March 7, 2007

Up to London for a meeting of the SITS User Group at Birkbeck College and, as is my wont, I took the opportunity to walk through the city to get there.

I just love strolling through London joining the dots. It seems you can’t walk for more than a few yards without encountering some recognisable name or place familiar from books, films or TV programmes. The tube is a wonderful invention, if not exactly a pleasant experience, but it does result in “gofer” syndrome; scurrying through tunnels and popping a head out here and there to see the landmarks without any idea where they are in relation to one another. Things which seem miles apart can be literally next door to one another.

My random route today took me along Victoria Street towards the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, past New Scotland Yard (if that’s still what the building is); then up Whitehall past Downing Street, the cenotaph and more government departments than I can recall; Trafalgar Square; through Covent Garden and Bloomsbury towards the British Museum; and finally past various colleges of the University of London until I found Birkbeck College.

With a bit of spare time having located my destination, I carried on up towards Euston and the British Library (marked as”under construction” in my 1988 A-Z, unlike St Pancras which is now very much “under construction” as the London terminus of the Channel Tunnel hi-speed rail link). Now, I’ve always wanted to see the library and hadn’t really appreciated that it was so close to King’s Cross station which I pass through on my occasional jaunts to Hessle, so plucking up my courage I went in at last.

What an amazing place! Just in one exhibition in a little side gallery there were actual letters and notebooks written by Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci, a page from (possibly) the first printed book in England, illustrated pages from ancient bibles and other religious books, several copies of Magna Carta, writings by Blake and Coleridge, manuscripts of Mozart… I can’t begin to list them (oops, I already have). Some of these things are hundreds of years old; how on earth they have survived the intervening period goodness only knows, but how wonderful that I (and you dear reader) can just walk in off the street and see them. You do need good eyesight though, the lighting is very low.

Then there was the meeting. That was fine.

And on the way back, I stopped in briefly at the British Museum. To be quite honest I didn’t find this quite as enthralling as the library, although the building itself is magnificent and the new central court beautifully airy and light though strangely devoid of any exhibits. There are lots of old artefacts around if you are prepared to explore though. Chief among them, arguably, is the Rosetta stone, a big chunk of rock inscribed with a proclamation written in three different scripts, famous for being a key in unlocking the meaning of hieroglyphs. Again, amazing to be in the actual presence of all this ancient stuff we’ve studied in school and seen and heard about endlessly on TV and radio.

Completed the walk back through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, The Mall, St James’s Park and Buckingham Palace, a comfy looking little city pad.

London. Great to visit. So nice to leave and come home.


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