HE WHO laughs last, laughs longest. By this principle, the Aramaic builder Zabina has enjoyed one of the longest laughs in history. By daring to scrawl his name on a brick on which was stamped a paean to King Nebuchadnezzar II (604-561 BC), the humble Zabina ensured that he was remembered alongside that of the mighty King for millennia to come.
And remembered he duly was by Ian Hislop and the curators of the British Museum in the making of I, Object! (Radio 4, Tuesday to Thursday of last week). It is both a radio series and an exhibition on the history of subversion and dissent in art.
In the last episode, Hislop was asking why people bother to express dissent in such apparently futile ways. In the case of Zabina, it seems, the gesture was merely for the hell of it. He could never have imagined that his brick, one of thousands embedded in the newbuilds of downtown Babylon, would ever be seen, let alone discovered centuries later.
Depending on whom you believe — the artist or the curators — Banksy’s Peckham Rock of 2005 was another object that might have lain undiscovered for a long time. The joke on this occasion was on the British Museum: the rock, at first glance, looked like an ancient artefact, but, examined up close, revealed a crudely carved cartoon of a man with a shopping trolley.
That it went unnoticed contributed to the significance of the prank. In contrast, many of the works here are intended to smack you between the eyes; not least George Cruikshank’s imitation bank note of 1819, in which the pound sign was recast as a hangman’s noose. The protest against the brutal punishments meted out for the passing of forged bank notes was, on this rare occasion, effective, and the law was changed.
Who could have imagined that the national treasure Joanna Lumley — who campaigned to bestow citizenship on the Gurkhas — might be due for anything other than beatification? In certain quarters of Aldershot, however, her name is as dirt, her campaign resulted in a town contemptuously renamed “Nepaldershot”.
The story of the transformation of this almost entirely white, Anglo-Saxon town into the hub of Britain’s Nepalese community was told in Hotspots (Radio 4, Friday). Most strikingly, the Buddhist population in Aldershot has grown in the past ten years to ten per cent — the highest concentration in the country — and the Dalai Lama included Aldershot in his visit in 2015.
We were invited to imagine the incongruities: his holiness addressing a crowd of 6500 at the Aldershot FC stadium, where he was presented with a framed football shirt. “I hope he doesn’t try to put it on,” the club chairman said. “It took me ages to get it in the frame.”
But the club’s efforts have been rewarded: with the blessing of one of the world’s great spiritual leaders, they are out of administration, and looking forward to a brighter financial future in the Conference League.