Tag Archives: oxford

At the Ashmolean waiting for the drizzle to stop

I wouldn’t want to be a museum designer. As far as I can tell there are at least 65 galleries here, choc full of history.  How do you grab the punter’s attention? I am a bad, bad example; I walk as briskly as humanly possible, avoiding tourists (like myself), and hardly ever read the labels.

Somehow, this is not a museum like any other, and I will never play Civilization 5 again without thoughts of the Ashmolean.

This is a museum of archeology. Mesopotamia, Babylon, Assyria, the East, The Middle East, the Far East, Jerusalem, I’ve never paid more attention than here. The first gallery I went to was, of course, the mummies. I’ve come to believe that I am more fascinated in history from the Middle Ages back than in any other time period.

When you play Civilisation 5 you are a ruler of an empire: Babylonian, Celt, French, Assyrian, etc, struggling to take your people to the top of the heap. Until this visit to the UK, I never pictured in my head exactly how we as a society got to our evolutionary point.

Nor did I realize to what lengths archeologists and collectors went to gather, and later donate, their finds. I guess I never really thought about it.

It’s a Tuesday, and there aren’t that many tourists. Unlike visiting the V& A on a week end, here there is plenty of space to get close to the exhibits.

mummy of a child

After the mummies I listen in on a tour about the small effigies that are included in tombs. Small exquisite statues, dioramas to help you in the afterlife. There are cartouches and wall pieces depicting the gods, pots the size of a man.

I move on to the first Europeans and bronze age armour. The detail on some the work is exquisite. How were these items found? We are now witness to skills developed in the long lost past, without machines, computers or any other time saving device. These statues, brooches, armour and pots were all intricately made by sheer muscle power.


I wonder around some more. If I had more days, I’d take a few galleries at a time. And suddenly I am in the violin room. Oh the craftsmanship! A few Stradivari here and there.  Early forms of the guitar, citterns, lutes, guitars. A rare Stradivari guitar. I take lots of photos for Tony’s benefit.

The conservator in me wakes up: I don’t know what they do about temperature control; some of the upper floor exhibits went from cold to hot. The thermostat controls look like walky talkies.

I love the Pre Raphaelites. I’d forgotten that some of them are my favourite artists. In fact as I wander around the painting galleries there are many artists here who did not feature at all in my arts degree.

There is so much more to see out there than we can possibly know. I am simply amazed at the wonder of the every day.

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On the Train to Oxford; some miscellaneous thoughts.

I love catching trains, especially in first class. I asked the attendant what was so special about it, given the difference in price, and he told me it was roomier and had complimentary food.

I suppose one doesn’t get to meet many people. At least in second class you might get to talk to someone. But after lugging a heavy bag – I swear it’s 30kgs – I wasn’t in the mood to be cramped. So here I am, writing down notes and preparing blogs on a high speed train. Next time I am travelling really light: one half full bag only!

But this this not the first class of old with china cups. Unfortunately my Earl Grey tea is neither complimentary nor in china, but no matter. I will get to see the English country side  under somewhat grey skies.

I went to the British Library this morning and visited with the preservation people there. With time running along I poked my head into some reading rooms because I felt that if I returned home without doing so my name would be mud.

My main focus for this trip has been the course. It was all consuming and didn’t give much time for meandering around the city. You’d think that I would have had time on week ends, but given jet lag and the flu, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to sleep at the correct time.

I did however, take many trips with the underground and on buses. My hotel was in a fortunate position: within walking distance of nearly everywhere I needed to be. I found being on the Picadilly line really convenient.

London is clean despite very little evidence of public rubbish bins. Surprisingly, their rubbish collection system resembles that of BsAs: plonk your bags of rubbish on the curb!

I loved the smells of the gardens. In the big public squares, scores of people were sitting on the green grass, in small or large groups, enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air.

I wish I could stay longer; see things in a calmer less frenzied manner. So I’ve decided to see what I can see and not fret about it. I don’t care about shopping or plays; although truth be told I’m sad to not have see the Globe Theatre.

The view from the train is pretty much what I expected: wildflowers , broom, green lushness everywhere. Brown stone houses with high pitched roofs in the distance, horses grazing, fields. I feel like I’m home.

Getting back to my time in London. I took photos of buildings. Rows of similar architecture; garden railings, cobblestones. I thought I was in a movie. I saw may interesting signs. For example:

for women’s treatment or learning?

Was this a hospital that taught doctors specific medicine for women, or taught medicine to women? This sign made me laugh.

Cyclists around town; It made me happy to see so many people cycling without a helmet, carefree in the traffic.

I bought a local sim card for the phone, but as with the one at home I hardly used it. I forgot I didn’t have  travel buddies with whom  to keep in contact.

I’ve been taking pictures of what I call architectural oddities:

two mosquitoes on a balcony. each balcony had different insects

or unusual shops:

Anyway, now I’m in Oxford.

So I lug my heavy baggage to the Eurobar Cafe on George St. Lucky for me it’s not raining. Of course my room is o the second and a half floor, up tiny steps. I am both cursing and laughing as I struggle with my luggage. I wish it had feet like The Luggage.

The hotel is small, and its bar downstair is “chill” as my new found little friend Richie would say. He decides to be my guide and takes me for a brief evening walk around the town.

People come out after about seven and the streets are crowded once more. I bump into Carol whom I met last week at Senate House. She is a professor from El Paso, studying maps. She is here for another conference. I keep walking and realise there is a tango show on tonight and tomorrow night. I will see if I can’t go before practica. Trying to find music, I end up reading my book at the Oxford retreat, listening to Jack Johnson (?) or someone who sounds a lot like him. I am now off to find the Ashmolean.

More later.


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