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Friday, 29 May 2015

British Museum

My last day in Bloomsbury was , after an initial setback, spent happily at the British Museum.

The minor setback was the result of my discovery of a few more of the withdrawn bank notes I brought with me from Australia. So this morning I visited the bank that had changed 3 identical notes on Wednesday. Today, however, the branch's policy is that it can't change withdrawn notes and I need to change them at the Post Office. Following instruction to find the nearest post office I ventured into a different bank - who gave me the same post office story.  Eventually I found a Post Office, cleverly disguised as a Smith's bookshop, waited for it to open, presented my notes, to be told that the only place I could change them was the Bank of England. At this point I cut my losses and headed to the British Museum (getting, I admit, mildly lost on the way). To finish the saga of the bank notes, the Bank of England website says I can mail the notes to them - so I am now in email communication with the Bank of England. 

Back at the Museum I was totally overwhelmed. It is school holidays and there were literally thousands of adults and children at the museum. A seething crowd, constantly moving, took me by surprise - as did the sheer volume of merchandise available for purchase. 

In the end I reverted to the familiar. I headed to the Rosetta Stone and paid homage from behind the four-deep crowd, then wandered the Egyptian reliefs.
They still engage and move me. It is the same concept of narrative, whether in stone, or photography, or embroidery. The medium both is, and is not, the message. 

 I still, too, find myself drawn to heiroglyphs, signs and symbols - the communication codes that have an edge of magic. 

There are so many things to get interested in - these huge cameos, for example.

I then headed to the European collection and stopped for a while with the Lewis chess men.
These monastery tiles were lovely 
and I was fascinated by this series which depicted a local monk's idea of stories of Jesus's childhood -  events that MIGHT have happened. 
I had some lunch and observed the extraordinary crowds - supplemented by those driven from the parks by rain.  I have talked and written about globalisation - but this week has driven home to me the reality of mobility and global culture for large numbers of people - especially, but by no means only, Europeans. The museum today was mediating between cultures and contributing to a global, life-long curriculum. The Museum belongs to the world - if possession is any guide.  The extent to which this is a good or bad thing - or whether it is any different to Medieval pilgrimages is too big a question for this blog.

I finished my day with the Sutton Hoo treasures, the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and Vandals. I still find them beautiful and awesome.
I liked these Vandal beads 

and these pieced-together Anglo-Saxon beakers from Buckinghamshire.
The depiction of a hare caught my eye - reminded me of the crewel work rabbit I have just finished embroidering!

I didn't, in the end, visit the Australian Indigenous a exhibit. In the foyer was an installation constructed by families visiting the museum after seeing the Indigenous Australian Exhibit. They were asked to use who they had learned from the exhibition to draw their favourite object from the museum - using a colour based on the form of transport they used to reach the Museum. I found this really exciting - a way of intellectually grasping some of the significance of the art and culture. 

When I left just after 6pm people were still arriving - the Museum opens till 8.30 pm.

As a child, my father truanted from school and spent much of his time in the British Museum. I couldn't help but wonder how that child would see it today - and how the Museum would see that child.

Tomorrow I leave Bloomsbury for Hampton Court and different sorts of adventures.


  1. Glad your day went well,I remember that when your dad was a child that it was free to visit. A great place for a young boy thirsty for knowledge and no money to spend his time. Next stop one of my favourite places so look forward to your post.

  2. You know, I think I have seen fibre versions of the Lewis chess men, but never the real ones. Aren't they amazing? The maker had a serious gift.

    I don't know what a withdrawn bank note is, but it certainly doesn't sound convenient! I hope you get it settled. Take care!

    1. They ARE amazing, and must be lovely to feel. So much personality and individuality. A withdrawn banknote is an edition that it no longer in circulation. I didn't realise Great Britain did it - I stupidly thought a £ was a £ and kept currency from my last visit. The 'edition' I am holding, with the portrait of Edward Elgar on it, was withdrawn from circulation a couple of years ago and has to be changed over for current editions. Advice about where it can be changed keeps changing. It isn't a critical issue - but enough money to buy a kit or two!

    2. Aha. You'll laugh, but there was a character on Coronation Street with that same problem just a few weeks ago. It's different than here, too. Old versions are still legal in Canada as well.

  3. I was thinking a lot of Len there too, it is such an exploration journey of riches. WE loved the Egyptian/Abyssianian bits too, and the Lewis Chessmen. I bought Lewis Chessmen earrings!

  4. Some very interesting things to be seen at the museum. Shame about the crowds though.