Saturday, 28 March 2015

Wood into Gold

From Art Happens by Francesca Vanke of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery:

Wood into Gold: 

Re-gilding the frame of The Paston Treasure

We want to re-gild the frame of this magnificent painting before it goes on display as the centrepiece of a major international exhibition.

Click on any of the links for more information and how to donate to this local historical and artistic cause.

Robert Paston

One wonders whether Robert was just interested in making money, or whether, like many others at the time, he felt that all the new developments in exploration and science, and the new discoveries about the world, meant that anything was now possible, and that age-old mysteries of life, like the Philosopher's Stone, were about to be revealed. Perhaps both ideas went through his mind.

Meet the man behind the Paston family's amazing collection of objects, which appear in The Paston Treasure.

Robert Paston (1631-1683) was an interesting man. An inventory of his library survives, which shows that he was extraordinarily learned. His books included works by leading past and contemporary figures from all around Europe, writing on history, politics, religion, philosophy, science and alchemy.

One of the more intriguing things about Robert is that he spent considerable time and effort on alchemical experiments. He had a laboratory at Oxnead and employed a full-time lab assistant, working with fellow alchemist Thomas Henshaw to try to make the fabled Philosopher's Stone. This mysterious object was reputed to turn base metals into gold, and had been sought by alchemists for centuries – but the experiments never succeeded. Sadly, like many of Robert's other money-making efforts, it was a failure!

The mid-17th century was a fascinating period, when the foundations of modern science were being laid down. Robert Paston seems to have had something of a foot in both camps – on the one hand, seeming to subscribe to beliefs in more old-fashioned ideas about alchemy and magic, while at the same time also operating within a more scientific outlook that formed what we would recognise as the beginnings of modern chemistry.

The Paston Treasure, (Dutch School, c.1670s, oil on canvas) is one of Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery’s rarest and most famous paintings, popular with visitors of all ages. It was painted by an unknown Dutch artist at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk around 1670 and portrays some of the treasures collected by the famous Paston family. These objects are dispersed around the world but the painting has always stayed in Norfolk, a vital part of the county’s heritage.

Research has shown that the ornately carved frame was in all likelihood made for the painting, but it would not have looked like this in the 17th century. It would have been gilded – the dazzling finishing touch to the depiction of a dazzling collection. Six years ago, we raised money to have the painting cleaned and conserved. Now we want to re-gild the frame and restore this masterpiece in its entirety to its former glory.

This is the ideal moment to go for gold. We at Norwich Castle are planning, in partnership with the Yale Center for British Art in the USA, a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition – to bring together as many of the Paston treasures as we can and reunite them with this picture for the first time in 350 years. To prepare for this major exhibition planned for 2018, we want the painting to look as it did when it was new, and as the artist intended – with the frame this remarkable painting deserves.

Gold has an eternal mystique and appeal. Robert Paston, the original owner of the collection and the painting, practised alchemy. He spent his life trying to understand the mysteries of nature, and trying to make gold. We now know this is impossible, but to turn this wooden frame into gold is easy – all we need is your help! To gild a frame, fragile sheets of gold leaf are carefully laid onto a prepared surface. Why not become a modern day alchemist and help us turn this frame gold, piece by piece?

Monday, 23 March 2015

Live better, help often, wonder more

Our next assembly will be on Sunday 12th April. 10.30am-12 noon. The South Hall, The Hewett School, Norwich. Enter via Gate 4 on Hall Road. 

Our email address is

Sunday Assembly Norwich's event

Sunday Assembly

12 April at 10:30

The Hewett School in Norwich, Norfolk


The Norfolk Storytelling Project visited Sunday Assembly Norwich and produced this short feature for Future Radio 107.8.

A church service without God? - Norfolkstorytelling
There are so many different denominations of church that it’s easy to lose count. So what about atheists? There is a church for them too. It’s called the Sunday Assembly and it’s been running in Norwich for a few months now. It’s purpose is...


