Posts Tagged ‘British Museum’

For Christmas, I wanted to go on a day trip to London to see some favorite sites and a play that was starring some actors I’d had a longtime interest in.

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That’s the nice thing about living on the train line to London—one hour and you’re in the heart of things

We poked around the British Museum for a while, particularly my favorite Assyrian exhibits.

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I really like the detail and emotion in the lion's face

I really like the detail and emotion in the lion’s face

I booked a reservation at the newly renovated Court Restaurant to have lunch which was great as always.

bread and artichokes to start

bread and artichokes to start

We went by Harrods which was absolutely mobbed but fun as an anthropological insight on humans and marketing. I had an unfortunate moment as the thing I’d been waiting to get myself for Christmas had gone out of stock while I was waiting so I need to make another expedition later on with different goals. (Definitely a First World problem, but I’d been looking forward to it a lot and spent some extensive time picking the present out online because I never got myself a birthday gift before and this was going to be it finally.)

We walked around Covent Garden after that and wound up at Wagamama, an Asian noodle bar (I think that’s how you’d describe it) for dinner before the play.

vegetarian pad thai

vegetarian pad thai

"Ginny...did you leave your bok choy lying out?"

“Ginny…did you leave your bok choy lying out?”

The day before my employee had asked me very casually which theater our play was going to be in (the Gielgud) because there had been a huge accident at the Apollo the night before in which the ceiling collapsed in the middle of a performance and lots of people were injured (though no deaths).

Gielgud ceiling completely intact

Gielgud ceiling completely intact

Fortunately that wasn’t the Gielgud though so our tickets didn’t go to waste, thank God. I’d gotten third row seats on the aisle for Bear because he gets very cramped and uncomfortable in theater seats especially without enough leg room. Aisle was definitely the right call!

From the third row -- you could practically count pores on actors

From the third row — you could practically count pores on actors

The show was really good although, hard to believe, even darker than the original Patricia Highsmith novel. We’ve seen several different kinds of shows (a mystery and two musicals) but this was the first straight up drama and the acting was really excellent:

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Laurence Fox (of the acting Fox family, Inspector Lewis), Jack Huston (descended from John, Walter and Anjelica, Boardwalk Empire),

Laurence Fox (of the acting Fox family, Inspector Lewis) and Jack Huston (descended from John, Walter and Anjelica, Boardwalk Empire),

Miranda Raison (MI-5/Spooks) with Laurence Fox

Miranda Raison (MI-5/Spooks) with Laurence Fox

MyAnna Buring (The Descent, Ripper Street, Downton Abbey)

MyAnna Buring (The Descent, Ripper Street, Downton Abbey)

Imogen Stubbs (something of an obsession of mine since 1995—Anna Lee, A Summer Story, 12th Night, Jack and Sarah, on stage as Desdemona in Othello with Ian McKellan as Iago and eight zillion other productions)

Imogen Stubbs (something of an obsession of mine since 1995—Anna Lee, A Summer Story, 12th Night, Jack and Sarah, on stage as Desdemona in Othello with Ian McKellan as Iago and eight zillion other productions)

(l-r) Jack Huston, Imogen Stubbs, , Miranda Raison, Laurence Fox, MyAnna Buring

(l-r) Jack Huston, Imogen Stubbs, Christian McKay, Miranda Raison, Laurence Fox, MyAnna Buring

So I’m still on the question for my Christmas present, which is actually my birthday present from August that I never got, but I’ll find it in the end and maybe it’ll mean another trip to London. 🙂

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Because I am married to a fairly tolerant man, when Bear saw me feeling a little overwhelmed earlier this year he suggested that we go down to London for the day and see a show. This apparently is a big sacrifice for a lot of guys and bears alike.Before the offer could be retracted, I pounced and planned a full day.

We stopped first at the British Library to see one of their new exhibits on the A to Z of detective fiction.

New free exhibit at the British Library: A - Z Murder in the Library

New free exhibit at the British Library: A – Z Murder in the Library

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Handwritten manuscript page from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"

Handwritten manuscript page from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short story “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”

Signed photo with the cast of the televised adaptation of the Inspector Morse series.

Signed photo with the cast of the televised adaptation of the Inspector Morse series.

We hopped the Picadilly tube line down to the British Museum to spend some time in the Enlightenment Gallery and the Sutton Hoo exhibit, which I like to see whenever we go. They’re building a new gallery for those items and it should be ready next year so it’ll be nice to see them in their new home as well.

But first we had to stop for a coffee at the Starbucks across from the museum, which is where I had waited with Bear’s brother and my sister-in-law two years ago while Bear was making his way to meet us. A lot fewer tourists in February!

Bear in the Starbucks across from the British Museum

Bear in the Starbucks across from the British Museum

They have these cute little guide/docents who hang out in various areas with some objects that you’re allowed to handle and they’ll give you a walk through which is always fun.

Cuneiform tablet (2500 BCE)

Cuneiform tablet (2500 BCE)

The inscription was meant to be read by the gods and not men, so it was laid on the inside and the inscription wasn't exposed.

The inscription was meant to be read by the gods and not men, so it was laid on the inside and the inscription wasn’t exposed.

