Sunday, 26 October 2014

Carolingian Crystal and Tower of London poppies

I was in London again this last week with a couple of old friends. We meet regularly and get out and about quite a bit. This time the focus was the Ancient Lives exhibition at the British Museum. Eight of the museum's mummies were on display, having recently undergone intensive body scanning. They were fascinating but I came away thinking that if time travel was possible, an enterprising dentist could net himself a fortune by selling oral hygiene products to ancient Egyptians. Every adult mummy had, in life, suffered dreadfully from serious abcesses.

As it took just an hour to 'do' the Ancient Lives exhibition, we wandered upstairs to Room 41 to view Radwald's treasure from Sutton Hoo,  particularly those wonderful garnet and gold cloisonne decorations. It was also an opportunity to say hello again to the 12th Century Lewis Chessmen we'd last met at the the Viking exhibition a year ago. I do so admire the elaborately carved backs of the thrones.  

Superb stuff, but, in the same room, something else caught my eye. It was love a first sight. A huge and beautifully crafted piece of rock crystal. Called the Carolingian Crystal, it was created in the mid-9th Century and has associations with the court school of Charles the Bald. It was probably gifted to the Abbey of St Denis in France. No small jewel this. It has to be 9 inches in height at least. Stunning.

Our trip back to Waterloo was via the Tower of London to see the ceramic poppies. This was a sight spoiled for me by the rumour that the percentage of the profit going to charities from their sale is not as great as those members of the public who are buying them might have hoped. I couldn't get out of my mind that Monty Python sketch where John Cleese, playing a merchant banker, interviews charity collector Terry Jones. I'm sure it'll be on youtube somewhere.

Saying that, it was a remarkable sight, and being so close to the pier by the Thames at the Tower, we were able to take one of the Thames river clippers back to the London Eye and have a bite to eat on the embankment before catching our trains home. 

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