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

"Of Ice and Men"

From the Norfolk Humanists:


Norfolk Humanists and Secularists get together every third Thursday of the month in the Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane, Norwich, 7.0 for 7.30 pm. We invite speakers to talk on a range of subjects not just relevant to Humanism but also to feed our unbounded curiosity about the world. We don’t claim to have all the answers but think that the search for truth through rational debate is well worth pursuing. If, like us, you think life can be lived ethically without reference to religion and wish to meet like minded people, please feel free to come along to our meetings. 

Thursday 19 MARCH 2015, 'OF ICE AND MEN'

Former Museum Curator and member of the Norfolk Geological Society, Martin Warren will be talking about discoveries on Norfolk's Ice Age. 

The Norfolk coast has a rich archive of Pleistocene sediments and erosion is revealing evidence of the processes, flora and fauna, including early hominins from the past million years. A belated nod to Darwin Day, we hope you will join us. Time and place as noted above. All very welcome.

If you would like to enquire about becoming a member of the Norfolk Humanists, please email us here or contact the BHA
Access and interact with our facebook page here
About Martin Warren

The Northfolk Project

A new dawn and a new beginning. After more than 32 years with the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service I am now doing my own thing, immersing myself in North Norfolk, its history, culture, and environment and working for the general good, whilst having some fun, making friends and to some extent making a living. 

My self-styled 'Northfolk Project' is simply a portfolio of things designed to amuse me and do some good. Geology is featuring pretty heavily at the moment (hence the Field Guide to North Norfolk Geology within this site) and I have recently become the general secretary of the Geological Society of Norfolk. But over the past couple of years I have started a microbrewery, and I hope to write some books. And I haven't mentioned the ganseys. I'll tell you about those one day. I also still work for the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service from time to time. Do read on.

Martin Warren, Cromer, Norfolk

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Some thoughts for International Women’s Day 2015

From Searchlight by Sonia Gable:

It is near impossible to understand how, in today’s Britain, teenage girls can abandon all freedom and voluntarily submit themselves to slavery. For that is what the girls who travel to Syria to join IS have done. They are not going to be fighters, but submissive wives, with no choice whose wife they become, confined at home, required to obey every command of their husband, and facing an uncertain future should their husband get killed. Even in the warped worldview of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS), there is no glory for women, only for the men whom they must serve.

Some will say that these girls are driven by their faith. It is true that faith can inspire and give people the strength to do great things, but faith in the God of Abraham, who is love, must lead to doing good in the world, not to supporting killers and those who are now wreaking destruction on civilisation and heritage. The girls who go to Syria, and indeed the men also, are not impelled by faith but are brainwashed. They remind me of the three Maoist women who were held as slaves in Lambeth for thirty years by the man known as Comrade Bala, a former leader of a small Maoist group in the 1970s.

The girls who went to Syria were educated, studying for their exams. IS and those like them would prevent girls being educated. Boko Haram in Nigeria has just declared allegiance to IS. It is Boko Haram that is still holding probably about 200 girls kidnapped from a boarding school who, like the many other girls and young women Boko Haram has kidnapped, have most likely been given to militants as sex slaves. In Pakistan Malala Yousafzai was shot because she wrote of her wish for girls in her country to have the chance of education.

Today is International Women’s Day, and while we should celebrate the advances women have made in many parts of the world, we know there is still much to do, and not merely where militant Islam hold sway. Female genital mutilation is still widespread to the extent that even in the UK schools, both secondary and primary, must look for the signs that pupils might be at risk of the procedure.

The revelations of the sexual grooming of young girls in this country continue to shock. The fact that this could go on in so many towns for so many years is scandalous. Equally disgraceful is the fact that the young victims were not listened to, not believed, when they tried to tell those responsible for them what was happening. Some of that is the result of a misconceived view that it is normal for girls of 12, 13 upwards to be having sex, so their complaints were dismissed as the result of falling out with a boyfriend.