There were other objects I got to examine including a hand axe which was over 30,000 year sold and found somewhere in Suffolk, a small cosmetics pot travel-sized for the Egyptian afterlife, a ceramic tile from Iran/Persian empire, and a little one-handled jar from Italy that poured olive oil.

Over in the Sutton Hoo room, we found another hands on exhibit and learned about purse clasps and then walked around the regular exhibits.

Horse teeth that have been shaped into gaming pieces.

Horse teeth that have been shaped into gaming pieces.

At the moment,a number of objects are grouped in Room 2 while their rooms are being renovated, including the oldest object in the entire museum which is another hand axe found in Olduvai Gorge, site of many of the finds by the Leakey family (Louis, Mary and Richard).

Olduvai hand axe

Olduvai hand axe

Our main objective though, I admit, was to have lunch at the Great Court Restaurant on the third floor which did not disappoint.

roasted vegetable polenta

Roasted vegetable polenta

(my choice was the polenta)

(my choice was the polenta)

Moroccan spice chicken with chickpea stew in spicy red sauce

Moroccan spice chicken with chickpea stew in spicy red sauce

Bear's choice

Bear’s choice, his once a week chicken treat (fish only the rest of the time)

We managed to share the roasted artichokes without an actual fight

We managed to share the roasted artichokes without an actual fight

While there, we heard the party at the next table debating if they should get the mixed vegetable polenta, so I felt compelled to speak up and say that mine was excellent. We ended up having a really, really nice time talking to them (Mary Barnsdale and Eileen Cohen) and found that they had connections to writing and software as well and were over on a combination of business and vacation. I can’t even remember specifically what we talked about except all my favorite things, like books, travel, technical writing, food, museums, the exhibits, and on and on.

I don’t know why it seems like I keep meeting the nicest people that I feel like I could be friends with and then having to tell them good bye — it kind of reminds me of meeting Janet, Deb and Bella and everyone at Java Mama up in Dillard. I don’t think I ever told them, but when I left at the end of my writing week there when I met them and the rest of their regular cast of characters, I sat out in my car and cried for more than a minute because I knew somehow that I could’ve been very happy there on the mountain, but this was just one strand of life that I was only going to get a glimpse of, but I was still very blessed to have gotten to. (I get greedy like that, wanting to have everything last forever.) Best of luck and safe travels to you, Mary and Eileen!

We broke down and went for dessert, an apple-plum crumble with warm cream, that was guaranteed to send me into a sugar coma within an hour except I was so excited about going to the show that I wasn’t too worried.

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Fortunately the Lyceum is hard to miss so when we got off the tube we just cast around a little bit and headed towards the giant gold-orange banners.

(taken from web, not my photo)

(taken from web, not my photo)

Seating arrangements are more important than you think when you’re married to someone as tall as Bear, and also one who is so attuned to his personal comfort. I had found that the Lyceum has some limited boxes available in the balcony area where you can sit with your own chair and move about at will and the price is even better than some of the regular seats. You do sacrifice a little visibility, but not all that much and the tradeoff would be well worth it.

Regular seating

Regular seating

Box seat!

Box seat!

No photos of the show itself out of respect to the requests for no photography, but here’s a link to a performance of the opening number as done for the Tony Awards a few years ago and you can see the reason that the show’s designer/director/big kahuna Julie Taymor made such a sharp impact.

After the show we ran over to find one of the three local Chipotles so Bear could have some real Mexican food because, as we have covered elsewhere, Mexican chain restaurants in England are sadly, woefully, off base in their menu offerings.  Note, if you’re looking for the one on St. Martin’s Lane, be aware that the street numberings are off from what you would expect. It’ll be at 58 on the left side of the road and 89 directly opposite on the right. Excuse me?

Chipotle Bear

Chipotle Bear

For the final stop of the day, we went a few stops further on the Picadilly Line to Harrod’s where John’s family had very generously given us some gift cards for Christmas. Harrod’s being the experience that it is, you sort of have to go there and not just order online, so go we did.

Hard to miss Harrod's

Hard to miss Harrod’s

First stop–women’s shoes where Bear said, “I’ve always heard of Jimmy Choo–oh, that looks pretty!” Three seconds later when he turned the shoe over and looked at the price tag he bleated, “625 pounds…do you get both shoes for that? Here, let’s try Prada instead…”

After poking around the Barbour jackets and riding the Egyptian escalator up and down many times, I found some things I wanted (I’ll spare the world the pictures, it was in what used to be called the foundations department) and then ran down to the Food Hall before it closed to pick up some snacks, particularly some really nice French cheese (a round of Camembert and some Tomme de Chevre).

Up and down, up and down...

Up and down, up and down…

We couldn’t have timed it better taking the tube back to King’s Cross and we arrived about 10 minutes before a train back to St. Neots (although admittedly they have several an hour). It’s still pretty mindboggling to live so close to one of the major cities in world history and to be able to be there and back so quickly. Despite the whirlwind day though, the best part was coming home to Juliet.

A (part) Turkish Van on a Turkish rug, waiting faithfully for us to come home.

