Portrait of Giovanni

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Bronzino, Portrait of Giovanni (1545). Oil on wood, 58 x 48 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Why this little boy’s portrait is so important

Giovanni de Medici is just eighteen months old here while clutching a goldfinch in his right hand, thus the expression on his face is typical of Bronzino’s mannerist elegance and sophistication.

You can hardly see the brush-strokes in this polished picture, thus Bronzino has applied artistic virtuosity with an enigmatic quality, hence, the porcelain skin and mask face and extreme detail of his clothing.

He is holding a goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) because this enigmatic bird is symbolic in Christianity mainly because the goldfinch eats the thistle seed and is found in the thorns, hence the resemblance to the Passion of the Christ with the his crown of thorns on the cross and represents acknowledgement of the future Crucifixion.

The coral protects a child from harm hence the charms around the boy’s neck.

This portrait is animated and engaging unlike the distant, aristocratic looking portraits viewing the world with disdain that Bronzino normally did such as the portraits of the other Medici children.

This portrait of Giovanni is quite different because the 2-year-old child is as real as they come morphologically speaking, playing cheerfully for instance.

It is quite possible that Giovanni was portrayed differently to his brothers because his father had different aspirations for the rest of his life; the child has a chubby face with his baby teeth just pointing through with an active expression upon his smiling face.


International Writers And LiteratureChekhovian Narrative is Quintessential of the Short Story Genre

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Famous as a physician, dramatist and an author Chekhov is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history.

Boys was written in 1887 featuring Volodya who returns home to his family with a strange visitor. The pair of them plot to join the Californian Gold Rush!

Volodya’s sisters are intrigued by his new friend, Lentil, thus “Boys” is a little bit of fun, short-story for youngsters. The tale is set at Christmas and while the girls make decorations the boys sit near the window, whispering to one another planning something together.

Opening an atlas, they look carefully at a map and plot their route across Russia to the Behring Straits so they can sail towards America.

Lentilov tells the girls about stampeding buffalo, the earth trembling and Indians attacking trains. He pretends to be Montehomo, the Hawk’s Claw, Chief of the Ever Victorious!

Spying on the boys at night-time the girls discover their plans to run away to America and dig for gold taking a gun, biscuits, compass, cash and knives. The “Boys” are prepared to fight tigers.

Volodya needs encouragement from Lentilov who sings the praises of America and Lentilov growls like a tiger to impress the girls. When the boys vanish, out goes a search party thus when they are found Lentilov must return home but he left a message in one of the sister’s books: “Montehomo, the Hawk’s Claw, Chief of the Ever Victorious.”

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on 29 January 1860 in Taganrog, Russia and practised as a doctor throughout most of his literary career claiming medicine to be his “lawful wife” but literature to be his mistress!

Chekhov initially wrote stories for financial gain, but as his talent and enthusiasm grew, quantity thus became quality; he made formal innovations and “Boys” is just one good example of where he has greatly influenced the evolution of the modern short story as a genre in world literature.

Originality and innovation in Chekhov’s work consists of an early use of the stream-of-consciousnesstechnique, something that was later adopted by James Joyce and other modernist writers.

Combining this new technique with the rejection of moral conclusion as an end to the traditional story structure, Chekhov’s narratives became very popular. He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them!

Boys is the quintessential Chekhovian adventure tale for youngsters. The subtlety, precision and grace can also be listened to on track number 3, Stephen Fry Presents – Short Stories, by Anton Chekhov. Available now on audio CD it is published by HarperPress.

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The Garvagh Madonna

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Raphael, The Garvagh Madonna (1509). Oil on wood, 38.9 x 32.9 cm. National Gallery, London

Why it is thought this painting was probably done during Raphael’s early years in Rome

Plans for this painting appear in Raphael’s sketch book which contains other Madonnas, and this one depicts Christ picking a carnation from John the Baptist’s hand; this area of the painting in the centre uses careful geometry that only Raphael could really have been responsible for.

The underdrawing of this painting appears very fine and delicate and probably was executed in hard black chalk; something that has only been revealed quite recently.

The perfectly oval head between vertical architecture is proof of Raphael getting increasingly interested in geometry.


American Authors

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Famous for his research on social science Murray wrote widely about education, welfare and justice; he is the best selling author of Losing Ground and The Bell Curve!

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 was written by Charles Alan Murray, from Iowa. Published in 2012, it is a long lens view, showing how he thinks America is falling apart at those seams that have historically joined its classes together.

Exploring the formation of the American class system, Charles Murray focuses on white people as a way of emphasizing that his statistical trends do not break along lines of race and ethnicity.

