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.
WILD #: Bear Hug
My new book BEAR HUG is in the shops now! I got the idea from one of my father’s favourite stories.
Once upon a time in the depths of 19th century Russia, a man was desperate to impress an important general. The man – let’s call him Stepan after my own Russian great grandfather – knew that the general liked nothing more than hunting. So he invited the general on a hunt in his local forest, promising something HUGE and MAGNIFICENT for the general to shoot. The general was extremely excited, packed his suitcase and his gun and charged down on the first train.
Now Stepan was fairly sure there were bears in his part of Russia, but just in case there weren’t, he bought a bear from a local circus and set it free in the forest shortly before the general arrived. Together, Stepan and the general settled down in the undergrowth to wait for something to appear and throw itself in front of their guns. The bear duly appeared, much the general’s delight and Stepan’s relief. But just as the general took aim, a lady came cycling into the clearing on her way to the local market. She took one look at the bear, dropped her bicycle and ran screaming into the forest. Whereupon the bear picked up her bicycle, pedalled it around the clearing a couple of times and disappeared as well.
History doesn’t relate the general’s reaction, not Stepan’s desperate explanation. But that of course is half the fun. Don’t you think?