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There has been a bit of a delay in writing about the rest of the trip to London, what with the house being torn down around my ears leading to (quelle horreur) 2 weeks with no TV or internet access at home. So no blogging.

After the lovely evening with friends and with Neil and Amanda and their friends, I had another 2 days in London, as I had, before hearing about the New Statesman event, booked to see 2 plays, on the Saturday, so I decided to stay up and tke in an exhibition or two in between.

So, on Friday, I went to the British Museum,to visit their 'Defining Beauty - the body in ancient Greek Art' which was fascinating.'

The exhibition looks at the evolution of the idea of beauty, from ancient Egyptian figures, through to the Renaissance's rediscovery of ancient Greek Art.

The exhibits include, of course wonderful sculptures. There are also  reproduction figures, reminding us that ancient Greek sculptures were not the classic white we know now, but were brightly, indeed garishly coloured. I have to say, I much prefer them without the colours!

There are also vases (mostly of Herakles, but also a very nice one showing a woman spinning (apparently an unusual example of a well-born woman - mostly women only get a look in as slaves or goddesses)

It's worth seeing.

I then went to the British Library to revisit their Magna Carta exhibition - it was less crowded than when I made my first visit, which was nice, as it meant I could spend time trying to read bits of medieval French manuscripts, and bigger chunks of trial transcripts.

It's still a really great exhibition.

The following morning I went to look for art of a different kind - I wanted to see the mural in memory of Terry Pratchett and Josh Kirby, just off Brick Lane.

I found it, but before I got there, I also found lots of other wonderful art.

I loved these steampunk ravens, and the fox, and there were also some wonderful octopi and a mongoose.

Then the one I'd gone looking for -

It is very impressive.

So much love on one wall!  I was really glad I got to see it.  And that the Librarian is there.

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After my night at the theatre, I had the morning free before heading home, so took the opportunity to go to the British Library, to see their Magna Carta :Law, Liberty, Legacy Exhibition, which opened on 13th March.

The exhibition is, of course, part of the celebrations of the 800th Anniversary of the Charter, and it is both fascinating and comprehensive.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, starting with some background reading - a beautifully illuminated scroll setting out King John's genealogy, Henry I's coronation charter, and the Laws of King Cnut, reminding us that Magna Carta didn't emerge from a vacuum, but built on previous ideas and legal agreements. There were contemporary accounts of John's first forays into warfare (in Ireland) and of his murder of his nephew Arthur, and documents relating to the political and financial issues which led up to Magna Carta (the Papal Interdict, documents relating to the treatment of Jewish moneylenders, and so on.) The Papal Bull which put England under the Pope's overlordship is also displayed, as the the Statute of Pamiers, which was a charter issued by Simon de Montfort to his French subjects in 1212, guaranteeing rights similar to those in Magna Carta.
Thomas Cromwells's remembrances:
Photo British Library

Then there were documents relating to the Charter and its implementation,such as the Articles of the Barons, (effectively a first draft of Magna Carta), documents relting to the dissemination of the Charter,  the Papal Bull annulling it, King John's will, (and his finger bone, 2 teeth, and a fragment of his shroud, all taken from his tomb when it was opened in 1797).

There were also copies of the later Charters, reissued in 2017, and by Henry III.

The next stage of the exhibition moves on and looks at how Magna Carta was used and invoked, including a handwritten note by Thomas Cromwell (believed to relate to Sir Thomas More's trial), The Petition of Right of 1628, to King Charles I, (and printed details of his trial) and the Bill of Rights of 1688, (which invited William and Mary of Orange to take the throne, and set lmits to their power if they did)

Declaration of  Independence :
Photo from NY Public Library
And then moved on to the Colonies, starting with transcripts of the trial of William Penn (at which the Judge notoriously imprisoned the jury for failing to give the guilty verdict he felt appropriate!),and including Thomas Jefferson's handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, and contemporary printed copies, together with material relating to the laws of various of the original States, some of which, such as Massachusetts and Virginia specifically invoked Magna Carta.

There are also political cartoons relating to the French Revolution, and to to the Chartist movement in this country.

The remaining section of the exhibition relates to more recent developments - documents relating to the East India Company, and, later, the Colonies. There are also documents relating to Churchill's suggestion to give the Lincoln Magna Carta to the USA, in the hopes this would encourage the US to join the War, and modern political cartoons, as well as, on a lighter note, Magna Carta themed jigsaws, games, a Ladybird Book, and of course Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That which notes that John was a Bad King,  but that Magna Carta was a Good Thing (which, now I come to think of it, is arguably the message of this exhibition, too!)

