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My visit to the Potter play was on the Sunday, which, as I had to stay overnight afterwards, meant that I had booked the Monday off work and had time for a trip to the British Museum before heading home.

I went to see the Sunken Cities exhibition (which I had originally planned to see when I was in London for the Likely Stories screening, but was foiled by some protesters who caused the museum to close that day).

It's a fascinating exhibition, based on archaeological finds from Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, cities which stood at the mouth of the Nile and which sank into the sea in the 8th Century BC. (probably due to liquefaction of the silt they were built on)

The remains of Canopus were originally spotted by an RAF pilot in the 1930s, but the discovery of the full extent of the ruins, and their identification as the near legendary cities, did not take place until 2000, when a team of archaeologists led by  Franck Goddio, working with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities started to map and explore the ruins, and to recover many of the artefacts preserved there.

A selection of the finds make up this exhibition, which explores in particular the links, and the cultural connections, between the ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek civilizations. There are also other, connected items, loaned by Egyptian museums

As well as statues, finds included gold jewelry, inscriptions, buildings, ritual objects, and even a wooden barge, preserved almost intact (It's still on the seabed, I believe, but there were photographs)

The exhibition provides lots of information about the way that the Greek conquerors of Egypt adapted (and adopted) elements of Egyptian religious life, with gods from each culture being merged.

There is a fascinating section about the mysteries of Osiris, in which priests made models of the god out of a mixture of soil and seeds, and then, once the seeds had germinated, processed in barges through the canals of the city.

Of course, the water did not preserve the papyri or the amazing textiles or painted artefacts that one sees in other Egyptian exhibitions, so these artefacts seemed, to me a least, a little more distant, less relatably human, than (for instance) The Petrie, or even the items in the Egyptian galleries at the BM itself, but it's still very interesting!

I wasn't a big fan of the  piped music played throughout the exhibition, which made me feel a little as if I were trapped in a  New Age lift, but other than that, it think it well done. I would have liked, also, to have been given more information about the technical side of the the archaeological excavations, which the short videos presented didn't really go into.

But over all, well worth visiting!

I then headed upstairs to the old Reading room to see the smaller (and less heavily advertised) exhibition about Sicily: Sicily: Culture and Conquest.

It is absolutely fascinating, very well put together and full of beautiful and stunning things.

I admit that I know very little about the history of the island, so learned that it has been variously invaded and ruled by the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Romans, Arabs, Normans, the Spanish and finally the mainland Italians, and of course took, and retained, elements of each culture. There are also some unique prehistoric remains, including burials.

Prehisitoric carvings

There are some wonderful documents in the exhibition, including Arabic maps and manuscripts.

It seems that although the island was repeatedly conquered, for much of its history it was ruled by surprisingly enlightened individuals, so that the North African Arab conquerers built mosques and palaces in their own style, but allowed Christians and Jews to continue, to a gret extent, to practice their own religions and customs (albeit they were required to pay higher taxes for the priviledge, and all important posts were held by Muslims)

Christian Tombstone in 4 languages (Greek, Judeo-Arabic, Arabic, Latin - 1149)

Then the island was conquered by Vikings, and after that buy the Normans, in 1072. (Presumably Roger I decided that Sicily was a nicer, and definitely warmer, place to conquer than England - I wonder whether he and William the Conqueror ever compared notes!

Under the Normans, the Arab culture was retained, resulting in the island being far more open and advanced both artistically  and scientifically (at least in the cities, where mosques remained open, and Arab mercenaries served with Christians in the King's service. I gather rural areas were less open minded), so you get churches filled with Saracen-inspired mosaics,and a carved wooden ceiling reminiscent of those you find in the madrassas of Marrakesh.  Astonishingly, given how Jews and Muslims were treated elsewhere in medieval Europe, in Sicily Jews and Muslims had freedom of religion, access to their own court.

Its a fascinating exhibition and left me wanting to visit the island, and to learn more about it!

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On Friday I had a day off work to go to London - back in March, I booked to see 'Farnelli and the King', as I missed the original production at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, and then was able to organise some other interesting things to do while I was up in London.

I started with a visit to the British Museum to see their exhibition 'Celts : Art and Identity' which I found very interesting.

