LIVING in London has its disadvantages:

the crowds, the pricey accommodation and the whiff of superiority detectable in some parts of town.

But it has many joys such as the views along the Thames, national news coverage of local travel disruption, and access to its array of museums and galleries.

One of these, the British Museum, has been in the spotlight after the actor George Clooney demanded the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

In a reversal of those poor soap actors attacked due to the actions of their characters on screen, or TV doctors called upon to perform tracheostomies, Mr Clooney used expertise gleaned from his latest film The Monuments Men, the story of an Allied team saving art from the Nazis, to give us his take on art history.

I have conflicting views on the British Museum. Its glass-ceilinged Great Court is one of the most pleasant places in London, not least due to the cafe selling cakes. The museum's merits extend past pastries to stunning one-off exhibitions on the likes of the Terracotta Warriors or Pompeii that package up intriguing artefacts with illuminating narrative.

Yet the glass cases crammed with objects in the permanent displays often leave me cold as one finds oneself acting like a caffeine addict on Wikipedia, flitting from ancient bone to priceless pot while retaining little information.

Mr Clooney's appeal, no doubt oblivious to the column inches that would therefore be devoted to his film, has previously been voiced by the likes of comic Stephen Fry and the Greek Government. It has merit. The removal by Lord Elgin, the Scottish aristocrat who was ambassador to the Ottoman empire, from Athens around 1800, was no doubt dubious.

But similar points have been made about the holdings in other museums, whether the Ishtar Gate in Berlin's Pergamon museum or Priam's Treasure at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

It is not unknown for items to be returned. The National Museums of Scotland sent a Tasmanian skull to Australia. But where do we stop?

Should the British Museum's Rosetta stone go back to Egypt? Or instead to the French who discovered it? Should the museum hold on to its Lewis chessmen or should they go to Edinburgh, Stornoway or Olso? Security must be taken into account. Artefacts were lost in raids on museums during the war in Iraq and revolution in Egypt should serve as a warning. The precarious position of the Greek state is a concern.

An even more important consideration is the role of world history in our cultural conversation.

The Elgin Marbles are objects that can be appreciated for their beauty and insight into the intense rivalries of the ancient Greek city states. They also prompt us to ask us questions about ourselves. Our leaders no longer depict enemies as centaurs but opponents are still demonised in more subtle ways.

It would be a shame if historical objects became mere trophies in cabinets of parochial wares.

Meanwhile, widen access to our historical hoard. Take artefacts on tour, put them in exhibitions. Then allow visitors to digest what they have seen with a slice of Victoria sponge.