A (part) Turkish Van on a Turkish rug, waiting faithfully for us to come home.

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After staying up honestly too late to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies (I do tend to like Danny Boyle productions, so long as not too many people die), we had to be on the train to London by 8:30. The problem with this was that we let Juliet out into the backyard to play for a little bit because we felt bad that she would have to stay inside the rest of the day. However. Being a smart kitty, she figured out pretty quickly that we were going to scoop her up and she decided to hide.

I asked Mom to film us chasing her around the yard because this might be our best chance to get a third-party filming of it and get to laugh at ourselves. This worked great up to a point (see the video evidence below).

Then disaster reared its head. While trying to continue filming, Mom stepped forward and didn’t realize there was a step down along the path, tripped and fell headlong onto the concrete. Amazingly, by the grace of God-given reflexes (and a little practice having falling in a few parking lots before), she caught herself on her shoulder mostly and the camera didn’t break into a thousand pieces (although that was truly the last thing I was worried about).

In that moment, all I really thought about was if Mom was OK so when she popped up pretty quickly and was still able to walk and smile s,o my face started to unfreeze and work again, although I did have little mini-flashbacks for the rest of the day.

Flashing forward to the next morning, this was Mom’s foot

We went on to the station, after a stern talking to Juliet about what happens when she’s a bad kitty and the trickle-up effect it had on her Grandma. We were on the express service to King’s Cross which only takes 40 minutes and drops you off straight in the heart of everything you’d ever want to see and do.

Official bus lane of the 2012 Olympic Games

We stopped for the obligatory PAC and coffee at Nero on our way out and walked over past St. Pancras to the British Library. As it turned out, just for the Olympics, the library is opening at 10 instead of 9:30 and they were not shy about telling you that.

Guys whose main purpose is to tell you it opens at 10 a.m.

We waited and got some more coffee and I frequented The Last Word where I obtained conclusive evidence that the British should never wear shorts (or at least do it more often).

At first I thought he was wearing thigh-high white stockings

I was unreasonably put out by the delay in the library opening (I had checked the website specifically about that just a few weeks before…apparently planning ahead has its downside) and  later actually asked someone what they were doing with the extra 30 minutes in the morning and she told us it was to allow the workers enough time to commute in with all of the Olympic traffic. I felt like a jerk.

I had booked tickets in advance for the Writing Britian: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition so we shot right into it. We had seen an exhibit before in February for the Illuminated Manuscripts and it was packed so I wanted to be in the first group allowed through (they stagger groups by allowing so many in per hour). However, surprisingly, the library was fairly well deserted and we had most of the exhibit to ourselves, even with the delay in opening.

The theme of the exhibition was to show the influence of landscape in writing, or at least how the landscape was portrayed and was a subject and affected writers. Alas, as usual, no pictures allowed (which did not stop me from stealing some from the Internet)…

The exhibition is divided into six different subjects which group the manuscripts according to aspects of English environment which served as inspiration to writers. This list is just a small fraction of what was on exhibit.

The exhibition is divided into six different subjects which group the manuscripts according to aspects of English environment which served as inspiration to writers. This list is just a small fraction of what was on exhibit.

Rural Dreams

  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s original artwork for The Hobbit – a full sheet watercolor painting of of  the hill at Hobbiton
  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s manuscript for The Remains of the Day (I never read it, but I saw the movie which counts even if my friend Laura who got me to watch it will say I’m still not qualified to present myself as having read it)

Dark Satanic Mills — from the early 19th century onwards through the Industrial Revolution and changes brought by the great wars.

  • George Eliot’s Middlemarch
  • George Orwell’s papers related to experiences touring a coal mine (which looked pretty hellish)

Wild Places—rugged wilderness

  • Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript for Jane Eyre (1847)

Cockney Visions – Representations of London

  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s manuscript for Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Apparently Stevenson did some editing to tone things down.

BeyCond the City—suburbia emerges

  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, Beyond the City,
  •  J G Ballard’s heavily edited manuscript for Crash

Waterlands

  • The Seafarer from the Exeter Book
  • a chapter from James Joyce’s  Ulysses (and if you’ve read it, and no I haven’t, then you know which chapter it was–the one what caused all the ruckus)

Some of my favorite highlights were:

  • J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I doodle in the margins of my manuscripts too, but you really can’t tell what I’m trying to draw. Even I’m not sure.

  • John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “In My Life”
  • Virginia Woolf, first edition of To the Lighthouse
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 14th century – the earliest surviving manuscript of the medieval poem
  • Daphne Du Maurier’s notebook with plot and ideas for Rebecca (used in a court case as evidence when Du Maurier was accused of plagiarism – I told Bear this is why I have to save all my notes!)

I have stacks of notebooks like this, but sadly no one’s rushing to sue me for plagiarism

Also, Bear tells me that he remembers a hand written letter from John Keats, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down by Richard Adams, poems by T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and W.H. Auden, a really gorgeous illuminated copy of Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, Dracula by Bram Stoker (he’s Irish apparently) and 17 foot long mash-up piece of Virginia Woolf and Liz Matthews (“Thames to Dunkirk”).