In parts of India and in some other countries a woman who has been raped is not treated as a victim of a despicable crime and as being in need of care and support, but is ostracised from her community. And let us also think of those women living in extreme poverty who labour long hours to feed their families. Often it is women who suffer most when there is not enough to eat and women who toil the hardest to produce whatever they can from the land.

Many of the problems that women face in the world are the result of a lack of respect for women as valued individuals, entitled to the same rights and freedoms as men, and whose voices must be heard. Women in this country fought hard for equality, we need to defend women’s hard-won rights against those, such as IS, who would reverse them, and continue the fight on those many fronts where women are still treated as second-class citizens.


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A response to MAF demands

Comment on Be Careful with Mohammad:

As a non-believer I am tiring of religious zealots from any religion telling me what to think and do, or more usually, what not to think and what not to do. 

The assumption of religious entitlement to preach to all is alienating those who do not share such beliefs.

And the demand to "be careful" carries with it an implicit threat. 

What happens if by mistake or on purpose I am not "careful" enough for the anonymous people behind Muslim Action Forum?

The ominous demand to "be careful" rings alarm bells in our communities.

Such high-handed demands from a religious group on all fellow citizens - believers and non-believers alike - give excuses to far right groups to answer back in defiance.  And recent events show that the inarticulate response of the far right is usually displayed in their disruptive and costly street protests.

These demands from the Muslim Action Forum could be seen as inciting the far right. 

Then there is the question of who decides what is an "insult" to Mohammad? From where I am sitting it seems almost any comment about Mohammad or any depiction of Mohammad may be seen as an "insult".

For example I have read vicious comments from Muslims upset at the spelling of Mohammad (as shown on the MAF banner), as they insist the spelling should be Muhammed or one of the many other possible spellings.

Indeed, before seeing this banner I have not come across this particular spelling of the name (and it is not accepted by my spell-checker). Is the MAF certain this is the correct spelling accepted by Muslims everywhere? Of course not, because the MAF speaks only for the MAF, contributing to the general confusion of what is "allowed" in free speech in a free democracy.    

So sensitive are some Muslim commentators about Mohammad that they deny that Mohammad has been portrayed throughout history by Muslims themselves - but he has. See herehere and here for just a few examples.

Therefore picturing Mohammad is not the real issue, as he has been portrayed many times by Muslims themselves. It is rather any depiction that is perceived as critical or satirical or lacking in respect or otherwise flawed that is the problem for some Muslims.  

It should not be. If the faith is strong it is not threatened by jokes and satire.    

The Muslim Action Forum also contains instructions to British Muslims about how to vote in elections.  

Who are you people to set certain questions to determine which MP to vote for? British citizens are never more free and independent as in the secrecy of casting a vote.  

As free and independent individuals we vote in the privacy of the voting booth for whoever we like to represent us in parliament. Votes are usually based on our own assessment of character, policies and Party, not from a questions game set by others with an agenda for power.

My message to the anonymous enthusiasts behind Muslim Action Forum is to "Be careful with Mohammad" as much as you like within the privacy of your own beliefs, and you are absolutely free to do so.

Freer than people of different faith and of no faith are in some Muslim countries, for example.

You are also free and indeed encouraged to vote into power whoever you think best represents you and your interests. Please, go ahead, enjoy this freedom, so rare, recent, fragile and so envied in so many other places of the world.

But it is entirely counter-productive to expect and demand that others follow your instructions in this most private act.  

Just as it is not acceptable to threaten others to "Be careful" about some tenet or other in your religion. That is imposing your religious beliefs upon others, which inevitably invites stiff resistance.

Religious zealots like you in the MAF are free to believe what you like as long as it does not impose on the beliefs of others.  