Right at the end of the exhibition are the British Library's two copies of Magna Carta, the 'London'and 'Lincoln' copies.

The 'London' Magna Carta - British Library

It is a very interesting exhibition. Many of the items on display have been loaned by other institutions, from the NY Library, to the French National Archives, Parliament, several Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and any number of Cathedrals, so the chances of seeing them all together again seems slim!

The exhibition continues until September, so I am hoping that I shall have a chance to go back, perhaps when the exhibition is a little less crowded (well, a girl can hope!). If you are in or near London between now and September, I'd strongly recommend going.
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Back in October, I entered into the British Library's ballot, to try to win tickets for their Magna Carta Reunification event - all four surviving copies of the original 1215 Charter, brought together to be visited by just 1,215 members of the public.

In December, much to my surprise and delight, I got an e-mail from the British Library, which started "Congratulations, you have won tickets to the Magna Carta Unification Event on 3 February 2015." It appears that well over 40,000 people applied for tickets, and (given tht the tickets were available in pairs) the chances of winning were about 1 in 80.!

For the next couple of months, I kept going back and re-reading the e-mail, to check that it really did say what I thought it did. And then, in January, the actual tickets arrived, and I was convinced that it really was happening!

So, on Tuesday morning, I set off to the British Library, to enjoy some History.

We started in the Library's Conference Centre, where historian Dan Jones was to give us a brief introduction to the Charter.

And we got a lovely surprise. We had asked, with every expectation that the answer would be no, whether they had happened to have any last minute cancellations which might allow my mother to come with us (I got 2 tickets. I invited one of my parents to come with me, and they agreed that that would be my dad, while my mum spent the day doing some research elsewhere) . Much to our surprise and pleasure, there was (or possibly they had been authorised to allow a few extra people in! ) So all three of us got to see the Charters!

There were a number of reenactors at the library for the event, soldiers / men at arms for security and crowd control, musicians, scribes, and others. For instance, we were greeted by one of the King's Marshals (who warned that anyone allowing their phone to go off during Dan Jones' talk would be taken up for witchcraft, as clearly small talking devices must be the work of the devil!)

Dan Jones gave us a short talk, summarizing the background to the grant of the charter, and explaining some of the differences between the 4 remaining copies - for instance, that three of them are written in 'Chancery Hand', a style of writing associated with the Court (and proto-civil servants) and the fourth is in a style associated more with the copying of prayer books and other literary works.

He also spoke briefly about what is known of the provenance of each Charter, and about how it failed at the time, and  little about it's ongoing influence.  For instance, the second of the two copies held by the British Library, which was damaged in a fire in the 18thC, but it's current illegibe condition is due, not to the fire damage, but to the early Victorian attempts at conservation! (recently, research using photography using different lights has allowed much of the Charter to be read again)

Then, we were to go across to the main Library to queue to see Magna Carta itself.

While we waited,  there were further reenactors, including musicians,  a gentleman reading Magna Carta (in English) aloud, another writing out the charter, in (so we were told) accurate medieval Latin, complete with the various contractions used in the original Charter, and using a quill.

Others were moving around making conversation  we had a chat with Richard Poer, Bishop of Chichester, who was looking remarkably youthful for a prelate entering his 9th Century!

It took us a while to reach the head of the queue, but it was worth the wait.

When you see it, Magna Carta is surprisingly small. The handwriting is beautifully regular and clear (although unless you read medieval Latin, not actually comprehensible)

On each one, it was possible to make out King John's name, in the first line, and to pick out where each clause began.

The 'London' Magna Carta (picture(c) the British Library)

Seeing the copies side by side, it was also possible to see the differences in style we had been told about.

The Salisbury Magna Carta (Picture (c) Salisbury Cathedral)

Seeing the documents, and knowing that they have survived for 800 years, and inspired and influenced law and constitutions worldwide, was awe-inspiring (although  King John, and the Barons, would of course all find the modern legacies of Magna Carta utterly alien and very different to their original intentions.!)

As we left the exhibition space, we were each given a rather nice goody bag, which contained, as well as souvenir pens and pencils from Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals, a note book, and a very chocolate coin, a 'Golden Ticket' (to allow a visit to each of the three exhibitions, at the British Library, Lincoln Castle and Salisbury Cathedral, and a certificate of attendance at the event.

We were invited to go to the one-day-only scriptorium (usually the ticket office!) to have our names inscribed upon the certificates, which were then sealed with beeswax.

Did you know that the whole thing about melting sealing wax over a candle to seal documents is a hollywood mistake? Modern sealing wax has shellac in, but beeswax, as used on Magna Carta, and our certificates, is simply warmed in the hands for sealing!