It was honestly about 17 feet long

The exhibition was really nicely put together and we had a great time looking at the manuscripts and talking about what we’d read before and taking notes on books we want to look up later on. I was particularly impressed by any handwritten manuscript or corrected proof copy, just because of the literal human touch. I was deeply affected in high school by an exhibit I saw in Canada that my Mom took me to in a children’s library museum where they had a display of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper along with the Newberry Medal she won. You could see all her hand corrections to the proof and there’s a picture somewhere of my just staring at it agog. (They also had a copy of Cooper’s Greenwitch on exhibit. The copy on display was the exact same hardback edition as the one I lost from the Leon County Public Library sometime around 1984 and fortunately I found it in the lost and found at church about 8 months later and they actually let me get my money back.)

By the way, Susan Cooper was really good friends with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, and when Tandy passed away a few years later she ended up marrying Hume Cronyn — it took me a while to wrap my head around that, but they have pictures to prove it.

It’s like two utterly separate childhood worlds colliding headlong — like waking up and finding out that Mr. Spock is a part of the Scooby gang.

We had lunch in the cafeteria there which is really nice and even though Bear doesn’t usually like cafeterias, he does like this one. We found a sandwich deal with fruit and lemonade that was tasty and we shared around. It’s fun to sit beside the huge stacks of books and visit, and what was most surprising was that the place was still practically deserted. Even the workers seemed really surprised too, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

Floor after floor of books, all visible from the cafeteria

We walked the mile over to the British Museum then with a few detours along the way. After slipping in through the side entrance, we took Mom to see the Egyptian gallery and the Elgin marbles. They actually have a little brochure which explains, basically, why the British Museum has them, why they’re not giving them up, and which lamp the Greek government should rub to try and get that wish granted.

For some reason, just like at the British Library, there was almost no one in the museum. I should’ve been suspicious but it was absolutely wonderful to just walk up to the exhibits that are usually really packed. Last year at this time I couldn’t get near the Rosetta Stone without a baton and a riot shield.

Me and that linguistic Holy Grail, the Rosetta Stone

I’m weirdly partial to Assyrian sculpture and carvings

You can see the detailing of the musculature in the lion’s forearms.

Since I’d been to those rooms a few times before, I spent a little more time people watching this time. My favorite, taken surreptitiously while pretending to take a picture of Bear, was of a Greek young woman who was on the phone, reading a map, and chewing gum at the same time and whose fingernail polish and eye shadow perfectly matched her dress. You really have to work hard to maintain that level of coordination.

I swear he wasn’t really as tired as he looks.

We had reservations for tea at the Courtyard Restaurant, but again the place was nearly deserted  but it was nice to have had them.

Tea at the British Museum, always a highlight

After tea we saw a few more things, including the Sutton Hoo treasures which are relocated at the moment because they’re re-doing the rooms that the Anglo-Saxon items, and others from that period, and so they’ve been re-located.

From the treasure trove recovered in the mounds at Sutton Hoo

Pieces of the cloisonné decorated sword belt

The eyebrows and noseguard form something like a dragon in flight with garnets for eyes, which matches pretty stunningly with the other pieces recovered, like the sword belt.

The gallery says its being renovated with a donation from someone named Sainsbury which I think really has to be connected to Sainsbury’s stores, whom I like quite a bit because they carry more Quorn vegetarian products than anyone else.


We headed out then over toward the theater and Bear’s big surprise for the trip (although actually he had figured it out, like all surprises). One thing he really horribly misses about America is Mexican food. Me, not so much. In fact, I really can’t think of a cuisine that I dislike more (and I’ve eaten an awful lot of world cuisine). But since I found out that Chipotle, one of his favorite Mexican chains of all time, had two establishments in London and one of them was a stone’s throw from the theater, Mom and I agreed that we really needed to take one for the team on this.

Bear hadn’t seen this beloved sign since last December…

Bear couldn’t have been more happy to see his favorite soft tacos, and since he carried the bags for a lot of the day, it only seemed fair.

We got to the theater right as the lobby opened up and got settled so everyone could rest their feet. Mom’s ankle was doing pretty well but no one wanted to push it.

St. Martin’s Theater (as if the neon marquee didn’t clue you in)

I had gotten seats in the upper circle (i.e. nosebleed section) but since the theater itself only seats about 550, that’s pretty relative. We were on the front row of the balcony tier and couldn’t even see anyone else in front of us so it was almost like a private performance if you squinted just right. Bear did have a little trouble squeezing into the seat and he sat in the aisle for a while, but after a Coke during intermission he perked right up.

The Mousetrap is a dinosaur by theater standards, now in its 60th year, which is utterly unheard of for live dramatic productions. Adapted from an Agatha Christie short story, it first went on stage in 1952 and she stipulated that the short story not be published in the UK so long as the play was running, to keep the killer’s identity a secret. She estimated it would only run for about a year, maybe 18 months. 60 years later, the story still hasn’t been published in the UK.

So we were only there for one performance, like a drop in the bucket, but it was a fun drop nevertheless.