Religious zealots like you in the MAF are not free to threaten others or to interfere in the basic human dignity of the voter.   

by Barbara Suzuki

Be Careful With Mohammad

From National Secular Society:

“Be Careful With Mohammad”: Muslim Action Forum launches “legal strategy” to stop publication of insults to Mohammad

The Muslim Action Forum (MAF), which staged a protest outside Downing Street against Charlie Hebdo in February, has launched a "legal strategy" to stop insults against Mohammad.

The organisation is also asking supporters to "lobby your MP" to make "Islamophobia" a criminal offence.

They state that they intend "to launch a series of legal challenges in the English Court system" because "depictions of our Holy Prophet peace be upon Him is the worst kind of 'Hate Crime' that can be perpetrated on the 3 million Muslims in the UK and 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide."

The group says that they have "devised a legal strategy to prevent the continuous insulting and derogatory publications depicting and abusing the personality of our Holy Prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him."

In a press release published shortly after the demonstration in February 2015, the MAF set out details of their plan to outlaw depicting Mohammed in the UK, through "amendment of some existing legislation and the presentation of a Private Members Bill that promotes the idea of Global Civility."

They describe "Global Civility" as a "new direction" and argue that the "desecration" of "collective human dignity", through "insult, denigration or humiliation is morally and ethically wrong". Their website rails against "reckless and malicious expressions".

They urge the 100,000 Muslims who they claim signed their petition to lobby their MPs and all candidates standing in the General Election. The MAF makes a number of suggestions including three specific questions which they ask supporters to direct to their MPs.

The MAF suggests that petitioners ask their MPs if they think the "the Public Order Act 1986 should be amended to include under 'hate crime' any malicious depiction of images and use of malevolent language against revered personalities of all religions?"

They also suggest asking if "Islamophobia should be a culpable offence?"

The suggestions include a point inquiring if MPs would support a "Bill of Rights" that promotes "Global Civility", a concept which would prevent insulting religion.

The appeal says that if the MP answers no to any of the points above, their answer "will clarify to the local Muslim community where their political representatives stand on the single most important issue to every Muslim in this country and worldwide."

Stephen Evans, National Secular Society campaigns manager, said: 

We trust all prospective MPs will appreciate that there is no homogeneous 'Muslim community' and reject such unreasonable demands to undermine everybody's fundamental rights and freedoms. 

Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society – and integral to combating the spectre of Islamism. Now more than ever we need to preserve and strengthen freedom of expression, not capitulate to extremist demands.
The Muslim Action Forum (MAF) explain that their campaign against satirical depictions of Mohammed, and what they call "uncivilised expressionists", took its "first historical step by presenting a petition supported by over 100,000 signatures of Muslims promoting the concept of Global Civility and condemning the continuous publication of these insulting cartoons in France and other parts of the world."

The MAF website has a section devoted to the concept of "uncivilised expressionists", and they cite examples including the Satanic Verses, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and the burning of the Quran. They define uncivilised expressions as a "a psychological disposition of the human mind which insults and maligns others without care or consideration of consequences." They call this "behaviour against Muslims".

The full press release on the Muslim Action Forum's legal strategy can be found here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Farewell human rights advocate

Today, HRC remembers longtime LGBT advocate Leonard Nimoy. In 2007, HRC was lucky enough to have Mr. Nimoy speak at our gala dinner in San Francisco. In his speech, he spoke about progress, education and diversity. You will be missed...

Friday, 27 February 2015

Magna Carta

Celebrating the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta

March 3 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

The Sheriff Of Norwich William Armstrong OBE and the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society

Invite you to a Lecture entitled
From Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights 1998:
Why Your Human Rights Act Needs You

To be delivered by Stephen Bowen, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights

At Council Chamber City Hall Norwich on Tuesday 3rd March 2015 at 7.30 p.m.

All are Welcome • Free Admission • Light Refreshments Provided

EU Parliament must act urgently against anti-Muslim and anti-Semite attacks

From The Parliament Magazine by Claire Fernandez:

As recent events have led to a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in Europe, new measures are required to address both of these forms of racism.