It was a very memorable day, and I feel privileged to have been one of the few people given this opportunity.

The British Library's exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy opens on 13th March, and runs until September. (You can also read more about Magna Carta on the Library's blog There are also exhibitions on in Lincoln and Salisbury. I am hoping that I shall manage to visit the Salisbury one, at least!

More photos of the day on Flickr

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Did I mention that I really love Dave McKean's work? I really love Dave McKean's work. So going to London to see a live event, with him playing and singing his own music at the British Library was too good to resist.
Dave McKean
Having spent the afternoon at the Foundling Museum, I got to the Library in plenty of time, and was able to have a cup of coffee and admire the Steven Appleby art on the walls (there was an event relating to his book, 'The Good Inn' after the Dave McKean event, and the library appeared to have focussed on that)  before going in to the Auditorium to see and hear Dave McKean.
He was accompanied by a quartet of other musicians, and performed a total of 9 pieces, each accompanied by one of Dave's own short films, all different, and all amazing!
The 9 songs were:
Tempest - a melancholy song of rain, and rising floodwater.
Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree
His Story - a haunting story from McKean's book 'Pictures That Tick' - the film was a animated version of the art which appears in the book, and left me thinking about the connection between parenthood and childhood, and memory.
Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree - this was one of the songs which McKean performed at the 'Late at the Library event a couple of weeks ago - I think it would be fair to describe it as weird, but in a good, entertaining, way...
Neon - a strange, ghost story of a song, set in Venice (or a Venice-like city.
Mixed Metaphors - this was an absolutely beautiful piece of animation, the title sequence from 'Luna', (with no titles on it, as yet) beautiful images of paper birds, and flight. It made me  long to see the full film.
Words - another segment from 'Luna'.
The Coast Road - The coast road started life as an art exhibition (which I sadly missed) and became a book (which I happily have). Dave read the full story, with the artwork creating the film, and with the other musicians providing the music. It's a poignant, but ultimately optimistic story, about despair, hope and art.
June - another of the songs which McKean  performed at 'late at the library'.This was apparently written in response to a challenge from his pub music group (and I do wish I lived near a pub where people wrote new songs every month!), and involves a mince pie, and cleavage, and is is solemn and sober as that suggests!
finally, The Cathedral of Trees, a haunting finale to the evening. Dave explained that this was written as part of a collaboration he is working on with a theatre company called 'Wildwalks' (I think) for an immersive production called 'Callisto and the Wolves'  It was strange, haunting, and beautiful (also, the earlier part of the piece, which was filmed inside what I assume is McKean's home, gave me bookshelf envy!)
It was a fantastic evening, and I was very happy to be able to speak briefly to Dave after the event, to get  book signed and to give him some chocolate! Because of the Steve Abbleby event (I assume) the library had not made any specific arrangements for Dave to sign, and they didn't have any of his books for sake, which was a shame.
I would like to be able to mention the other musicians by name, as they were excellent, but unfortunately I was too busy listening to the music and watching the films when they were introduced, to make notes, so I can't provide their names. They were excellent, though.
To my frustration, I got to Paddington about 90 seconds too late to catch the train I had been planning on, so I had to wait an hour for the next one, and finally reached home just before midnight, but it was worth it. I'm glad I went.
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Foyer, British Library
Back in March, I saw that the British Library was going to be having an Exhibition, Comics Unmasked, about (the clue is in the title!) comics. And, even more exciting, from my perspective, that one of the events associated with the exhibition was this one, Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos, in conversation. Followed by Amanda Palmer and guests.

How could I resist?

I was lucky enough to get tickets - I think I must have got in just before the rush started! So Friday morning saw me on a train heading towards London, and a truly excellent day! I t was, of course, disappointing to learn that Amanda wasn't able to be there, but the news that Neil, and Dave McKean, would both be part of the music event was excellent compensation!

After visiting the Vikings exhibition, I met up with my friend A, and we had a very civilised meal in Russell Square Gardens, before heading on the the British Library where we were issued with wrist bands for the evening event, and then we went into the conference centre.

The auditorium was starting to fill up so staff were directing people to specific seats, and we ended up in the second row, right at one end, which turned out to be pretty good seats! (and, although we didn't realise it until she went up to the stage, it turned out that the red-headed lady sitting immediately in front of us for the introductions was Tori Amos herself!)

Neil and Tori

The room seats about 250 people, which feels pretty small and intimate, and the event involved 2 of the exhibition's curators, John Harris Dunning and Paul Gravett, (Paul Gravett has known Neil for years, having been involved in getting Violent Cases published)

It felt less like an interview, and more like a conversation between friends which just happened to be taking place in front of 250 guests!