I had seen a production of it  when I was in high school but honestly couldn’t remember the outcome, so I was entertained the whole way through. When you’re putting something on in London, a major dramatic center, even if it’s not the hottest new show, you’re going to have good actors fighting for parts and the cast did really well. Bear has always disliked going to plays (and won’t) but he said he really did enjoy it and was glad we went. He did, I admit, guess the killer right away but he’s always been irritatingly good at this. (For his 37th birthday, I got him a custom made t-shirt with a specific comic strip from Get Fuzzy on the front. The package arrived, he took it from the postman, squished the package a little and said. “You got me a t-shirt. Oh, is it Get Fuzzy? The one with Planet of the Apes?” I couldn’t decide if I should cry first or hit him. I think I did both at once.)

Painting of the seating in St. Martin’s Theater

I had booked a cab because I really had no idea what things would be like with the Olympics in town, so I was really pleased that there was a line of cabs waiting and they quoted me a lower rate to get back to King’s Cross than if we waited another 20 minutes for the pre-booked cab to arrive (not being sure when exactly the performance would let out). The nicest blessing of all was that we walked into King’s Cross and on the very first platform was a train heading along our line and stopping at St. Neots, leaving in just 5 minutes so we made the earliest possible connection.

A very nice gentleman helped Mom get a seat to rest her foot and even gave up his own seat for me and later said he hoped her foot would feel better as he disembarked. I don’t know if that counts as a touching Olympic moment just because it happened at the same time, but it was very affirming of the decency of humanity and I could use that every now and then.

It’s just amazing how quickly you can get home with the right train and a few minutes later we were at the house and Juliet came tumbling down the stairs looking overwhelmingly relieved that we hadn’t died somewhere in the city. we reminded her that she had done her best to kill my Mom earlier but the whole thing seemed to have slipped her mind.

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Depending on how you look at it, ofermod is the Anglo-Saxon word which equates to hubris and pridefulness to the point of destruction. It was something of a theme for the day, but thankfully not to an utterly destructive degree. (It’s also the name of a Swedish death-metal band but please don’t Google them — trust me.)

I did a bad job of getting the day off on the right foot. I somewhat foolishly went on the principle that because I could hear the oven timer on the second floor then I must be able to hear it equally well on the third floor. That would not be correct. Ofermod! In fact, the timer will turn itself off completely if you don’t get to it quickly enough and then it will just merrily continue to bake until your tender little flaky pain au chocolats look like the NFL pigskin footballs your older brother left out in the rain.

(Which brings to mind a very funny story about when my Dad was in a fraternity at Auburn and they bought a very nice leather football for use in practice for the inter-mural football games. Basically, it got a little damp and they wanted to take very good care of it so they got the oven just a bit warm, turned it off and put it in the oven to let it gently dry while they went to take showers (I believe that’s why it was unattended). Well, no one told Napoleon the frat house cook about this and he came in to make breakfast like he always did, turned on the oven to preheat and a few minutes later the oven door blew off its hinges. Eventually they convinced him to come back inside the house to keep working for them, but the guys had a history of making life hard on him, unintentionally or not. There was an incident involving Napoleon and a dead rattlesnake that I’ll have to post someday.)

Combined with the burned breakfast, all my clever programming of the water heater, which had been working for the last few days, failed and Bear had to take an ice cold shower which I simply do not understand because it had come on at 4:20 and was running, so by 5:30 it should’ve had plenty of hot water. Ofermod!! But he’s a very good sport and we just popped new pastries in the oven which at least was already hot, unlike the water, and kept rolling.

To get on our way we had to take an unusual road exchange which seems perfectly logical on the map. You would be wrong. Just because two major highways cross each other does not mean that you can get from one to another at that point. Ofermod! Sometimes I see a logic in that, but in this case it’s like I-10 crossing I-75 but you just have to wave at each other. However I’d managed to figure out that if you actually exit a few miles early (yes, miles), then you can run parallel on a smaller road and that road will let you get on the big M11 that you really want which takes you south towards London.

To try to get into the mood and theme of the day, I made two soundtracks. The first was a copy of the latest Loreena McKennitt album (The Wind that Shakes the Barley) because we’ll be going to see her in just two weeks when she plays in London. It’s a present for Bear’s birthday and because honestly I would drive much further than that to see her play. He hadn’t listened at all to the latest disc so it’s a good idea to be familiar with the material that’s the most likely to be covered at a show. The second disc was live concert versions of her other biggest songs which she’s also likely to play so we could focus more on her backup touring musicians who are pretty incredibly (the idling Porsches, she calls them) and have their own careers and albums but they just like to play with her. Hugh Marsh, the violinist and Carolina Lavelle, the cellist, really stood out to me from when I saw LM in concert a few years ago in Atlanta at the Fox Theater with Amanda DeWees. (As in, Amanda is my friend and she got the tickets, not that she as the opening act, although that would’ve been fun too. Can authors be the opening act for a literarily-oriented world music superstar?)

(Ha, you thought I was going to pick “The Mummer’s Dance” since that was a certifiable hit, but “The Old Ways” lets you see the nice interaction of violin and cello around 4:10, towards the end.)