Drawing on fifty years of research, Coming Apart argues that the new upper and new lower classes have completely diverged; they hardly recognize their underlying American kinship anymore.

According to Murray, this is something that has nothing to do with income levels because there is evidence showing how this apparent divergence has grown during both good and bad economic times!

White America at the top and the bottom increasingly live in different cultures, thus the author maintains that the powerful upper classes live in enclaves surrounded by their own kind who are completely ignorant of life in mainstream America.

Suggesting the lower classes suffer from erosion of family values and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness, he claims this divergence in behaviour puts the success of the American project at risk.

Charles Murray’s new book arrives just in time for the central political debate in the United States presidential election 2012 to be held on Tuesday November 6; a debate which will include the nature of the widening gap between rich and poor Americans and what should now be done about it.

Murray, however, greatly ignores the idea that the 21st century elites – Citizens of the World – are now post-Americans, busily involved with building a new global economy and just don’t care about less fortunate people.

“World Citizens,” as these entrepreneurs have become known, who provide cross-cultural value to society, see nation-states as archaic obstructions to international commerce. This book also neglects the middle-class battles for welfare and rising insecurity regarding the primary safety nets of the average person.

Coming Apart is still very much a message about all of America and every American should read it. Published by Crown Forum, it is 416 pages long and available now.

Madonna of the Pinks

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Raphael, Madonna of the Pinks (1506). Oil on canvas, 27.9 x 22.4 cm. National Gallery, London

Why this painting has such an unusual name

Raphael’s picture was painted for Christian contemplation, thus Mary and Jesus are seated with a view of the sunny landscape in the background. The flowers are “pinks” which are symbolic of love and marriage; thus, depicting the Virgin as both mother and bride of Christ in a funny sort of way!

This theme of mother and child is no longer rigid and formal, thus Raphael brings tender emotions into play and Raphael did it – we believe – just before leaving Florence for Rome, however only until quite recently (1991) this one was thought to be a copy.

Delicate modelling of the translucent veil over her ear shows perfectly the excellent condition of this 500 year old painting.

The history of a painting’s ownership is called the provenance and only with scientific technology have we been able to identify The Madonna of the Pinks as Raphael’s original.

The under-drawing was revealed by infra-red reflectology that was exceptionally free and creative in a manner that no copyist could have provided.

Raphael’s style is shown typically in the under-drawing which includes features familiar with many parts of his oeuvre: for example, the arcs (broad and smaller) and hatching shadows and hooks to indicate the folds in the drapery.

From the infra-red reflectogram it is clear that Raphael drew directly onto the primer in The Madonna of the Pinks before using the brush.

There is no trace of a cartoon which he often used to transfer his designs to the panels but the freehand does however resemble many of his cartoons and underdrawings.

A scientific examination using a microscope shows the metal point of the underdrawing which Raphael was known to use frequently.

The underdrawing reveals how Raphael must have changed his mind. For example, the costume had a different neckline which originally included a button or piece of jewellery at the shoulder.

It is important to note the changes in composition because they just would not be present in copies. In addition, the copyist would never have known how science would one day be able to identify this underdrawing so he or she would never have included such a thing to get round the problem. The underdrawing has become a vital clue for identifying authenticity because similar underdrawings appear in other works by the artist. This really is a ground-breaking part of art history!

Microscopic investigation has revealed a change in mind of colour and the line of the hill did originally pass through where the architecture now is.

Pigments are the colours used to make up paint and very characteristic in this painting of those typically used in Florence in the sixteenth-century, thus copyists from a different era would have access only to different ones and this is clearly evident with microscopic investigation.

The picture has mineral azurite in the grey, lead-tin yellow and green malachite which was rarely found after the sixteenth-century and the use of powdered metallic bismuth seen in other Raphaels, has only been discovered in the last ten years. This is part of the reason why the discipline of art history is continually reinventing itself thus, strengthening the health of the subject.


British Authors

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is Louis de Bernieres’s best-known book which was published in 1994 and won Louis a great many awards.

Born in South-London with French ancestry, Louis HP de Bernieres-Smart enlisted in the armed forces, thus serving at Sandhurst before studying for a university education in Manchester and London, having also worked as a mechanic, a courier and a TEFL teacher in South America.

De Bernieres plays the guitar, clarinet and flute in addition to the mandolin, hence his literary work often references composers such as Villa-Lobos, Antonio Lauro, Vivaldi and Hummel. Working as a teacher in Colombia greatly influenced many of de Bernieres’s stories: The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo, The Coca Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, are but a few!