25/2/2015- The deadly attacks against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, as well as the numerous attacks against Muslims in France, Sweden and Germany have added to the fear experienced by many Jews and Muslims across Europe. 

While anti-Semitism and Islamophobia each have their specificities and different historical sources, they can sometimes be quite similar. The European parliament must take steps to specifically address both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and not fall into the trap of division. 

Research by the EU fundamental rights agency (FRA) shows worrying trends when it comes to Jews experiencing discrimination as well as a fear of verbal or physical attacks, particularly in France, Belgium and Hungary. The Paris and Copenhagen attacks have added to the ongoing fears of European Jews, and many Jewish institutions have been under increasing military or police protection.

Last week, hundreds of Jewish graves were desecrated in a cemetery near Strasbourg, France, followed by the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Oldenburg, Ger-many. The community security trust in the UK has reported the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 ever reported. Similarly, an FRA survey has provided evidence of discrimination and stigmatisation of Muslims. Since the Paris attacks, anti-Muslim sentiments and incidents are on the rise in Europe, and Muslim communi-ties fear retaliation. From 7 January 2015 to 7 February 2015, there were 153 Islamophobic incidents against individuals and places of worship in France - a 70 per cent increase compared to the previous year. Islamophobic incidents have also occurred recently in other EU countries, including Sweden and Germany.

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia target people based on their real or perceived Jewish or Muslim background, rather than a rejection of 'religion' or their representatives. 

Parliament should maintain a fundamental rights perspective, focusing on racial and religious discrimination, as well as its intersections with gender, age and social origin, rather than on 'religious intolerance'. In a number of cases, restrictive policies towards Muslim communities have also affected Jewish communities, for example in the case of forbidding slaughtering and circumcision. Surveys have shown that an 'old' type of far-right anti-Semitism is still largely dominant, and goes hand in hand with other forms of prejudice, including Islamophobia.

Many far-right and populist right movements and parties which are openly Islamophobic are built around an anti-Semitic basis. Common strategies for action to counter these forces are needed, in a collective and constructive way. In this respect, existing EU laws, including equality and hate crime legislation, must be better enforced in order to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The proposed equal treatment directive - blocked in the council since 2008 - should also be adopted, so as to fill gaps in protection against discrimination, in particular on grounds of religion and belief outside of employment. In addition, these should be reinforced by specific policy strategies to address anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

In a context of growing mistrust, ongoing accusations, sometimes hatred and violence, fuelled by international developments, it is crucial to bring Jewish and Muslim communities together and build solidarity. Measures to prevent acts of hatred towards Jews and Muslims should not stigmatise or polarise any community, and must include support to cross-community and community-led initiatives. Symbolic initiatives such as the common peace vigil in Oslo, showing cross-community support, should be encouraged.

Claire Fernandez is deputy director of the European network against racism (ENAR)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Norfolk Humanists

Thursday, February 19 at 7:30pm

Friends Meeting House (Committee Room)
Upper Goat Lane, Norwich NR2 1EW

Now seems an appropriate time for us to discuss Humanist attitudes towards freedom of expression. We don’t have a guest speaker, so it will be an open discussion. It's always useful to question and challenge our own views and assumptions about issues like this. It will also help us to sharpen the arguments we are bound to be having over the coming weeks, months and years.

Here are some questions that it may be helpful for us all to consider in preparation for the discussion:

Should there be ANY restrictions on free speech?
If so what, why and who decides these limits?
Why is freedom of expression necessary?
What are the dangers of restricting it? Perhaps consider historical examples.
Why do people (even non-believers) seem to think that religious beliefs deserve greater protection than political views or other personal opinions?
Is it valid to offend people just because we can?
Would the world be a better place if we just chose not to offend each other?
Should Humanists set an example by not offending other humans if at all possible?
What is the best way to defend freedom of expression in the world today?

It promises to be a very lively discussion. Please try to come along.