The music really set the mood and we seemed to get to Maldon on the Essex coast on the border of Suffolk in no time. Our first stop was to the site of the Battle of Maldon which isn’t exactly the most well-known of English battles, unless you happened to take a lot of Old English/Anglo-Saxon classes in grad school in which case it’s about the only game in town. Since the fragment of the poem about the battle is only a few hundred lines long and not terribly complex with imagery, it’s one of the pieces assigned to intermediate students for translation and I even found my old translation homework on my hard drive (because I keep everything).

The reason I wanted to see the battle site was because it has an interesting physical feature to me, and also because Tolkien wrote notably about the poem (and others have written about his usage of the concept) and the theories about the intent of the author. Was it a cautionary tale about the ealdorman Byrhtnoth’s pride and hubris (AS ofermod) or was it truly the Anglo-Saxon perspective that death in battle was glorious and the more hopeless the better? Tolkien went with the former and that’s certainly how I see it from the 21st century, but the times they are a-changin’ so it’s important to try to get into the mind of the original audience as much as possible.

What’s interesting about the site is that the Anglo-Saxons were on the mainland when the Viking raiders landed on what we believe to be Northey Island but at high tide it’s cut off form the mainland. They all yelled at each other for a while, doing the equivalent of WWF pre-match posturing, and then the tide went out to reveal the land causeway so the Vikings tried to come across but a narrow bridge is fairly easy to defend. After a while:

and so began to use guile, the hateful strangers,
asked that passage to land they might have

So you might think that this would be the moment when Byrhtnoth says, “I don’t think so!” but in fact:

Then the Earl permitted in his great pride
to allow land many of these hateful people

Or in the original:

ða se eorl ongan         for his ofermode
alyfan landes to fela         laþere ðeode.

Not exactly the most strategic move ever and the result was that the Vikings killed him and all the rest of his men who remained to defend the body. The key really is the meaning of ofermod and if you go with the theory that it means something akin to Satan’s pride which resulted in being cast down, as the word was used in other places.

I was hoping at this point that I wasn’t truly falling victim to ofermod in thinking we could locate the site, which isn’t very well marked by its own admission and that rarely bodes well. We got to Maldon and did manage to locate Mundon Road and then the side road that led right up to the farm that occupies the land now. At some point it’s possible that a sign went by saying that it was a restricted road and that you had to have prior arranged permission, but honestly we were going so fast that it was a bit of a blur. I do know that it was very early on a Saturday and no one else was about.

Looking from the mainland over to Northey Island, where the causeway disappears at high tide

When we made it out to the water, I really did get a weird little thrill in my stomach to realize that I was standing on the very strip of land where Byrhtnoth and his men had stood on August 10, 991 to face down the Viking fleet which might well have gone on to raid another section of the Blackwater River if they had simply paid off the Vikings as asked.

That’s my guerrilla video of the battlefield and the water between mainland and the island. Aloura Charles would be so proud of me, she who gets to call Martin Scorsese “Marty” and kinda sorta ran over Ron Howard’s laptop once (but not really)!

Boggy for Battle

Just like it looked in 991 A.D. ... except for the telephone wires

It was high tide so I wouldn’t have a chance to see the causeway exposed, but it was lurking there underneath.

Having successfully gotten to the battle site and out again without being spotted (not, again, that I can confirm we did anything wrong), we headed off toward Sutton Hoo but planned to find the Lexden Earthworks along the way. Again, ofermod!!! Even with the help of a Royal Mail carrier, and they tend to know quite a bit since they hoof it on foot, we couldn’t locate it but it wasn’t a top item so we kept on and came into Woodbridge early enough to poke around the town first.

I think this is what they call "downtown Woodbridge"

I found a little book shop and got a pocket bird guide to Britain and Europe there for just three pounds. I’ve finally identified the swans in our river as definitely being Mute Swans, and thank God for that or we’d never get any sleep. A pair of Canada Geese showed up this week and it’s been a racket ever since. Bear asked if I was certain there would be British birds in the book and I showed him the title – Birds of Britain and Europe—which seemed to satisfy him

The window display of The Cake Shop Bakery , a fantastic little bakery

We stopped at Mrs. Piper’s Tea Room for tea and to split a fruit scone along the way because we knew we’d do a lot of walking once we got to the grounds at Sutton Hoo.

Once at Sutton Hoo, we were told everything about the National Trust by a very nice woman but she hasn’t yet convinced me to join since most of the things we like to do seem to be hosted by English Heritage. Except Sutton Hoo.

So to take a moment and explain Sutton Hoo in brief (but follow the link for a full Wikipedia article) it’s the site of an archaeological discovery in 1939 of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial that hadn’t been plundered and yielded up an unexpected amount of gold and historically significant items. Edith Pretty was the landowner and she had traveled to Egypt when she was younger and always had an interest in archaeology so she had her eye on the odd-looking mounds around the property which led her to ask for an official archaeological dig.

Probably not what Get Fuzzy had in mind with this cartoon, but Mrs. (Edith ) Pretty definitely did want to go out to the yard to see what was there and you know she liked tea.

What made what followed particularly interesting is that a) everything was uncovered right at the outbreak of World War 2 so it all had to be boxed up and stored in a subway tunnel while London was bombed, and b) Mrs. Pretty donated it all voluntarily to the nation without thinking to keep a single thing for herself. That alone makes her truly remarkable to me because the initial court findings had ruled that she could keep it.

