You can – people do – get very carried away by what’s meant by British identity. Personally I believe it’s reflected in websites like this one because modern Britain is influenced by all the countries of the world. But if you go back a little further, do you take a different view?
Try, for example, the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. An amazing and grand Victorian building, stuffed like an enormous Old Curiosity Shop with precious, often bizarre objects from around the world.
Let me point you, though, to one particular part of the Museum – the British Galleries, 1500-1760. Walk through and you get a sense of what Britain has been – and in many ways still is.
The Galleries embody a sense of curiosity about the world, an openness to a wider view that also allows the individual to retreat to and enjoy private meditations. You won’t like everything, but that’s perfectly fine.
During the London Design Festival, the Galleries will be given an extra degree of curiosity and reflection. As part of a project called 26 Treasures, 26 writers have been randomly paired with 26 objects from the British Galleries. They’ve then responded in writing (exactly 62 words, “26 in reflection”) to each of the objects – a personal response, sometimes poetry, sometimes prose, but necessarily succinct.
The writing ranges from the meditative to the laugh-out-loud funny. The objects include the Great Bed of Ware, Mr No-Body’s Drinking Flask, the wedding suit of King James, a locket with a caul and a bust of Homer. The objects inspired the writers to think and feel, then to express thoughts and feelings in ways that make visitors look at the objects in a different light, intrigued by what they have read and seen. Which seems a good purpose for Britain in 2010 too.
John Simmons is a writer and founder of 26.
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