The British Museum

Up The Smoke today. First time in months. Have been reading and viewing some great history books and programs. So to the British Museum to see some artefacts. Train to Victoria. Stifling bus to Trafalgar Square. The designer Thomas Heatherwick recently pointed out how, post COVID, we realise how absurd it is to lock people into tight little tins of metal and glass with miniscule windows. I agree. We need big windows we can open but our efficiency obsessed, risk averse culture wont allow it. Public too stupid not to fall out. A society which lacks confidence in its people.

Trafalgar Square wonderfully free of tourists. Not a trace of a muppet on a stick. A large sign ensured we were aware that Big Brother was watching us and the toilets now accept contactless payment. The state now has a picture of you , your credit card details and, who knows, perhaps a DNA sample?

I was reminded of the last time I called my energy provider and a laborious automated message directed me to look online then warned me that calls were recorded and any abuse of their employees would be taken seriously. One might be forgiven for thinking that they should take all their calls seriously and charging me 35p a minute to waste my time might be grounds for abuse.

On Charing Cross Road I was amused to see a pedestrian crossing with the green walking “man” replaced by an abstract symbol attempting to denote all genders. Good to see that even obtuse people have no excuse not to know when to cross the road. Not that there were many obtuse people…or people…. or traffic. All very quiet and Tottenham Court Road reduced to flogging phone covers and electric razors.

At least there were no queues outside the museum. I started at the Egyptian room where a plaque explained that the items were gathered together and interpreted according to a European perspective and this was now being reassessed. Reassessed in accordance with which perspective it didn’t say. A communist Chinese perspective perhaps? Apparatchik running about with thick black felt tip pens redacting any mention of Tiananmen Square protests and carting away customers for reeducation? A fundamentalist Islamist perspective perhaps? Artillery draggged into the museum to obliterate Buddhist statues?

It being unusual for any culture to assess information according to another culture’s perspective, I suspect that they will be assessing according to a 21st century Western persecptive. One that values all cultures equally except the one had the temerity to value all this stuff and present it for general admiration and enlightenment.

Spent a couple of hours wandering around. The Hieroglyphs and cuneiforms lettering were amazing. The Rosetta Stone now sits firmly behind glass, the lettering smaller than I rememberred. The Benin Bronzes are dramatic though I thought they’d missed a trick by not allowing us to inspect the rear of the bronzes to gain a greater understand how they were made. Some looked like they had rivets. The detail on the Assyrian wall carvings was fantastic. On the way out I found that the Sutton Hoo hoard was still on display. The Anglo Saxon and roman buckles and clasps were fantastic but perhaps the most beautiful object was a Roman clasp which was so elegant and intricate it might have been made in the 21st century. Clever chap, your Roman.

Starting around the 80s, museums in the UK were encouraged to rely on generating their own income and The British Museum was fitted out like a cake shop but now the tourists are gone. How will museums finance themselves? The state has been throwing money around like confetti so will a little more hurt?

On the train going up a woman had guilted me into re-donning my mask so that she would feel “more comfortable”. I complied out of courtesy not because I thought it made much difference. Most of us are in no real danger of suffering greatly from COVID yet we live in fear. Over a year on the streets are sparsely populated and business is far from normal. We live in a kind of limbo and the government picks up the tab. I say the government but I mean, of course, the next generation. The one which lives in rented accomodation and has no pension.

The civilisations represented in the British museum all had their day and faded, the causes as diverse as a BBC committee. Nothing lasts forever and surely a civilisation which has disclaimers for its most prestigious cultural institutions must see the writing on the wall. A society which lacks confidence in its institutions lacks confidence in itself. How long before all this stuff is sent back? In the 21st century our civilisation launches billionaires into space yet our economies were in crisis prior to COVID. Within a few months furloughing will run down and redundancies will begin. Inflation has already spiked and when interest rates follow we can expect mortgage defaults. We have to wonder whether the effects of lockdown will precipitate a deep recession and perhaps a more general crisis. There is something to fear.