Archives for the month of: March, 2013

Last week, after I dropped Alma off for her interview at the Architectural Association, I headed for the British Museum.alm1049

It’s just on the far side of Bedford Square and then one more short block.  I was stunned by these plane (I think) trees in Bedford Square.  Even though we have some remarkable ash and birch trees near our house Norway’s climate must be harsh enough that the deciduous trees never become this magnificent. These are perfect , like actors on a stage, and yet when they were planted a couple of hundred years ago who had the foresight to envision this for their great-great grandchildren – or was it just chance?

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Currently hovering over the square is this high-tech crane cab. It’s actually located above the British Museum and may be something to do with the new underground line (London is always building a new underground line, it’s a big Swiss cheese down there).

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It made a plumed hat for the pedimented row houses:

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On either side of the entrance to the Rosetta Stone gallery are these two silent gents:

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They are very similar in everything but the stone they are carved from, and that makes all the difference to their appearance.

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This gold, ceremonial helmet I showed last time I went to the BM; this time it’s not blurry. It’s inscribed with the name king Meskalamdug (“hero of the good land”) and was discovered at the Royal Cemetery at Ur in 1924 by the archeologist Leonard Wooley.  Actually, it’s what the BM calls an electrotype, an exact metal copy of the original. Until recently, the original was living quite happily in the museum in Baghdad, but now it’s missing, a casualty of the war.  I wonder what hung from the little holes along the lower rim, possibly some leather padding. I like the idea of wearing a hat decorated with the hair and ears it encloses – wearing your body on the outside – why don’t we do that nowadays?  It’s an unexplored fashion theme. If I were a clothes designer I’d spend all my time here, looking for inspiration (and finding it).

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This one is also from Ur. A gold head-dress and beads worn by a Sumerian woman in about 2600 BC, apparently:

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Some years ago an archeologist and farmer called Basil Brown

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dug up a helmet in a field in Suffolk.  Part of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon treasure.  This is a recreation made by the Royal Armouries (the decoration on the original was in tiny fragments).

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Imagine meeting him coming up the beach.  Quite sinister.

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Science fiction portrayals – Darth Vader & co. – are pretty feeble when you look at what we have in real life.

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On Wednesday morning, in order to avoid some horrible central London traffic on my way to Bloomsbury, I was driven on a devious route that went through Admiralty Arch.  For those who don’t know it, this arch is a grossly monumental building dating from the height of the British Empire, round about 1910 (you can see the Roman numerals at the top of the first photograph).  It sits on the corner of Trafalgar Square, a gateway down The Mall, the wide avenue with coral-coloured asphalt that features in every state procession to or from Buckingham Palace.

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As I say, the traffic was awful. We were sitting there trying to get into Trafalgar Square for five or ten minutes.  After a while, I noticed the lampposts:

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They have little galleons on top , with the wind in their sails.  They’re all heading down The Mall, in the direction of the palace.  The inscription is E-RI, for king Edward VII, Emperor of India.  Edward’s mother, Queen Victoria, was the first Empress of India.  Her daughter the Princess Royal had married the German Kaiser – or emperor – Friedrich III, and with Victoria a mere queen her daughter (confusingly also called Victoria) now outranked her at the dinner table. The prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, made the queen Empress of India and equilibrium was restored.

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The base of each post is supported by dolphins’ tails and scallop shells.

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I hope I haven’t got the chronology of this all wrong: I assume the lampposts date from the construction of Admiralty Arch, somewhere around 1910.  It’s sad we couldn’t build lampposts like this today, neither as innocent nor as decorative; of course we’ve had two world wars and a severe case of modernism since 1910.  In the years leading up to the First World War, propriety may have stopped the designer adding mermaids draped in seaweed; there surely must have been some limit to whimsy in those days.  Or is it an example of cool British equanimity: in Belfast and up in Scotland, the Admiralty was building the Dreadnought-class battleships that were to win the battle of Jutland in 1916, while in London it was decorating the streets with tiny bronze-cast galleons inspired by a Peter Pan illustration or a Gilbert & Sullivan stageset.

Before you get to one-armed, one-eyed Admiral Nelson on his perch in Trafalgar Square, you pass Captain James Cook.  He has all his limbs and  looks as if he’s discovering something – in that overcoat, probably not Hawaii.

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Topsy, Jack, Jack’s ball & Alma on Semsvannet.

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