Purse lid, something like a Scottish sporran

I had already seen the war helmet at the British Museum and some of the rest of the gold hoard found in the burial chamber, but it was really something to see it all put together along with a replica of the burial chamber itself.

Original helmet, at the British Museum

Replica, clearly showing the flying dragon pattern in gold of the eyebrows, nose and moustache

I like reading things about Edith Pretty, the landowner who first requested that the mounds be investigated by Basil Brown the archaeologist. Even though the work was later completed by teams of other people, some from Cambridge, I still think of them as the ones who started it all.

Horse's harness decorated in gold, from a another burial site on the grounds containing a young man and his horse

Replica of the ship used in the ship burial

An example of the cloisonne enamel decoration used on many of the items. (Bear knew that word off the top of his head -- I was humbled.)

Interior of the reconstructed burial chamber

We took a walk around the grounds and ended up hiking on the wrong trail (OFERMOD!), but it was a lot of fun and again we had to earn that scone.

Yellow flowers planted in the shape of the Olympic rings

Fallen trees carved and painted like dragons

Bear doing his best impersonation of Buliwyf's final scene from The 13th Warrior (I will not confirm that I watched that movie as much for Antonio Banderas as any connection to Beowulf.)

When we made it back, we then went on the actual trail we’d intended to see the burial mound grouping.

Burial Mound 2 with Mrs. Pretty's house visible to the left in the background.

Panorama of burial mound site

What lay beneath Mound 1 was beyond anyone's imagining

I had made plans to get us to a nice place for lunch in nearby Orford, but we were cutting it close for when they would stop serving lunch. Bear is a good driver though so he made the most of the time to get through the Tunstall Forest on a back road that got us to the market square in Orford with about seven minutes to spare. Thank God, we dodged the ofermod bullet on that one.

Butley Orford Oysterage -- if you're ever in Suffolk, it's worth the time to go there!

The Butley-Orford Oysterage was a real treat – a local business that has its own boats, its own oyster beds, and a smokehouse where they process kinds of fish. I had leek and potato soup with some really amazing bread which we discovered is baked in The Cake Shop in Woodbridge, the very place where I’d taken a picture of all the wonderful bread on display. Bear had a smoked sampler and I had grilled mussels which were absolutely heavenly.

Bear's Smoked Sampler

Grilled mussels (and no bad incidents, unlike the last mussels had elsewhere)

We finally rolled out the door and over to Orford Castle which was all of 150 yards from the Oysterage. I really do try to plan these things well, but it’s still a joy when it actually works out!

A very friendly girl was running the front desk and she asked us where we were stationed, which is the general default assumption whenever we meet people here. They’re also very pleased that we belong to English Heritage, as are we because then everything is free, free, free. Bear tells me that Free is my middle name. In fact, it’s my first name.

Orford Castle

Basement of Orford Castle with the well in the middle, although much of the water was gathered from rainfall on the roof

The oh so dangerous stairs of Castle Orford

Chapel on an upper floor

And where there’s a chapel, there must be a pigeon. The reason for this is that back in 1993 I was in St. Petersburg, Russia where a well-meaning interpreter asked me to look up into the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and see there in the stained glass that great symbol of the Christian faith, the pigeon. I still have the scar where I bit through my lip.

The pigeon...err, dove, the great symbol of the Christian faith

While at the castle, we read a placard about the local legend of the wild man of Orford and realized that his image had been used in the logo for the Butley Orford Oysterage.  The legend was that a bearded man had been caught in nets off the coast and brought back to the castle where he behaved ferally, wouldn’t answer questions even when tortured, squeezed all the juice from any food given him so he could drink it, and gave no sign of understanding when taken to the church. They let him swim again when surrounded by nets and he easily escaped them by swimming under, but came back of his own free will. Eventually though he escaped and was never seen again. It’s one of those things that just weird enough to have some real truth to it.

The Wild Man of Orford

They were actually closing the castle down when we had reached the top of the roof, so we came back down quickly but a little too quickly for me actually. I slipped on one of the stone steps and caught myself successfully so only my left palm hit the stones but I could tell that I would feel it the next day for having torqued myself a little. (Ofermod goeth before a fall…)

We didn’t have time to go to Framlingham Castle, but drove by it to see the outside and marked it for a future trip. We also saw another EHS site on the way as we hit some back roads.

Driving through the late afternoon Suffolk countryside, heading west:

Juliet was quite happy to see us and Bear reported that she jumped on him when he came through the door. No matter how many fun things you see, it’s always nice to come home to someone who loves you.

And now for a summary of the day from Bear himself if you skipped everything above…and really want to watch him drink tea while driving.

