Beautiful game to Astrolabe !

At the risk of repeating myself… I am not a great fan of football!

However, I used to be in the 70s in the heyday when Leeds United were at the top of the tree under the legendary Don Revie with players such as Allan Clarke, Terry Cooper, Norman Hunter, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Terry Cooper, Trevor Cherry, Mick Jones, Jack Charlton, Paul Madeley, Paul Reaney, Gary Sprake and so on and so forth. I have the majority of these immortalised in an autograph book. Many of them are now no longer with us, but I like to imagine them re-living their best moments in an eternal stadium of dreams!

My interest has been re-kindled though in the last couple of years with the resurgence of Leeds United under the inspired coaching of Marcelo Bielsa (“Loco Bielsa” – he might be crazy, but he is good, there is no doubt about that!). Then there were the Euros, a feast of the best things about the game and in an atmosphere of mutual respect, fair play, skill and extraordinary effort.

At least that was mostly the case… What a pity, then that it was marred in the latter stages: the crowd booing during the playing of another team’s National Anthem, the storming of the Final by goodness knows how many ticketless “supporters”, the direction of a lazer pointer towards Donarumma, the Italian goalkeeper and that foul by Cellini on Saka, for which he should have been shown red. Worst or all was the vitriol sprayed upon the unfortunates in the England side who did not manage to convert their penalties, all of whom happened to be black!. This must have been a painful reminder to Gareth Southgate of his own disappointment quite a few years ago. It was worse than that, though. What sort of people write this stuff on social media about people of colour? What can justify these horrendous comments? What can be done to eradicate this from sport, from society? How can these few be allowed to so seriously damage the work of so many to put this right?

Black Lives Matter! All Lives Matter!

This sort of incident must certainly cast a doubt over the award of the 2030 (?) World Cup to Great Britain and Ireland. So it seems we are no longer the paragon of justice, fairness, equality, multiculturalism. In fact, I am not sure we ever were! The revelations of the last year or two have forced us to re-examine our history, our reputation, our legacy, our responsibility, our wrong-doing, our crimes against humanity.

It is to history we must look, for our lesson and for our example.

Recently, and again almost by complete accident, I happened on one of a series of “shorts” on Radio 4 by Neil MacGregor: “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. The author is Director of the British Museum and the 100 objects ae all drawn from the Museum’s collections. So absolutely fascinated by what I heard was I that I immediately searched for the book on the internet. Several days later this 614-page joy of a publication dropped onto the mat, as it were. Not only that … it cost me no more than £4.19, with no charge for postage. As a true Yorkshireman, I believe this sort of bargain deserves serious and lengthy celebration!

In this extremely clever endeavour, MacGregor has created “a highly original, composite account of how humans have shaped the world and been shaped by it over the past two million years”, say the sleeve notes. Amongst the first five objects are the Olduvai stone-chopping tool and the Olduvai hand-axe, named after the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania where they were uncovered and dating from 1.2 million years ago. “What makes [the] stone axe so interesting”, he writes, “is how much it tells us, not just about the hand, but about the mind that made it.” The last two entries are entitled:

No. 99 “Credit Card”

No. 100 “Solar-powered lamp and charger”

From the simple stone tool to the microchip embedded in the plastic of a modern-day credit card, each of the 100 objects carries with it messages about how it was created and how it has been perceived over time.

So you can read about the “Sutton Hoo Helmet”, “the Pillar of Ashoka”, “the Gold Coins of Kumaragupta”, “the Chinese Tang Tomb Figures”… … and in Part Thirteen “Status Symbols AD1100-1500”: “the Hebrew Astrolabe” – the one which really took me on a voyage of discovery.

Note the date and origin! “Probably from Spain 1345-1355”.

It looks a bit like a large brass pocket watch. It is a portable model of the heavens. It is an astrolabe. With it in my hands I can tell the time, do some surveying, work out my position in the world by sun and stars, or with additional information, cast your horoscope. This instrument, although familiar to the Ancient Greeks, was particularly important to the Islamic world, allowing as it did the faithful to find their way to Mecca. Hardly surprising then that the oldest one to survive is an Islamic example form the 10th century. The one pictured is a Spanish one, made about 650 years ago. It is inscribed with Hebrew lettering, but also features Arabic and Spanish words, combining both Islamic and European decorative elements. This is not just a highly advanced scientific instrument, but also an emblem of a special period in European political, religious and social history and one of which few people are aware.

The instrument speaks volumes of a time when three great world religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism co-existed peacefully, living together in peaceful friction and where Spain was the intellectual power-house of Europe. This was the only country which was at once home to significant percentages of Jews and Muslims, except that still in the fourteenth century, it was not a country at all and a collection of separate states: the biggest being Castile and having a border with the Kingdom of Granada, the last independent Muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula. In most parts of what would now be known as Spain, there were large numbers of Jews, Christians and Muslims maintaining their own traditions and beliefs and yet living together in harmony. This convivencia, this early form of multiculturalism was extremely rare in European history.

Whereas the shared inheritance of the three faiths would survive for centuries, the mutual respect would not. As early as the end of the thirteenth century European Christendom was becoming less tolerant of other faiths. England expelled its Jews in 1290 and France its own only a matter of a decade later. In Spain, the hitherto beacon of multiculturalism, it was a further 200 years before the inevitable happened: the persecution and banishment of the Jews. The rest, as they say, is history. There ensued centuries of vicious persecution of those who professed one faith or another by those who followed a different one and, worse still, disputes and an extraordinary level of cruelty meted out on those within a faith who did not toe the official line. In fact this continues to the present day and that is what spawned the creation of Amnesty International, 60 years ago, and which we were speaking about last month.

Is it a vain hope that, as the effects of this devastating pandemic work out, we may see a world changed by a desire to cooperate for the very sake of the continuance of humanity with a willingness to learn from mistakes, to share knowledge and information to the benefit and safeguarding of all, whatever their colour, origin, creed or other defining difference? The news of the refusal of one country in particular to become involved in an international commission of investigation does not bode well for a new dawn!

I can think of no better way to conclude than with the “30-second prayer”, the one taught us by our Father in Heaven, the Lord’s Prayer:


Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.


Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter Lambert     August 2021