Everything happens at once…

I had a quiet weekend planned of catching up with my coursework and tidying my house.  Since the August Bank Holiday weekend, the house has been full of camping equipment and then the contents of the loft as we had new insulation fitted.    I received a phone call from my sister in the middle of last week asking if I would replace her ill other half at a black tie dinner in Birmingham.  I agreed, it was an excuse to dress up, I needed a haircut anyway and there was a chance to pop into Birmingham Museum.

Then the option to visit the Richard III dig opened up as well and the scheduling began.

The University of Leicester has been digging up the Leicester City Council Social Services Car Park in the search for Richard III.   http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/greyfriars
It sounds like an unlikely place to find the body of a long dead king, but the evidence that he was buried in the Greyfriars Friary is insurmountable and now they have located the building there is a chance they can find his resting place as well.   We arrived at 11am, when it opened to find a queue which trailed off into the distance.  To be honest, the queue was long, but the management of groups of people on short tours around the dig site was good and so no one was waiting too long.  I was quite surprised by how obvious some of the finds were, the Friary walls and floor were clear to the un-archeologically minded.   The excitement among the dig team was palpable.  It was brilliant to see so much enthusiasm, it was contagious.  Fingers crossed that in the next week, they find more amazing objects and even a king!

The dig bought together two parts of my life, my museum life and my working/academic life.  Seeing the University and the Museums Service working together on this project was inspiring.  It also means that the objects found will definitely have a good home and end up being on show to as many people as possible.

So, following my excursion to see a dig, I went to get my haircut and styled for the evening and headed off to Birmingham.

I had the privilege of being a guest of the Royal Society of Cumberland Youths at their triennial dinner.  It all sounds a bit like a gentleman’s club until you realise that he Cumberland Youths are a bell-ringing society!  The dinner, held at the Birmingham Council House, was lovely.  Good food and interesting conversation, although some of the in-jokes went a bit over my head.

It was a slow start to Sunday morning, but we managed to walk from Brindley Place to the Bullring and have a look at St Martins, while navigating through various stalls and entertainers of the Artfest.  There seemed to be a lot of interesting activities and groups to take part in and join.  I wish we had more time to look around that part.  After arriving at St Martin’s during a service and after the ringing had happened we decided to go to St Chad’s as we would be in time for my sister to ring there (and cross it off her list of towers she had rung in).  We got there in time, and I waited outside while the church emptied.  I asked nicely and the priest said I could have a look around while I was waiting.

The church still smelt of incense and was quite hazy when I went in, but it added to the atmosphere.  The church (actually a cathedral or minor basilica) was the first Catholic church to be allowed following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  I hadn’t realised this until I googled the place while waiting outside.  The interior was designed by Pugin, and is beautiful.  There was also a shrine dedicated to Cardinal Newman, which raised a question in my mind about when parts of people get collected a relics…at what point did they decide to take a lock of his hair and keep it?

Following the ringing finishing, we walked back to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  The aim was to see the Love & Death exhibition, the Staffordshire Hoard and the Egyptian exhibition.  All of these were achieved.  I didn’t realise how little I knew about the Pre-Raphaelites until this exhibition.  I hadn’t even heard of Lawrence Alma-Tadema but his paintings and the details of everything in them are amazing.  We spent a while looking at the differences between the artists, how some used quite expressionist techniques and others were incredibly detailed and precise.  We also discussed the best viewing position dependant on size of painting (although you can’t beat getting up close and personal on some of the detailed paintings regardless of their size).

We spent a good 5 minutes looking at the Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott because you have to.

The Staffordshire Hoard is even more impressive in real life.  The photos do it justice, but being able to see how small some of the pieces are, and how intricately constructed they are is unbelievable.   I particularly liked the examples of foils from the different helmets which have been discovered recently, and while how similar they are, how different the designs are.  One of the questions posed at the exhibit is ‘why is each one different?’ My opinion on this is that no one wants to be stood next to someone wearing the same helmet as them, a bit like dresses at a wedding.

We then wondered into the Pharaoh: King of Egypt exhibit.  Again impressive objects!  How wood and mummy wrappings can stay as well preserved over 3,000 is inconceivable.   I had also never seen hieratic writing before, so that was one more thing which was new to me.   We had an interesting discussion on how mummies might have been measured for their sarcophagi, and was the shrinkage taken into account when measuring?

As we were walking back to the restaurant for a spot of lunch, we encountered the Moselele band, a ukulele band who were playing as part of the Artfest in the museum, and then as we went back towards the exit there was a choir singing.  The Artfest had it all worked out, as you went from performer to performer, there was no overlap.  Just as one sound faded, another grew loader as you walked.  Nicely done.

My weekend was topped off with my journey home.  It was a busy two days, and while I should have been doing more coursework, I think the cultural experiences made up for it.


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