Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 10 October 2015
My first fridge-magnet
We've come back from London with a proper souvenir - this Egyptian mummy fridge-magnet, bought from the British Museum and which now has been 'affixed' to - yes, you guessed it - our fridge.
Back in Bath, the first thing I noticed was a printed warning on some railings asking people not to 'affix' their bicycles against them on pain of having them forcibly removed. I didn't know bicycles could be 'affixed', but I suppose they thought it sounded legal, as in 'affix stamp here'. Twats.
Every time a new curator is appointed to the British Museum, they feel they have to leave their mark on it by rearranging exhibits and hiding the ones that many people have been travelling miles to see since childhood. We could not find the amazing baboon which has been squatting in the same place near the entrance to the Egyptian section since the 19th century. Why archive that?!
The place was packed with hundreds of screaming school children, which was definitely a good thing. When I used to go there as a kid (special journeys made on the train since I was old enough to travel on my own), the place was virtually empty, and all the small exhibits were housed in dusty cabinets which hadn't been opened for 50 years. I loved it.
There was always a small morbid crowd around the exposed mummy , with children like me peering down at the soiled wrappings, trying to imagine what the corpse inside looked like. That has been removed as well, probably as a health hazard.
These days, they sometimes organise sleep-overs for small parties of children, who can actually spend the night surrounded by dead kings in huge, marble halls. I would have loved that.
I once made a special journey there to look at the Aztec rock-crystal skull before it was moved to the Museum of Mankind, only to find that it had been locked away out of sight. I found one of the museum officials and asked if I could see it. They took me down to a room in the basement and locked me inside with it! I had to knock on the door to be let out, and I was thrilled at being the only person in the world to be in a room with it at the time. I have since found out that it is a 19th century fake, which is a shame - circular abrasion marks give it away, evidently, and I became friends with the old expert who exposed it.
About thirty years ago, I had a German friend who used to travel the world in his beaten-up, tiny Renault 4 car, conducting tours for German tourists. He would send them on by plane, but drive himself to the destination to meet them. He hated flying, you see.
He drove to Egypt once, and when there, was offered a genuine Egyptian mummy by some rogue dealers - there are plenty of those in Egypt.
He bought it (wrap it up, I'll take it) and managed to stuff it in the back of his Renault. He was surprised at how light it was, but in the hot weather on the journey home, it began to give off a very strong aroma - not unpleasant, apparently, just very strong.
After a while, he started to wonder - for the first time - how he would get it through the border customs post. There were - and still are - very heavy penalties for smuggling out ancient artefacts, and there was no way the thing could be disguised as anything other than what it was - no point in further wrapping.
So he stopped at a large bridge over the Nile and, when nobody was looking, threw it in the river. I often wonder what happened to it - maybe it was chewed-on by crocodiles further down past Aswan?
To me, the British Museum sums up everything romantic about mid-nineteenth century London - the London that is gone forever, and perhaps never existed at all outside my own (and other's) childish heads.
I have sat with a drink in the Museum Tavern over the road, dreaming of Sherlock Holmes. This is the only real pub ever to have featured in a Holmes story - the one where a giant diamond is hidden in a Christmas goose.
Every time you start to think that the dream is fading, shortly to go forever, someone like Benedict Cumberbatch turns up and refreshes it for another 50 years or so.
I saw a large American tourist with a very elaborate moustache, strolling through town with a Sherlock 'fore-and-aft' hat on his head and a beatific smile on his face. He was living his dream in the heart of Old London, and I really felt happy for him.