Neil had just returned from his trip to Jordan for the UNHCR , and looked rather worn out from it, and when he spoke a little about it, later in the evening, it was obvious that those experiences were still very raw.

However, much of the conversation was much more lighthearted and free-ranging moving from how Neil and Tori met, the fact that despite having know one another for years there only seems to be one photo of them together (after Friday night, that will have changed!). They also talked about the reason Blueberry Girl was written, (with a shout out to Tash, who was in the audience) and the reason it was finally published (Neil claimed he got fed up with photocopying it for people who asked for it at readings) .

Neil and Tori were both asked what they would try to teach, if they had an apprentice for a day, and both confirmed that they wouldn't try to teach someone to write, but to think about the creative process (Neil said he would probably take them for a walk, and try to explain what goes on in his head when he goes for a walk. I should love to take that walk!)

There was talk of how Tori and Neil  inspired one another, and Neil mentioned that one of the things he liked about Tori's songs when he heard them was the whole "Me and Neil'll be hanging out with the Dream King" - seeing him as separate from his creation, and also admitted that; "...some of Delirium's best lines were stolen from Tori".

Dave McKean
The conversation was over all too soon, and we all moved from the conference centre into the main entrance hall of the Library, for the second part of the evening: 'Late at the Library', which featured lots of music, and a reading from Neil. We started with some music from Dave McKean, some of which was accompanied by his own animations. I should like to hear, and see more (and luckily, he is appearing again at the Library on 6th and 7th June, so I should get the chance!)

Neil, reading
His performance was followed by a reading by Neil, who read 2 of the stories from 'A Calendar of Tales' (October and July), and 'The Day the Saucers Came'

There was more music from Marc Almond (Whose work,  I must confess, I was not previously familiar with) and the 'Comics Unmasked' exhibition was open throughout the evening.

I had been to look round earlier in the day, but we did go back in, and I have to say the exhibition, which is full of sinister mannequins wearing 'V for Vendetta' masks, as well as the comics), particularly  the 'sex tent' (the section of the exhibit containing the more graphic exhibits, unsuitable for the overly sensitive) works well late at night, with Rock music and the smell of beer and popcorn  in the background!

We didn't stay right to the end, leaving around 10, having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, met various friends and acquaintances, and generally had a stonking good evening.

And there is something utterly wonderful about filling the British Library, of all places, with comics, rock, and partying people!

(more photos here)
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It's been a busy few days.
On Friday I drove up to London, to visit relations, and to go to the theatre on Saturday. It wasn't a fun drive, lots of rain, sleet and spray, so I was very glad to arrive.
On Saturday, we woke to find it was snowing. Which is not usual, here, at the end of March. And which made the prospect of going Out rather less appealing. But we did.

My cousin J and I went into London - we started off with a trip to the British Library, so see their exhibition about the Mughal Empire, which was fascinating. Being the British Library, the majority of the exhibits were books and other documents, although they did have a rather splendid armoured horse, and a very fancy crown  (which they borrowed from the Queen, who apparently has enough to spare one for a bit).

The exhibition showed how the culture of the Mughal Empire influenced and was influenced by western european visitors, and gave the opportunity to see some lovely pieces of art, and illuminated manuscripts which are not normally on display. Towards the end of the exhibition there were some early photographs, too, taken after the Indian 'Mutiny' of 1857 and showing deserted and looted palaces.

It was well worth seeing, and seemed to be very popular.
While we were at the Library, we also saw their mini exhibition 'Murder in the Library: and A-Z of Crime Fiction', which was entertaining, even if they had to stretch a little for one or two of the letters of the alphabet.
I learned that Baroness Orczy wrote crime fiction (as well as the Scarlet Pimpernel) - stories featuring a plucky female detective, written in around 1910.
We then went on, to visit the Hunterian Museum, which is part of the Royal College of Surgeons.It grew from an original collection begun by John Hunter, and bought by the government in 1799. It's full of bottled body-parts (animal and human) including half of the brain of Charles Babbage, and other medical curiosities. Interestingly, although it seems that many of the specimens were bought, or (in the case of the earlier ones in particular) acquired from 'resurrection men') others were acquired with the donor's full knowledge and consent - a sort of 'celebrity body parts...'

As well ass the human remains, there are various fossils, and zoological specimens, including delicate examples of dissected insects, some of them 200 years old. (This is all the more remarkable when you learn that the museum suffered significant bomb damage during WWII: firebombs and 1000s or specimens pickled in alcohol are not a good combination)

While we were there, there was a 'Promenade performance' by first year drama/design students from the Rose Bruford college of performing arts. The students were moving around among the visitors wearing costumes, and giving a performance both inspired by the collection. It was .. odd.

