I’m going out on a limb here, writing again so soon after my thoughts regarding Malorie Blackman and her new role as Children’s Laureate. But a tweet from the British Museum in celebration of its 260th birthday today – ‘What’s your favourite piece from the British Museum collection?’ – got me thinking about two remarkable objects in its possession which I first discovered over twenty years ago.
I dug out a picture. Glory! They are just as perfect as I remembered when I first studied them on Professor Hutton’s Pagan Religions of the British Isles course at Bristol University 1990-1991. Colour, detail. Breathtaking from every angle. And so SMALL. Created without machines, magnifying glasses, modern tools. I defy modern jewellers to do better.
Historians think they were decorative pommels attached to leather thongs, which in turn were attached to the sword found in the great 6th century Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk. There isn’t much of the sword left. It looks like a stretched, flattened cat-food tin that’s been left in the rain for fifteen hundred years. The sword doesn’t thrill me at all. But the decorations. Oh boy, the decorations.
Who made them? Did they use magic?
There’s a story right there.
I had no idea the train journey to Waterloo was so interesting.
I’ve done it so many times that I thought I knew it all. Station, house, field, horse, horse, tiny horse (seriously, there are lots of horses, some extremely small) etcetera. But today, it was as if I’d never seen it before. And you know why?
I was looking out of the other window.
I realised this somewhere between a busy cement factory which had mysteriously sprung up overnight on a twenty-acre site and a brand-new silted-up canal, which must once have borne a host of slim and colourful boats taking coal somewhere that wasn’t Newcastle. Where were the tiny horses, I asked myself in some astonishment, and the two upside-down plastic chairs stuck mysteriously in the middle of their oft-admired field?
Revelation! I was on the other side of the train!
How bizarre, to discover something so completely new, which had been right there under my nose all along.
I was on the train today because I was going to the British Museum, to see the exhibition about the Hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims must take at some point in their lives. Incredible. Fascinating. And utterly unknown to me. I have clearly spent too much of my life on the white, western, Catholic side of the train.
Live dangerously, I say, and look out of the other window tomorrow. What’s the worst that can happen?