De Bernieres situates Captain Corelli on a Greek island during the Second World War and Corelli was made into a movie in 2001 with Nicolas Cagestarring as the Captain. De Bernieres disapproved of the film, although he did like the soundtrack.

Short-listed for the Sunday Express Book of the Year, Louis de Bernieres’s fourth (and most famous) novel was also selected for the 20 Best Young British Novelists, by Granta and won him the Commonwealth Writers Prize. As an international success, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has been translated into 11 languages and de Bernieres was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by his former university.

Cephalonia is the Greek island where Captain Corelli is set and now a major tourist attraction with a bar named after the protagonist. Red Dog was inspired by a visit to Australia, Birds Without Wings is set in Turkey in the First World War and A Partisan’s Daughter is about a Yugoslavian woman in London; thus de Bernieres is clearly widely travelled and well educated – a lesson perhaps for anyone who suffers from writer’s block!

Wormley in Surrey is the village where Louis de Bernieres grew up; a place which provided the idea forNotwithstanding, his short story collection and the new name for his now partly fictional country village. Some of the stories are biographical including one about the tale of the pet rook – his childhood companion – which he dearly nurtured.

Notwithstanding is rich in local detail containing references to country pubs and local schools along with interesting anecdotes from the author’s childhood. Published in 2009, de Bernieres seemed blind initially to the endless possibilities for creativity and inspiration at home, hence relying heavily on his international experience for his literary expertise.

Louis and his partner now live quite happily in Suffolk with their two children, Robin and Sophie.

The Music Lesson

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Vermeer, The Music Lesson (1662). Oil on canvas 74.6 x 64.1 cm. Royal Collection, St. James’s Palace, London.

Why this painting is otherwise known as Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman

This painting belonged to King George III and has been part of the Royal Collection ever since, thus the young female is taking her titular music lesson.


Fantasy And Science FictionThuvia Maid of Mars is Part of the Martian Series of Eleven Books by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Thuvia, Maid of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs tells the story of a princess who was rescued by John Carter from the Therns before being stolen away again. This time it is Carthoris (Carter’s son) who encounters some strange and fascinating creatures, before finding her by searching across Mars – a place Burroughs calls Barsoom.

First published in 1916, Maid of Mars originally appeared as chapters in the magazine All Story Weekly and John Carter isn’t the central character this time. Carthoris takes on the mantle thus proving to be just as good a swashbuckler as his father. This short, 120 page book is competitively priced and number four in the 11 strong collection from the Martian series. With illustrations and a useful glossary of names and terms, it is one that all lovers of fast-moving fantasy fiction should enjoy.

Edgar Rice Burroughs perfectly captures for the first time, a nice and detailed look at life in Helium – a city state empire on Barsoom to which Carthoris is the prince. Burroughs describes what the people do and how they live, though it becomes evident that the peace at the end of book three isn’t as widespread as was inferred.

Carthoris must free his princess and runs across the desert, a forgotten kingdom, encounters ten-legged lions, warriors and white apes to do so.Thuvia is the Princess of Ptarth; she is tough, courageous, proud and has strong identity with her high position in Martian society, thus her kidnapping by Astok is politically motivated. Previous Martian books have been fantasy or fairy tale rather than science fiction however, Maid of Mars is more fantastic with the introduction of the phantom warriors and this book is the most exciting story so far, even demanding a reading of the fifth instalment where the saga continues.

Indeed, Burroughs originality in this fourth book includes an autopilot, a collision detection device for Martian fliers and the creation of Lotharians who are Ancient Martians and use telepathy to create imaginary warriors that can kill through thought alone.

Ironically, the Burroughs crater on Mars is named in this author’s honour and this bookplate of Edgar Rice Burroughs shows Mars the planet in Tarzan’s hands, surrounded by other characters (including John Carter) from Burroughs’ stories and symbols relating to his interests and career.

Thuvia, Maid of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs is out now, available through Deodand Publishing.

Procuress

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Vermeer, Procuress (1656). Oil on canvass, 143 x 130 cm. ‏Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

Why a scene of mercenary love is so provocative

The momentary gestures and expression in this painting differ from Vermeer’s earlier biblical and mythological scenes, thus a procuress is a female pimp and in this picture she is being fondled by a soldier, while he offers her a coin.

There is a dimly lit figure (which is probably Vermeer himself painting his own portrait) in the guise of the Prodigal Son, and Vermeer uses his realism for the first time in this painting with thick impastos – rough texture – giving a three dimensional character of the ceramic jar.