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I needed to head down to meet our attorneys in London to finish the registration of the company’s branch office here in the UK, so I learned a little about how the train system works. We have a good station right here in St. Neots, so we parked there for the day and went straight in to King’s Cross. I also learned about what they call off-peak rates, which basically means that if here to travel at a time other than rush hour, you get a big break on the price. This meant working in the morning and delaying on the train after 9 a.m. and having to come back during the next off peak window (and yes, the savings are significant, especially on just one salary at the moment).
Because I got caught up in a client problem, we just missed the train we had wanted after a valiant run for it. I wasn’t quite well enough to make a good dash and I was pretty shaky for a while and coughing. Then I made the mistake at the train station of asking Bear how I looked. I had actually put a little thought into my appearance (for once) since we would be meeting official attorneys and everything. The only thing I had forgotten was that Bear is always utterly honest. “You look terrible,” he said and hugged me. “Ready?” Well, no, not now! But the truth is, he was right. I’ve been sick for nearly a month and while it was getting a lot better, it’s rebounded on me and it’s back in my chest. If you remember the show Night Court, then you remember Selma the bailiff. Ok, it’s not quite that bad but I’m coughing up things that are a color I don’t think exists in the Crayola spectrum. Having worked 3 twelve hour days in a row after last week of nearly 70 hours wasn’t helping, so the train ride in was going to be a nice chance to rest.
I had always suspected that a Kindle would be great for use on mass transit and I have to say that was true. I had bought the smallest, lightest version at Christmas and loaded it up but hadn’t had much chance with work to read anything. The train is really fast so I still didn’t have much chance! We were in London in about 50 minutes, but they do have some during peak hours that take about 30 minute because they skip stops.
The attorneys’ office was very close by so we chose to walk instead of trying to take the Tube. The weather was really beautiful, no need for a jacket, and we saw some nice buildings along the way.

Hotels over here look like monuments.

The attorneys were very nice and helpful, getting all the documents together and spending time talking with me about our future plans and things they could help us research in advance if needed. There are quite a few things to think about when getting started in a new country, like “hey, if we hire more employees and they work from their own homes, what about liability and workman’s comp? How do taxes work, who contributes what, is a pension mandatory, and how does that whole health care thing work?” (Turns out that health care thing is just magic. It just works. Well, that and lots and lots of taxes.)
We still had some time to kill before our return ticket window, so they very nicely gave us a Xerox of a map that showed us how to get back to from their office going by way of the British Museum and the British Library which were literally just a few blocks away. We had tea at the museum and we saw the man who was the host back in August when we first went to the museum.

Tea for Two at the British Museum

He was really nice, so I called him over and told him I was sure he saw thousands of people every week, but that he had helped us that summer when we came to the Museum and we had moved back now and had joined the Museum and were official Friends. He was very wry and gracious and said, “Oh, did you move just for me?” and we said, well, yes, of course, and it’s so good to see you! He was very pleased that we had joined the Museum and he hoped he would see us a lot more. We even got an extra pot of tea for that. 🙂

Interior of the British Museum

But the big stop was the British Library which is practically spitting distance from the train station and we were still in peak hour rates so we headed on there and got tickets to see the Illuminated Manuscript exhibit which was closing in another week or two. You couldn’t take pictures, but they have an App that you can download with all the images so that will be my memory of a hundred gorgeous gilt inlaid manuscripts from the 1100s onward.

Manuscript of Edward III (from the web)

Plaza at the British Library

We also got to see the Sir John Ritblat Gallery which included an original of Canterbury Tales, Piers Ploughman, the Cuthbert Gospel, Handel’s Messiah, Jane Eyre, Jane Austen’s writing desk, a Gutenberg Bible, a Shakespeare folio, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, letters from Queen Elizabeth to James VI after his mother Mary Queen of Scots was executed, handwritten lyrics by the Beatles for “Help”, “Yesterday”, and others, plus Bede’s historical works. There was supposed to be a Beowulf (the Cotton Vitellus) manuscript, but I didn’t see it on display so I’ll settle for listening again to Seamus Heaney’s reading of his new translation.

The King's Library which forms the core of the library collection, stored in glass stacks in the midst of the reading rooms, galleries and cafe

There was time for a quick dinner at Nando’s, the Portuguese-African restaurant chain that had some famous hot peri-peri sauce. Bear affirms that yes, it is hot indeed.
On the way to the station, I spotted some women out with babies, which brings up an important point. People on this island are breeding like rabbits. They rightly make a big point of recycling and conservation but seem to have missed the idea that having babies pop up like mushrooms all over the place is also having an effect on the situation. I have seen more baby carriages in six weeks than I probably have in the last six years. These two ladies were a great example of what you can see with their babies completely encased, safe and out for the day.

Rabbits, Fibonnaci -- look it up, folks!

Everyone knows about the flowered suitcase

In the train station, things can be a little confusing because the platforms can change unexpectedly, so imagine my delight when we wound up leaving from King’s Cross Platform 9. I went looking for 9 3/4 but nothing was to be seen, so I had to settle for 9b. I sort of tapped against the barrier but nothing happened. I’m going with the idea that my cold medication was blocking any magical powers I might have.

No sign of 9 3/4...

Bear ensured that I got a seat for the trip back and I dozed off a little bit on him because the day had really taken a toll. It was really amazing to see the manuscripts and so nice to finally meet the attorneys who had helped me out as we were in process with getting everything set up, but I didn’t have the energy reserves for very much, so I was glad to get home and to bed.

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