Hannah McGill: Time to return all my booty

Could Britain not temporarily swap the Elgin marbles for something equally nice from Greece?
Could Britain not temporarily swap the Elgin marbles for something equally nice from Greece?
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THE matter of whether Britain should give the Elgin or Parthenon marbles back to Greece has been at the fore again, drawing attention to the fact that of course it should.

Not really because of rightful ownership (debatable in this case), or British atonement for thoughtless imperial plundering (overly simplistic, history not being a game of Risk); but because a beautiful thing is in pieces and the option exists to put it back together in the place where it belongs, we should probably all get behind that for aesthetic reasons. I didn’t realise until seeing the parts that are still in Athens that it’s not that they have some discrete bits and we have others, like a neatly divided crockery collection after a break-up; more that bits of the same sculptures are in different lands, like if one partner took the teapot and the other took the lid and no-one can make tea properly.

One can sympathise with the confusion. Here in the Athens of the North I am preparing to move house, and facing up to my own haul of contraband booty. While I have not obtained the ancient treasures of other lands at knock-down prices, I do have a copy of Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy album that belongs to someone I went out with 20 years ago; a set of coffee cups inadvertently plundered from a long-ago flatshare; and a foot-high action figure of Godzilla that I gave as a gift and yet have somehow kept. I’ve got plates that aren’t mine, books that aren’t mine, and a green towel I once accidentally stole from a gym. These items have survived frequent clutter purges, because I still tell myself I’ll get them back to their rightful owners – even if we’ve lost touch, or I never actually knew who they were.

Most of us – particularly if we are of that generation landed with the unfortunate combination of impermanent housing and a lingering pre-digital reliance on physical objects like books and CDs – amass this sort of misappropriated baggage in the course of a life. It would take some sort of global amnesty to set things straight. Or maybe not: if we’ve all lent as much as we’ve borrowed, have we simply participated in an unofficial economy of objects? Maybe ongoing generosity is the way to restore balance?

It’s been suggested that Britain and Greece could progress by agreeing on a temporary swap: the marbles have a trip home to the Parthenon, and Greece lends us something nice in return, hopefully not a big horse. Though the fact that our respective governments occupy opposite ends of the ideological spectrum probably confines this sort of co-operation to fantasy, it’s pleasant to imagine the integrity of the artwork taking precedence over finders-keepers stubbornness and political posturing.

Meanwhile, I’m tracking down the addresses of those whose goods – worth nothing and probably long forgotten – I still retain, to make my own small restitutions. I fear the towel is a hopeless case, so if it was yours, all I can say is I’m sorry: it looked a lot like mine, and exercise makes me confused.

Fame can have high cost for kids

CONGRATULATIONS to Mhairi Calvey, who played William Wallace’s daughter in Braveheart as a six-year-old, and has now been cast as Flora Macdonald in an upcoming Bonnie Prince Charlie biopic. Calvey has also spoken out about the difficulties she faced after the film’s success – a common cry from even the most grounded child stars. Scotland produced one of the saddest cases of child stardom in the frail form of the late Lena Zavaroni; although others have found different paths and happier outcomes. Gregory’s Girl star John Gordon Sinclair is a noted crime novelist, while his co-stars went to opposite extremes, Clare Grogan becoming a pop icon, TV star and children’s writer, and Dee Hepburn turning to a career out of the limelight. Heather Ripley, who starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when she was seven, stalled as an actress and became a campaigner and anti-nuclear activist. Govan-born Iain Robertson has sustained a prominent career in TV, film and theatre since a not-entirely-happy stint on Grange Hill as a youngster. Fame doesn’t work out for everyone, and not everyone wants it; but it’s to be hoped that a society now more geared towards the protection of children will pay some mind to the needs of those who encounter it.

To tip or not to tip…

A RECENT study of British diners suggests Scots are the most likely to leave a tip. This may be evidence against our long-rumoured meanness, or of panic and insecurity over the vagaries of tipping. Is a tip a gift to a stand-out individual, or a built-in charge? If it’s the former, what about the fact that it gets divided up with other staff you never encountered, and if it’s the latter, what’s the point? Outside of restaurants, who expects a tip and who doesn’t? And is the whole concept really just an excuse for employers to pay less?

In the face of such bafflement, at least a lot of Scots choose generosity as the best policy.