Jan Vermeer – like many artists – signed so few of his paintings; this one and Astronomer and Geographer are the only three, hence, Jan Vermeer was just 24 years of age when he painted Procuress and it shows his artistic temperament fully emerging for the very first time.


British Literature

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Author Daphne du Maurier seamlessly captures the double identity genre in her 1957 crime novel, The Scapegoat. Set in post-war Paris, the story is told by John in the first person narrative, of a Frenchman called Jean who is the spitting-image of himself. When they cunningly swap places, he gets caught up in the complexities of his new family life.

John, the lonely, depressed Englishman becomes Jean and part of an aristocratic French family. A scapegoat is someone singled out for blame like a whipping boy or fall guy and this story unfolds into one of discovery and deception; only the dog can tell the difference between these two doubles!

Jean hasn’t prepared John for his new life in the chateau with his own glassworks, wife, mistress, lover and large new family of brothers and sisters OR how to deal with this complicated change in lifestyle.

Paul is the younger brother of Jean and jealous of him, Francoise is Jean’s wife and pregnant with his child and Renee is Paul’s wife who has been having an affair with Jean.

Du Maurier expects the reader to be completely familiar with the events of World War II as the book is set at the time it was published. She then almost transports herself back to her French ancestry to find out what it must have been like for the du Maurier family two-hundred years before.

Inspired by a love of the double identity theme inDr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, where the two selves are part of the same person, du Maurier created John who really begins to see the darker side of his altar-ego in France, “Jean”.

Full of suspense, coincidence and secrets, John becomes more self-possessed and confident through the exploration of his mysterious self and du Maurier leaves clues for the reader to puzzle out. Who actually is being made the scapegoat in this novel? Is it Marie-Noel who is eager to sacrifice herself for John?

Beautifully written and cleverly paced du Maurier draws the reader in with fascination to learn the truth about the protagonist’s double, though above all, the intention of the author is to emphasize the choice everyone has about good or evil in their lives.

Successful, like so many of her books Scapegoat, by Daphne du Maurier has been made into two films and is available now published by Virago.

Fish Market on the Sands

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Turner, Hastings: Fish Market on the Sands, Early Morning (1824). Watercolour on paper, 44.5 x 66 cm.
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Why this painting was bought for the town
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This painting is the largest of ten and was bought by Hastings Museum and Art Gallery for £210,000. The painting clearly shows the famous early morning market in East Sussex, with the castle visible in the distance reminiscent of 1066!
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Hastings Museum already has many of Turner’s belongings, but this is the first watercolour; it combines a dramatic and emotional response to nature, with a fascination for human life and behaviour.
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The watercolour, painted in 1824, shows fishermen and fishwives working hard and selling produce, joined by a group of fashionable women and a boy with a hoop; plus oddly enough, there are two figures in Greek costume, which is probably a reference to the Greek War of Independence, which had support in Britain at the time.
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Turner truly loved painting the British coastline.

British Literature

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Novelist Daphne du Maurier perfectly captures the eeriest atmosphere of danger and deception in her period piece. Jamaica Inn – first published in 1936 – is set in 1820s Cornwall, South West England and tells the story of a bunch of thugs who deliberately wreck ships, run them aground and steal the loot after murdering all the sailors.

Mary Yellan is 23 years-of-age and moves to Jamaica Inn to be with her Aunt Patience; her mother has recently passed away. Big Joss Merlyn is the keeper of the inn and Mary notices something unusual – there are no guests and it is never open to the public!

Arriving at Jamaica Inn, Mary feels a sense of darkness thus as events unfold the image of her aunty living in delight is shattered; Patience’s husband Joss is a bully and a brute. Mary is attracted to Joss’s younger brother, Jem, a petty thief and far less brutal than his big brother who is involved with this band of smugglers. She overhears them planning a murder of one of their own and coming across Joss’s henchmen, Mary watches in horror as they guide a ship on to the rugged rocks just off the picturesque coast of Cornwall and then murder all of the survivors who are desperately trying to swim ashore.

Escaping from the sin in Jamaica Inn, Mary goes to tell the vicar about Joss. Mr Bassat – the squire – is already giving evidence and when Mary returns she finds her aunt and uncle dead. Having seen a drawing of the vicar as a wolf and members of his congregation as sheep the plot then thickens, as it is revealed that Jem informed on his brother and that it was actually the vicar who was head of the gang. The vicar attempts to escape with Mary as his hostage but the net closes in before they reach the getaway ship about to sail to Spain. Jem shoots the vicar and rescues Mary in this dramatic tale leading in to a romance.

