Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Exhibition for Dickens’ Bicentenary

The 7th February 1812 saw the birth of a man many consider to be the greatest ever British novelist: Charles Dickens.  His work draws the definitive picture of 19th century London: Energy, industry and the ambition of Empire, alongside grinding poverty, deprivation and cruelty.  Fifteen massive novels, hundreds of stories and articles, and tireless journeys to recite his works and campaign for social improvements, characterise his exhausting life story.

2012 is the bicentenary of his birth, which is being marked by the Museum of London ( with a special exhibition.  It celebrates Dickens’ relationship with London.  A fascinating and well captioned collection of paintings, clothes, household objects, pub signs and manuscripts illustrate both the noble and everyday aspects of Dickens’ life.  A cell door from Newgate prison reminds us that Dickens’ father was imprisoned for debt.  Dickens himself escaped poverty and a neatly written ledger from Coutts Bank shows his modest expenditure month by month.  Amongst the many manuscripts is the opening chapter of Bleak House.  Its dense scribble, amendments and crossings-out make you wonder how any typesetter could reproduce his prose accurately.

Above all, you get a vivid picture of 19th century London, then the largest and most overcrowded city in the world.  Charles Dickens was its chronicler.  In Dombey and Son, a character  wonders at all the people who move to the city in the hope of improving their lives:

“Day after day, such travellers crept past, but always, as she thought, in one direction – always towards the town.  Swallowed up in one phase or other of its immensity, towards which they seemed impelled by a desperate fascination, they never returned.  Food for the hospitals, the churchyards, the prisons, the river, fever, madness, vice, and death, – they passed on to the monster, roaring in the distance, and were lost.”

The exhibition runs until the 10th June and entry costs £8 for adults and £7 for concessions.  If you book in advance you save £1, an act of prudence of which Charles Dickens would have heartily approved.

The Orange Spot of Shame

Horseracing is the Sport of Kings, and Ascot its most exclusive venue in Great Britain.  Its June meeting, known as “Royal Ascot”, boasts the classiest field in European flat racing and attracts 300,000 spectators, among them the Queen, who attends every day of the 5-day event.  Royal Ascot is perhaps best known for its dress code: morning suits and top hats for men, hats and dresses of specific design (and coverage) for ladies.

With racing generally trying to attract a larger audience, you might think that changing the dress code would help.  Last week, Ascot changed it: they made it even stricter!  In response, they say, to “customer feedback”, they now insist that at all meetings (not just Royal Ascot), in the Premier Enclosure men must wear neckties, and ladies dresses of minimum length and with covered shoulders.  Incidentally, to enter the Premier Enclosure, and thus submit to the newly strengthened regulations, is a privilege costing an extra £28!

Lest they spring this change of policy on their exclusive clientele too suddenly, the  Ascot authorities decided not to enforce it at last weekend’s meeting.  Instead, guests whose dress would fail the new code were stopped on the way in, admonished for their failures, and asked to improve their appearance before their next visit.

But here’s the best part.  So that they didn’t get pestered repeatedly all day by over-zealous members of the dress police, every defaulter was obliged to wear a large orange sticker to indicate that they had already had their sartorial inadequacies pointed out to them.  A badge of shame in the most select enclosure of the most exclusive racecourse in the country!  And these were the upper crust of those who attend Ascot in January: the core enthusiasts rather than the once-a-year party-goers who show up in their questionable finery every June (at whom the new rules are principally aimed).

However there is a happy ending.  To their credit, the Ascot authorities realised their mistake, issued a fulsome apology and refunded the Premier Enclosure entrance fee to all those singled out for the Orange Spot of Shame.