Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two hours in London

On Tuesday morning, we hopped a flight from Teesside down to London, to stay with my bestest and oldest friend Julie. As we had a couple of hours to spare before meeting up with her, we took the Tube into the city and went straight to the British Museum, where we could store our luggage and take a leisurely stroll around the collections.

I used to live and work right next door, in Russell Square, so the BM was a regular haunt, but I'd only been back once since they moved the British Library out and added the new atrium around the Reading Room.




One of the nicest discoveries was that they've kept the original shelves and display cabinets of the King's Library, and are now using them to exhibit items other than books. It's not always the most graceful use of the space--plates and artwork and miniature gamelan instruments on dark wood, behind glass--but it feels more random and fun, like the collection of some eccentric aristocrat (or, as is the case, of many eccentric aristocrats).

As we were entering the building, a Ghanian Agbekor drum ensemble was setting up their instruments. When we heard them start up later, we went back outside to check out their performance (thunderous, complex and rockin') and found policemen holding back the crowd of onlookers. "How strange," we thought, "and anyway, why would they set up in a place that's guaranteed to make people stop and block the entrance?"


Um, maybe because they weren't playing for the crowd, but to welcome a large group of dignitaries who'd arrived to check out an exhibit of Ghanian textiles. The obvious focus of attention was a broad-shouldered man in military dress uniform: scarlet jacket with gold tassels. The words "benevolent dictator" kept coming to mind. Still haven't figured out who he was.

But it reminded me that this sort of stuff is always happening in London, and you can stumble across it without even meaning to.

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