A cacophony of wonder: the British Museum

Published on 12 February 2011 in , , ,

It’s a Thursday evening; rather dull and damp. I’m meeting some people in a pub in Bloomsbury. Never met them before and I’ve got that slight tense feeling I always get when I meet new people. I’m usually convinced I’m going to come across like some sort of gibbering idiot.

British museum

Photo by LineFT. Creative Commons licensed.

The pub is the Museum Tavern and I’m half an hour early. Over the road is somewhere I’ve not been for ages. It was probably a couple of years ago since I last set foot in that building, whilst doing some touristy stuff with visiting parents. I walk up to the building, admire its grand neo-classical architecture; it’s grand columns rising high above. Oh the British Museum, how amazing you look tonight.

There’s a late night opening for an exhibition on the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, but I wander aimlessly around one of the most amazing spaces London has to offer. The Great Court is an amazing space that simultaneously feels old and new. It’s a space that’s only been in London for eleven years, but it’s so hard to imagine London without it.

The glorious steel and glass roof canopy sits proud above me. Made out of 3,312 panes of glass, the British Museum’s website proudly proclaims that no two panes are the same. With the dark sky above, the lights of the court shine up and illuminate the area in a breathtaking way. I wander slowly, breathing in its majesty. It’s been too long since I’ve done this, too long indeed.

I walk round the building in delight; a contented smile on my face. Round the Reading Room which sits at the heart of it all. Bizarrely I’ve never been in that particular space; that most famous of rooms. I can’t currently – it’s being used for the Egyptian exhibition and won’t revert to its normal usage until 2012.

Most of the museum is shut up tight, however I spot a door open; people milling around. It’s the Kings Library; my second favourite part of the whole museum. It’s shelves brim with books on loan from the House of Commons, interspersed with artefacts and museum pieces.

Beelden in Kings Library

Photo by Thomas in’t Veld. Creative Commons licensed.

It’s like you’re wandering around someone’s ancient library in an old manor house. Some mad Lord has collected a load of stuff and has just shoved it in a room in a hotchpotch way. Everything’s tucked away behind glass doors, and you pad softly over its wooden floor, feeling like you’re trespassing on someone’s private space. You and the other forty nine people in the room. I don’t really look at anything in particular, just soak it all in as a whole cacophony of wonder.

I look at my watch. Time is pressing on. I can’t stay here forever. But I feel good; I feel happy; I feel relaxed. I step back out in the Great Court once more, look at that roof and head to the door.

Walking past one of the donation boxes, urging me to give just four pounds, I fumble in my wallet and pull out a crumpled fiver. I’ve barely been there twenty five minutes, but it doesn’t seem enough as I put it in the slot.

Outside, the air is still damp but the entrance is bustling with people. I stand for a minute before leaving that old building. To the pub then. It’s time to meet someone new.