the blood stained satin gloves worn by Charles I on the scaffold through to the instruments used to remove Pepys’ kidney stone which was nearly the size of a tennis ball and removed without anesthetic…(Pepys was unusual in that he recovered from the operation without complications and resolved to hold a celebration on every anniversary of the operation.)

With over 200 paintings and historical objects and a wonderfully descriptive and amusing guide in Pepys, this exhibition is a fantastic way to experience the tumultuous, violent and epoch defining events that shaped the London streets we walk in today.



Sovereign – BBC Radio 4 15 Minute Drama

Henry VIII and his Great Progress passed by Radio 4 in October 2015.

Colin MacDonald’s adaptation of C.J.Sansom’s Sovereign is bloody, gripping and full of intrigue. It’s a safe place from which to experience the terror of life in Henry VIII’s court where friends are hard to distinguish from enemies and careless talk can cost you your tongue and maybe your head too.

Instead of Henry as the central character, overshadowing all around him, this story follows lawyer detective Matthew Shardlake as he takes a dangerous conspirator from York back to London for questioning.

Tudor Social

Drama director Kirsteen Cameron put me in contact with Colin so we could produce an article which could be shared across social platforms and encourage catch up listening.

The result was 11 Things you didn’t know about King Henry VIII’s Progress 

I created shareable assets for Twitter and Facebook which linked back to the article.

Tudors tend to do very well on Radio 4’s social accounts. Matthew Shardlake and his experiences of the paranoid Progress were no exception.

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Oriseum Museum: Papa-Michalis Georgoulakis

We entered from a white hot street burning under the searing Cretan sun to a tranquil, shaded garden, filled with trees and old gardening equipment.

Wind chimes gently clattered among the leaves.

Papa G garden

The Museum is located in the ancient hilltop village of Asomatos, Crete. Papa Mikalis Georgoulakis was born there in 1921 and spent his whole life there. He saw that the everyday things that people discard, that were once common place soon disappear forever. The priest made it his life’s work to methodically collect and sort all kinds of objects – from lampshades to old typewriters  -preserving the todays that otherwise would have slipped  unnoticed forever into the past.

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The Museum is  peaceful and very evocative;  a collection of past lives and memories. Everything is carefully sorted and arranged – from matchboxes to old keys.

The guide book is full of entries of people moved by their visit. Going round the museum, I got the sense he must have been quite a character. One of the visitors wrote this about him:

Papa G

A photo of Papa Georgoulakis in his museum:

Papa G photo

The collections include German posters from the invasion of Crete. Signs posted by the invading German Army telling the Cretans not to resist and their beautiful land will last for thousands more years, warning them not to trade with the enemy, that anybody resisting  will  be shot on sight

There are not only glimpses of a past Crete, but also of a past family. There is a moving collection of all Papa Georgoulakis’s daughter’s shoes from age 2 to 18. Each pair tells their own story: scuffed toes, the imprints of a time when their owner wore them to laugh and cry and walk around the house where the museum is now. There is also a room containing the loom where his mother and sister would sit, their tapasteries hung all around.

It’s a sobering reminder that families are always growing and changing – the only direction of life is forward, there is no pause button.

Papa Georgoulakis died in 2008. The museum is now looked after by his son and it’s still the family home.

The Museum is wonderfully quirky and very special – an oasis of calm in a fast-moving, ever changing world.