Du Maurier portrays the lives of ordinary people so well in her fourth novel. Her characters fit into a true-to-life drama especially the hardships faced by women. For example, there is no fairy tale ending for Mary who simply moves on to tackle a new set of problems in life’s rich pattern.

Inspired by a love of adventure stories like Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier’s calling was to write her own and she actually stayed at Jamaica Inn when riding on Bodmin Moor. The inn could easily be a manor on the West Yorkshire Pennines thus many scholars interpret du Maurier like a Bronte sister herself – Joss and Jem could easily double for Rochester and Heathcliffe – and moorland is appropriate background setting for drunken behavior, theft, smuggling, wrecking, murder and madness, giving Jamaica Inn a Gothic theme and making it a work of literature

Navigating through 320 pages this drama unfolds quickly. A difficult book to put down Jamaica Inn is competitively priced and perhaps du Maurier’s most accomplished historical romance which is now a modern classic packed with adventure and excitement in traditional Cornish pirate territory. The tension rises to the point of despair with Mary, followed by her relief where she can leave the darkness behind and take off with Jem.

Du Maurier’s true intention in Jamaica Inn was to show how Mary’s desire for independence turns into settling for a life with Jem, something which really just condemns her to follow in her Auntie Patience footsteps – living with a criminal!

Jamaica Inn was the first of du Maurier’s books to really get her noticed as a novelist. Her clear descriptions of Cornwall pre-empt Manderley in Rebecca capturing your imagination so quickly that you could almost be in that part of England . A place entwined with Cornish myth and steeped in pirate history, this tale could actually be true.

So successful, selling more copies than all of her previous work combined in just three months, Jamaica Inn, by Daphne du Maurier is available now and published by Virago.

The Girl with the Wine Glass

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Johannes Vermeer, The Girl with the Wine Glass, (1659). Oil on canvas 66 x 77 cm. Herzog Museum, Germany.

Why this painting is typical of Jan Vermeer

The smile on this girl’s face seduces the viewer as she turns to us and the portrait behind is the only example of a picture-within-picture by Vermeer that we know of, thus there is clearly more to this painting than a young woman enjoying a glass of wine!

There is an elegance and seductive nature to the clothing she is wearing, suggesting moral constraints to contemporary life and Vermeer has experimented with strong reds in this early painting of his. The dress is a fiery red and alludes maybe to a hidden passion.

Vermeer includes a stained-glass window, thus all of the luxury items seen in the painting may allude to seduction as well; it is widely thought there are oysters on the plate – which of course are meant to be an aphrodisiac – near the lemons and the lemon was often used to soften the wine, which is symbolic of moderating one’s behaviour.


British Authors

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Maureen Patricia Duffy from Worthing in Sussex England is a contemporary poet, playwright and novelist.

Born in 1933, Maureen Duffy published a literary biography of Aphra Behn who was one of the first female professional writers of English back in the seventeenth-century and clearly an inspiration.

Studying English at Kings College in London, Maureen Duffy taught for five years thereafter and she edited a poetry magazine called The Sixties, before a full-time career in writing. Her first commission was a television screenplay offered by Granada.

Duffy wrote The Erotic World of Faery which looks at saucy hidden meaning in English literature thus, her life and work has very much revolved around our language.

That’s How It Was, published in 1962, was Duffy’s first novel – recreating her childhood, it was an instant success – while Collected Poems 1949-84, appeared later. Perhaps the most controversial work was her first openly lesbian novel called The Microcosm in 1966 set in Gateways London, which was famous for being a lesbian club. The Gor Sagabecame a popular mini-series starring Charles Dance in 1988 and was called First Born ; her work is renowned for its use of Freudian ideas and Greek Mythology in its narrative framework.

The Orpheus Trail tells the story of a child found dead from fire and surrounded by the old-fashioned toys of the Greek god Dionysus thus the police need a museum curator to decipher the symbolism of these objects and it becomes a race against time to interpret all the ancient codes and clues before any more death occurs.

Actively involved in a variety of writers interest groups, Maureen Duffy was the President of the European Writers Congress in Brussels, which facilitates cultural and literary cooperation across Europe. She is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature alongside Rudyard Kipling and JK Rowling, thus members get to sign the official roll of honour using Lord Byron’s pen or Charles Dickens’ quill.

The Royal Society awarded Duffy the prestigious Benson Medal for lifetime service towards literature because of her ambitious, versatile style, which includes a vitality of language that is impressive, elegant and structural in form. She is acclaimed in Great Britain and the United States.

Maureen Patricia Duffy has a keen interest in intellectual property law, campaigning against plagiarism. She promotes justice through ethics and morals rather than indoctrination with regard to decision-making as a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association.