Hunterston Brooch - AD 700-800 (c) National Museums of Scotland

The exhibition is broadly chronological, and makes the point that 'Celt' has had different meanings and implications at different periods, and did not originally include the countries or regions, such as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany or Cornwall which we think of, today, as the Celtic countries!

It includes exhibits illustrating the exchanges of ideas and influences between different cultures - Roman flagons found in Celtic burials, Torcs showing different styles, including those with Roman and other influences, Roman monuments and jewelry showing Celtic influences, and also information about how the styles varied between those part of the British Islands which were conquered by Rome, and those which were not.

St Chad gospels Vellum AD 700–800. (c)  Lichfield Cathedral

Later, there are the Monastic and Viking contributions and influences - including some glorious illuminated manuscripts, and replicas of a number of  early Celtic crosses.

One of the most dramatic exhibits is the Gundestrup Cauldron, loaned by the National Museum of Denmark, which has amazing scenes inside and out, of gods and hunters and animals and faces - it is truly stunning, and it is astonishing to think it is over 2,000 years old!

Gundestrup Cauldron : Denmark 150 BC(c) National Museum of Denmark

After visiting the exhibition,  (which I strongly recommend), my next event was at the National Theatre - they are holding a series of 'Platforms' with various politicians, actors, directors and others speaking about their work.

The one attended was hosted by Andrew Marr,publicising his book, 'We British : The Poetry of a People' , following on from National Poetry Day on Thursday.

Marr explained that he had looked at the British Islands, not simply England, in order to be able to look at the different facets of the current country's history. He introduced each poem, and stated that he had chosen the poems for the evening to try to include some which might not be familiar, by poets who were perhaps not the best known (so nothing from Shakespeare, for instance).

The poems were read by Mark Gatiss and Fenella Woolgar, with additional, occasional comments. (John Donne, for instance? "Absolutely Filthy") Which, as he was reading 'To his Mistress going to bed', is fair comment! Other poems included Aphra Behn's 'The Disappointmentt' ("Probably the first poem in English about premature ejaculation - unsuitable for Radio 4") and poems of protest such as Walter Raleigh's 'The Lie' and A E Housman's gay protest poem 'The Colour of His Hair'.

As one would expect, the readings were excellent, and the comments were entertaining!

I had to rush off afterwards in order to get to the Theatre for Farinelli and the King, but it was a very enjoyable 45 minutes. And *very* reasonably priced - tickets were just £4 - I was surprised there weren't more people there, and if I lived in London and could get to the National more easily, there are several more Platforms I would be interested to attend.

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I spent this weekend visiting relations in London.We had tickets to see the Globe Theatre's production of Shakespeare's 'King John', and also took the opportunity to visit the British Museum and see their 'Indigenous Australia' exhibition.

The exhibition is not big, but it is very interesting, and has some beautiful artifacts and art, and it appeared to me that the curators had tried very hard to ensure that the exhibition was presented in a way which was respectful of the indigenous Australian's culture and history, including details of how they were treated by the British Colonists and Australian Government, although there were a few odd phrases... for instance, referring to the lack if recognition of Indigenous People's rights to / occupation of Australia as a 'mistake' and a 'misunderstanding' seemed a little odd - not least because it implies that the country would not have been Colonized had Cook and his successors understood more, which, baring in mind British Colonial Expansion in the 18th and 19th Centuries seems a bit unlikely!

But over all I enjoyed the exhibition, learned things I didn't know before, and would encourage anyone likely to be in London to see it.

After visiting the exhibition, we browsed a little elsewhere in the museum, including taking a look at the Waddesdon Bequest, which includes some lovely medieval jewels, plate and other artifacts.(The museum has just rehoused it in a newly refurbished gallery)

I am not a big fan of the elaborate gold / gilt tableware, although the workmanship is amazing, but the various jewels are beautiful, and fun - I rather liked this little ram. I should be happy to give it a home, if the Museum should suddenly decide to start rehoming its art!

After that, we had a very pleasant Chinese meal before heading over to the Globe to see King John.

I have never seen the play before, and deliberately decided not to read it before seeing it, although of course I am broadly familiar with the history. It isn't performed very often(this is, I think, the first time the Globe has done it) and I did wonder whether there was good reason for that, and that it perhaps isn't one of William's best.

I need not have worried. It was excellent, with a very strong cast. I enjoyed it immensely, and there were a surprising number of funny moments, among the battles and deaths and betrayals.

King John was played by Jo Stone-Fewings, (who played Buckingham in the production of Richard III I saw at Trafalgar Studios last year). His John was initially gleeful (the play started with his coronation, during which there was a plainsong setting of 'Zadok the Priest')

Alex Waldmann, as 'the Bastard' had, in some respects, the biggest role, and seemed to have a good deal of fun with it, and left the distinct impression that had the play continued much longer, John might have discovered he had a usurper on his hands...

The rest of the cast was equally strong. Tanya Moodie's Constance seemed, at first, to be pushing her son (Prince Arthur)'s claims for political reasons, arguing her (his) case, but as the play progressed and Arthur was captured by King John, she was the bereft and mourning mother, a picture of grief.

I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast,

Although I had not realised it in advance (perhaps because it wasn't me that booked the tickets, the performance we saw was the last in the run, so after the play ended there was a brief speech from Artistic Director Domenic Dromgoole, followed by the cast throwing roses ito the crowd. (with a special cheer for (I think) Giles Terera who managed, at the third attempt, to get a rose up into the gallery!

It was a great evening, and I'm really glad that I got to see the play. Seeing it at the Globe was an extra bonus, and even a minor train issue on the way back didn't dampen our enjoyment!

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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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When in London last week, we had time to pop into the British Museum, after our visit to Magna Carta.

We didn't have a lot of time, so we didn't go into any of the (ticketed) special exhibitions, as we would not have had time to take advantage of them, but we did pop in to see the Meroë Head of Augustus, which is being specially featured at present.

It is a life-sized bronze of the head of the Emperor Augustus, dating to around 27-25 BCE, and discovered in what is now Sudan, in 1910.

Apparently this type of bust was sent to all corners of the Empire.

This particular one was part of the spoils of war when, in 25 BCE a Kushite army made a successful raid on the borders of Roman Egypt, captures the bronze and buried it under the steps of their victory monument in order that everyone who visited the monument could trample on Augustus's decapitated head . .  As you do!

As you can see, it still has the original eyes, made of coloured glass paste, for the irises, surrounded by a copper ring, and set into polished stone. There are even the remains of his (copper) eyelashes.

It is a beautiful piece, and there is something haunting about seeing Augustus staring out from 2,000 years of history. (According to the museum's display, the same bust continued to be used throughout his reign, so although he was probably in his 30s when it was originally made, his image wasn't changed, so Augustus at 76 was still represented throughout the Empire by portraits of his 30(ish) year old self.

Maybe next time I visit the museum I shall have to make time to look at more of their Roman collection, to see who else I can find.


May. 17th, 2014 06:32 pm
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Once I had the tickets for the BL event for Friday evening, I also booked for the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum, so spent some time there before meeting up with my friend, to head on to the Library.

Roskilde 6
I was a little disappointed at the exhibition. Firstly,  the exhibition has timed tickets and limited availability, but they seem to have seriously misjudged how many people can realistically see the exhibits at any one time, with the result that it was massively overcrowded. Given that the majority of exhibits are small and intricate, this is a particular disadvantage!

The stand-out exhibit, and the exception to this, of course, is 'Roskilde 6' the remains of a 37m long Viking ship.The ship has been dated to around 1025 AD (around 20% of the display is the original timbers) It is dramatic and awe inspiring, but the rest of the exhibition does not entirely live up to it!

That said, there are interesting exhibits - some beautifully ornamented metal work and stone carving, and lots of fascinating nuggets of information : images and grave-goods associated with sorceresses included their staffs, which in turn had decorative heads reminiscent of spindles/distaffs; the information accompanying them suggested that there were close associations between woman, magic and spinning (So it is not only the Norns who combine magic and spinning!)  There was also a fascinating map of the British Isles, showing the distribution both of placenames of Viking origin, but also of Viking DNA.

I'm glad I saw the exhibit, but do feel that the curators missed opportunities to make it more human - it seemed, for the most part, a little dry and academic, and, as I mentioned, very, very overcrowded.

And of course, after leaving, I still had the most exciting part of the day still to come!
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Some time ago,I booked tickets for two of the British Museum's headline exhibitions for this year: - Ice Age art and Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, so Saturday morning saw me on a train to London, to visit the BM and see them both.


I started with Pompeii. Well, to be truthful, I started with a very nice lunch at a lovely little French bistro not far from the Museum, but after that I went into the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition.

I was lucky enough to able able to visit both cities, about 18 months ago, together with the Archaeological museum in Naples, so I was not sure whether there would be many things I hadn't already seen (although of course I had no problem with seeing them again!)

Kitchen Mural

The exhibition is arranged by rooms, a little as if looking around a Roman house -  starting with the street, and moving in to an Atrium, Bedroom, Kitchen, Garden and so forth.

Many of the items were familiar - the 'Cave Canem' mosaic, for example, and the portrait of the Baker, Terentius Neo, and his wife, (which is the headline poster for the exhibition), others were less familiar.

I don't remember seeing the more technical exhibits, such as pipes and valves which looked startlingly modern, or the fountain head in the shape of a rabbit, before.

There were also various pieces of furniture which I had not seen before - the poignant carbonised cradle, for instance (I'd seen it in TV documentaries, but not in person), a small household alter, and personal items found with some of the bodies, such as a surgeon's implements, a child's charm-bracelet and a key.

There were also items such as loaves of bread, dishes of figs, pomegranates and grain, all carbonised, and therefore preserved for over 2,000 years, which are just astonishing!

Garden fresco

One of the most dramatic and memorable parts of the exhibition, however, has to be the Garden frescos - 3 walls of gardens, with gorgeous and life-like plants and birds.

The exhibition does include a small number of the famous casts - one of a guard dog, and others of a family of four - parents and two young children, but the exhibition focuses on life rather than death. It's very interesting, and I'm glad I went.

(There are more pictures in the Evening Standard's review, here, and on the Museum's own website)

After this, I wandered upstairs to visit Noggin the Nog the Lewis Chessmen, and a few other bits and pieces, while I waited for the time-slot for my entry into the Ice Age exhibition.

One of the things I like about the British Museum is how big it is, and how much stuff there is, so if (like me) you have a poor sense of direction, you tend to wander down a corridor, or turn a corner, and stumble upon the Mespotomanian Queen of the Night, or a glazed brick guardsman from the palace of Darius of Persia (both of which I saw in between Pompeii and the Ice Age..)

20,000 year old Bison sculpture

The Ice age exhibition was, to me, a little bit of a disappointment - they sell timed tickets, but seemed to have been greedy and overestimated how many people could reasonable view the (mainly small) at once. The exhibition itself is also fairly small. The curators have added some modern pieces, such as Matisse sketches and a Henry Moore sculpture, to highlight how close the relationships between modern and ancient art were.

Despite my grouching, there were some lovely pieces - a beautiful bison, and a lovely horse. And the swimming reindeer, which is part of the permanent collection, and one of my favourites.

It's fascinating to see the skill and accuracy of the sculptures, and to realise that they were created with nothing but bone and stone tools!

An interesting day. Long, but I'm glad had the chance to see both exhibitions.

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Sometimes you have to wait for the Good Things to happen. Way back in February, I saw Stephen Fry tweet that he was going to be appearing at the Globe Theatre, in Twelfth Night, in the autumn. So I rushed off to the theatre's website, booked a pair of tickets, and then asked my friend J if she'd like to meet up and go with me. And then we waited for 8 months, and on Wednesday we both travelled to London to meet up and see the show.

We had tickets for the matinee performance, so had also take the opportunity to book tickets for the British Museum's exhibition 'Shakespeare - Staging the World'.
'The Long View' -Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647
The exhibition uses Shakespeare's life and works as a prism through which to look at the world he lived in, and London in particular, and brings together some fascinating articles, interspersed with videos of actors (including Anthony Sher and Paterson Joseph) performing extracts from some of the plays.

There were maps of London, tapestries of Warwickshire, a 1st Folio, an actual page in Shakespeare's own hand (part of a play about Sir Thomas More) as well as other items with less immediate connections to Shakespeare - including a hand bill for a bear pit (and the skull of a bear!) the eye of Edward Oldcorne (executed for alleged involvement in the Gunpowder Plot)

Reliquary containing right eye of Edward Oldcorne, 1606
And the Funeral Achievements of Henry V (including a decorative shield which is believed to date from the late 1300s - it's just amazing to think that this could have survived so long.

I had slightly mis-calculated how long stuff would take us, so we ended up having to run the last bit to the Globe in order to avoid being late for the start of the show!

We were seated in the upper gallery, which (as the name suggests) is right up at the top of the theatre, but we had great seats (or rather, spaces on the wooden bench!) - right at the front.
View from our seats, during the interval
The show was excellent - it's a very traditional version of the play, with an all-male cast, and full period costume. Mark Rylance (Olivia) was the complete, upper-class lady - dead white make up, huge farthingale - very much the great lady, rather than the young, naive girl she is sometimes played as.
(Photo Nigel R Barklie/Rex)
Olivia glides across the stage (rather like the ladies in 'Trumpton'), making 3-point turns when she needs to turn or sit. There are occasional moments where she slipped over in to pantomime dame, but they were infrequent.

Samuel Barnett's Sebastian and Johnny Flynn's Viola were superb -they were dressed in identical white doublets and hose, with long hair, and managed to make their mistaken identity became believable.
 Liam Brennan's Orsino was very convincing in his (slightly uncomfortable) attraction to 'Cesario'.

Stephen Fry's Malvolio presented as a dry, pedantic bureaucrat, less malignant than the character is sometimes presented as being, arrogant and awkward in his hopes of affection from Olivia, and pitiable in his imprisonment.
taking a bow
In all, it was a highly enjoyable piece of theatre, and while the run at the Globe was fully sold out and has, I think, now ended, the play is transferring to the West End - I'd say it's well worth booking tickets,  if you can. And I very much hope that having returned to the stage after so long, Stephen Fry will be considering more productions in future.
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When I arranged to Zombie I booked a hotel for Friday night as well as Thursday, as I knew there was the possibility we might not finish filming until late, and I didn't want to be rushing to catch a train. It also left me with the option of spending Saturday in London.
Thame & Skyline from Canary Wharf

I was able to take some pretty pictures of the skyline before turning in for the night. The hotel I was staying in was right on the river, and had a ferry across to Canary Wharf, which I took in order to get a meal on Friday night.

Thames & Canary Wharf
On Saturday morning,  I decided to visit the British Museum, and to see the Afghanistan exhibition which is running until July.
The Great Court, British Museum
It really was very impressive.  And not only the exhibits but also the fact that they have survived at all - many of them were preserved by museum curators in Afghanistan who hid them to save them from looting or from destruction by the taliban.

The exhibits span millenia - there are gold vessels from around 2000 BC, through to painted glass, carved ivories and gold ornaments (including the crown) which date to the 1st Century AD. Afghanistan was on the Silk Road, and traded across the world, so the artefacts show influence (and sometimes imports) from Mespotomania, China, Indian, and the Greek & Roman Empires.

The crown was part of a set of grave-goods discovered with the body of a 1st century nomadic woman - it's actually made to come to pieces and fold flat, which displays a nice mix of practicality and adornment. it's also incredibly delicate - all of he individual flowers are  made from very thin gold, and even inside the safety of a display case it moved - presumably due to visitors footfalls - you can see how impressive it would be when worn, moving with evey breeze, and every movement of the wearer.

She and her companions also had numerous gold beads which originally decorated their clothing, also big, chunky necklaces, bangles and anklets. They were all very young - in their early 20s when they died. (the exhibition offeredd no explanation as to how they died, but I guess that life expectancy wasn't high for 1st century nomads)

When I had seen the exhibition, I look a quick look into one or two other rooms, to see some 20th Omani wedding jewellery, and to visit one of my favourite of the museum's exhibits, this Ice Age sculpture of swimming reindeer, which is around 13,000 years old. It gets me every time. 

It's such a lovely thing, and the thought that it has survived, and still speaks to us, after so long, is, at least to me, astonishing.

I do love the British Museum. I love that (apart from the special exhibitions) it's free, so that one can pop in and out, and spend just a little time, without feeling you haven't got your money's worth.

I love that it has such a huge range of exhibits, covering so many cultures, across so many centuries. I wish I lived s little closer, but as it is, I manage to visit most times I'm in London, and perhaps, by the time I am old and decrepit, I shall have managed to see it all...

On this occasion, I didn't stay for long, as my day as a zombie had worn me out, so I eneded up heading back to Paddington to head home for an early night. Maybe next time I shall stay a little longer.


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