All of this took us well into the afternoon, so we decided to finish up with a nice cup of tea, and a visit to Foyles, before we went to the theatre. (Yes, of course I ended up buying several books. Was there really any question?)

It carried on snowing the whole time, but wasn't settling ion the roads or pavements, so other than the cold it didn't really effect us.
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I booked for Neil Gaiman's  'Worlds of Wonder' event at the British Library as soon as I became aware it was happening (thank you, Maggie!) and was very much looking forward to it.

However, it wasn't due to start until 2.30, so I needed to find something to do to entertain myself on Sunday morning.

I decided to visit The Wellcome Collection - it's small, but interesting.They have one of Antony Gormley's casts (from 'Another Place') hanging from the ceiling in the lobby, which is always good.

The part of the museum which I enjoyed the most was the 'Medicine Man' exhibition, about Henry Wellcome himself. He appears to have been an avid, if somewhat indiscriminate, collector -  amongst other things, he had Napoleon's  toothbrush, Lord Nelson's razor, a lock of George III's hair and two of Charles Darwin's walking sticks.

He also had shrunken heads, a peruvian mummy, some Japanese sex toys, and some very gruesome momentos mori...

There are also other, (slightly) more medical displays - one large glass case, filled on one side with amupation saws of all shapes and sizes, and on the other with gynocological forceps, and another case full of artificial limbs, including one dating to 1580! (and another, which appeared to be made of wrought iron, with decorative little twiddles, from the 1850s)

Very interesting stuff!

After visiting the museum, I fortified myself with a sandwich before heading across to the British library. I was fortunate enough tio reach the shelter of the Library just before the heavens opened and it poured with rain!

At the Library, I met up with my friend Cheryl, and a girl called Lucy, who was drawing a gorgeous picture of Neil, and Robin (@Raliel), and Mike (who bought my spare tocket from me), and Maggie, who I know from twitter but haven't met in person before, so I was more than happy to be wiating around for the doors to open.

Then we got to wait around inside, which was warmer, and less rainy.

And there were books for sale. Neil arrived looking rather windswept and rained upon. Cheryl lent him a hairbrush, and he brushed his hair,which instantly reverted to looking wild and windswept. I always suspected that Crazy Hair was, in truth, a factual record, and now I know it for sure.
Farah Mendelsohn, Neil Gaiman,
Rachel Armstrong, Peter F Hamilton, Kari Sperring
I was lucky enough to get seat in the front row of the auditorium, and settled down to enjoy the discussion.

As well as Neil, the panal consisted of Farah Mendelsohn (moderating), Rachel Armstrong (TED fellow), Peter F. Hamilton and Kari Sperring. Farah did a sterling job of moderating, and the discussions raned far and wide - from the fact that Science Fiction is (almost) always about now, not the future, how Chinese and Indian Science Fiction is optimistic, and how you don't really need to write science fiction dpecifically for children because they read what's written for adults..
There  was also the discussion about whether things are getting better or worse (and WHO they are getting better or worse for .

I don't, now, recall exactly what it was which led to Neil describing to us the "Shit Machine" he had seen in the Museum of Old and New Art, in Tasmania.. I think super villians came into it somewhere.

Rachel Amstrong provided an interesting perspective, and argued passionately that science needs writers to fire the imagination about science, and Neil and Peter both talked about being inspired by science as much as by fiction.

The discussion also ranged over politics and gender, (and how far we still have to go) - Neil talked about how 'Coraline' was initially considered to be unpublishable, because the protagonist was a girl. Which is pretty depressing..

There was comment about the effect on spam-mail of 3D printers (xkcd have, of course, already given it some thought)

The discussion ended with a short Q&A, then Neil & Peter signed  - I've never seen a shorter signing line for Neil!

I allowed sense to overcome ambition and, on the basis I had to carry all my baggage for the weekend had brought my copy of Shoggath's Old Peculiar (now adorned with R'ylehian inscription) rather than my  Absolute Sandman - I think it was a wise decision, even if it means I do not qualify as a True Fan!

More conversation, and introductions to interesting people, and then, once the signing was over, and Cheryl and I had had a chance
to chat briefly to Neil, we left the library. Cheryl and I joined what appeared to be about 1/2 the audience from the library in the pub over the road, for a quick drink, then we had a rather nice curry.

I don't know anout anyone else, but I had an early night, after a truly enjoyable day.

A weekend well spent, I think :-)


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