Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Posts Tagged ‘British Museum’

British Museum, Sunday 26.9.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 27, 2010

The plan for today was a literary walk through Mayfair, but we thought we’d start with a quick visit to our favourite museum instead.  Four hours later we jettisoned the walk because we were footsore but happy and in need of a rest back at the Montague.

Is it ever possible to do a ‘quick visit’ to the BM?  I don’t think so.  We’ve included visits on both our previous trips and still we find new things to take our interest.    First up we headed for ancient civilisations that Tim learned about in his current Monash course, and then we just meandered about to wherever serendipity took us.  Tim discovered a Roman padlock and shards of ancient glass, while I marvelled at the mosaic pavements from Roman villas here in Britain.

I especially enjoyed reading about the discovery of the various ‘hoards’ found by kids and farmers who stumbled onto treasures buried long ago.  All over the galleries there are cabinets full of weapons and helmets, coins and jewellery found in fields and under buildings here in the British Isles.  There is the Staffordshire Hoard,  the Vale of York Hoard,  the Cuerdale Hoard and others whose names I’ve forgotten.   I’m not sure who ‘owns’ these things when first they are found but one  way or another they’ve ended up here in at the British Museum.  The Sutton Hoo Hoard is my favourite because it shows that the so-called Dark Ages were not a wasteland of empty thought and complacent ideas.  The sophistication of this unknown English king’s burial and the artefacts laid to rest with his body proves that.

It was good fun trying to guess what this ancient gizmo was.  (It’s an adze). We knew it was bronze age because there were shreds of copper oxide on it, and I guessed it was a digging tool because it was a bit like Aboriginal ones I’ve seen.  Tim figured out that the top part was where the handle joined on, and it wasn’t hard to guess what they used to tie it together with: animal intestines!  I think kids of all ages enjoy this kind of game…

My favourite gallery is still The Enlightenment Gallery.  This gallery features the collections of those 18th and 19th century men (and women??) who had the time and the means to collect things from all over the world, but didn’t just collect for the sake of it.  They also had the brains to try to make sense of their collections in a scientific way.  George III features in this gallery too: unlike the present crop of royals he was an intellectual and his library forms the backdrop in the gallery – his books are everywhere.  Not just in stacks on the walls, but also underneath the cabinets.  These ones you can see at left are massive atlases, part of a set of over a hundred.

The thing about George was that he was forward thinking about science in a way that his fellow-collector of scientific instruments and founder of the British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane, was not.  Sloane was a clever fellow, but he collected instruments long past their use-by date just because they were exotic or interesting while George’s were the latest and most useful he could get his hands on.  (I think he commissioned some too.)

The gallery starts off with Sir Joseph Banks presiding over the natural history collection, and then there are the antiquities, of which my favourite is this beautiful fish mosaic. 

There’s a cast of the famous Rosetta Stone which serves to introduce a fascinating series of cabinets showing how these ancient inscriptions were deciphered.  I’ve read about this achievement many times and it still amazes me that they were able to decode the inscriptions.  The chart that shows the correspondences between what’s on the stone and what the symbols mean looks deceptively simple, it’s one of the great achievements of the Enlightenment period…

No visit to the Enlightenment gallery is complete without posing with a statue or two, so here’s Tim with the Lioness Goddess Sekhmet  and Ptolemy I. 

Looking less enamoured here he is in a nearby pub where we foolishly went for lunch.  It’s called The Plough and yes, those are the infamous mushy peas…

I look much happier in my picture because we walked back past the London Review Bookshop where I found some Moleskine notebooks (I forgot to bring some with me, for journalling) and a delightful book called The Shell Country Alphabet, The Classic Guide to the British Countryside by Geoffrey Grigson.  It will be a perfect companion as we set off for the Cotswolds tomorrow.

We finished off a perfect day by meeting up with Kim from Reading Matters at Bea’s of Bloomsbury, which has to be the best tea shop in London. How nice it is to meet up with a fellow booklover like this, thanks to the wonders of the internet!

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Posted in Dining out, England 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage, London 2010, UK 2010 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

London, The British Museum, 29.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 29, 2005


Since the British Museum was only round the corner from the Montague on the Park, even I couldn’t get lost. So when Tim decided to have a rest back at the hotel, I couldn’t resist venturing out on my own…
First (of course) I went back to see the antiquities: The Elgin Marbles, the Assyrians, the Romans and so on. I met some lovely people, including a friendly Greek gent who caught me admiring the Nereid Monument and wanted to know if I thought it should be repatriated to Greece. I said not, (not as emphatically as I might have otherwise) but we chatted amiably because I’m from Melbourne and Greeks are fond of Melbourne. (It’s the third largest Greek city in the world.)
Outside British prehistory there was a curator with a tray of items for visitors to touch and hold. She let me handle a small pick and a hammer head, but (as I couldn’t resist telling her) these were hardly ancient compared to Aboriginal culture, which goes back 40,000 years. I was a bit surprised to find that she didn’t know much about the technologies used by our Aborigines in prehistory, and she was very impressed when I told her I’d seen small ‘wells’ carved by hand in Wave Rock, Western Australia. These wells were filled with sand to stop precious water from evaporating during the drought. I think Aussies should do much more bragging about the unique culture and history of our Aborigines…

Later on I again felt like an excited little kid when I was allowed to hold coins from the reign of Cleopatra (20BC) and Ptolomy (240BC), a little ewer of oil used by an athlete on his skin before a race and an Athenian pottery dish for olives. I do so love to see these household objects from long ago.

I met up with Tim again in the Enlightenment Gallery, which is new since our last visit. When George III’s library was moved to its impressive new home in the new British Library there were empty bookshelves left behind, so they borrowed some books from the parliamentary library to make it look respectable and filled the gallery with an eclectic (but systematically organised) collection of memorabilia from the Great Men of the Enlightenment. I felt quite a pang when I saw the fossil collection of William Smith – the father of British geology, according to Simon Winchester. He was a canal engineer, who created the first geological map of Britain, but he got into financial bother and had to break up his precious fossil collection to sell it to a not very grateful public.
There were all sorts of natural history specimens there too, including Joseph Banks’ shells and a stuffed koala, bits of Samian (Aretine) ware, some tiles from 8th century Iran (when it was Persia), pieces of Wedgewood, a miscellany of Hindu deities and even a miniature gamelan. Amazing!

After that, we went to the special exhibition ‘Forgotten Empire’ and it was brilliant. Some of the pieces were only British Museum casts, made in the 19th century but now the only surviving examples for study. They show the magnificence of the carvings on the Persian palaces, but what I liked best was the jewellery – superb little golden chariots, so delicate and fine, and a magnificent drinking vessel with a carved base. Beautiful gold armlets and tiny little seals carved with miniature scenes of Persian life. There was also a special column with what was ‘almost’ an early Bill of Rights exhorting tolerance – used these days by the Iranians for propaganda purposes…
Tired out, we dined in, on squab risotto at the Blue Door Restaurant, which is the evening incarnation of the breakfast room at the Montague. The meal was nice, and the service very good, but the South African wine was woeful!

Posted in Dining out, England 2005, London 2005, Museums, ScienceLovers pilgrimage, UK 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »