It seems bizarre to describe a trip to London as ‘relaxing’ and whenever I have this week, people have looked at me as though I’ve gone off my tiny little rocker but seriously, that was THE most REEELAXING weekend I have had since Christmas.
Apart from having to get to the station on time and then locate my friend at the other (Paddington) end, there was pretty much nothing else I needed to take responsibility for. Food, tube times, which direction to walk in, which pub to visit, whether the bed was made, the wine was in and the entertainment suitable for two middle-aged souls (a marathon viewing of Spaced, so yes it was): it was all down to him.
And he did the job splendidly. As I knew he would from the very first time I visited him in London and he pulled me out of the way of a speeding car. Now that’s a damn fine tour guide. The only specification I made was that we visit the Grant Museum (see previous post) and that was only so that I could see the Glass Jar of Moles. And I did! See, see them up there with their little snouty noses and shovelly paws. Oh Glass Jar of Moles, I wish I had one too.
In fact, the more we looked around the Grant, the more I realised this was probably my new favourite museum. It’s exactly everything I want from a museum, full of specimen jars and weird things that I’ve never see before. Cow fur ball, anyone? Or maybe a fish doing a cracking visual impersonation of Elvis?
The Grant Museum was established by Robert Grant in 1827 as a teaching museum for the University College London. A highly intelligent and inquisitive thinker, his work influenced a young Charles Darwin. I think I’d have liked to have met him.
There were labels handwritten in tiny, crabbed script, skeletons of wonderful beasts, slides of microscopic creatures, and the occasional sight that was the stuff of nightmares. Big spiders, I’m looking at you. Or rather, I’m turning the corner, spotting you, saying ‘oh shit’ quite loudly and then walking quickly away from that area. This prompted a conversation about warning signs in museums: if we’re now expected to warn people about human remains, should we be warning people about giant nightmare spiders? I don’t think there should be any warning signs at all, despite my arachnophobia.
Occasionally I toy with the idea of getting rid of my possessions (the Russian dolls, the snow globes, the Day of the Dead bunting) and living a paired down life, but the Grant reminded me of why I can’t. I like a plethora of little intriguing things that make me and the people who visit me, smile and get in closer for a better look. I like to be fascinated by a museum and my house is an extension of that.
After the Grant, we made an unplanned trip to the Petrie Museum (seriously, university museums are the best) for a crash submersion in the early days of Egyptian excavations, stopping on the way to admire the street jazz band, especially the young lad playing a tuba that was practically the size of him. An unexpected and joyous thing to hear and witness. Until the song ended and he emptied the spit valve. Bleh.
Years ago, when I was 16, my parents took me and my sister to Egypt: a week in Luxor, followed by a week at the Red Sea. I have visited the Valley of the Kings, ventured down the Nile and seen flying fish leaping in the bow waves of a boat. An incredible, challenging trip that came back to me as we wandered the little space. But I had known nothing of William Flinders Petrie back then: this man excavated dozens of sites during the early 20th Century, selling his collection to UCL in 1913.
Again, a fascinating place with tiny, typewritten labels that spoke of a more innocent time in archaeology and collecting. As always, I found the smaller pieces the most fascinating: the faces, the unexpected details, the colours that are hidden until you get up close and peer through the glass.
But we’d done enough by the time we reached the pots (although I couldn’t help thinking how much my potter friend would have loved that section, telling us all about the composition of the glazes, and how exactly they were constructed). It was time to find the pub.
Both the Grant and the Petrie are free to visit but if you do, please bung a donation in the box, buy a postcard, adopt an artefact, become a friend. As with any museum, money funds research, development and the day to day running. These places are too valuable to lose.