Thursday, May 19, 2011

Am I back?

I haven't posted any messages from exile for a while you may have noticed (but possibly the great void hasn't even blinked in my absence).

I am happy to report I was not arrested nor frozen out by the cyber-fun-police, rather I got caught up in being in London and decided that instead of analysing my joy I would focus on experiencing it.  It was lovely to sit under a tree in Kensington Gardens and watch the clouds flutter across the sky, to feel grass and hear birds and chatter and digest my copious breakfasts.

We did visit the British Museum (one of my favourite haunts) and see Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World.  This exhibition is focussed on treasures from Tillya Tepe, a 1st century AD burial mound of a nomad prince and five women (possibly wives slaughtered to keep him company, thank you).  The finds include goods from across the ancient world - Roman coins from France, silk from China, a folding gold foil crown (described as the 'ultimate example of portable nomadic wealth' on the BM website here) glassware, pottery, weapons ... 

It was an extraordinary display of wealth and ingenuity from two thousand years ago, and the tale of its discovery and survival through recent events is also riveting.  We were fortunate that it was not crowded the morning we visited because the items were on the small side and required close examination to appreciate them.  My one criticism was the lack of enlarged photos or magnifying glasses which are part of permanent exhibits elsewhere in the museum.

Gold crown from Tillya Tepe
Gold folding crown from Tillya Tepe, photo from the British Museum (

We also paid our customary visit to the London Silver Vaults at Chancery Lane.  A lifetime ago, when we lived in Chester, we collected silver and antiques from the numerous fairs and auctions that were offered weekly and monthly at various towns in the area.  One of our favourites was the one at Nantwich on the last (or maybe the first) Thursday evening of the month.  We would combine a visit to the fair with our grocery shopping, as you do.  We found some wonderful bargains and curios over the years there and our appetites for unusal pieces was whetted. 

Antique fairs we've visited recently are not the same:  I suspect all the interesting things have been collected and sold and now the 'antiques' are mostly jumble and car-boot sale stuff that may have value but not enough to buy and then cart halfway around the world.  We satisfy our lust by visiting the Silver Vaults and gazing in the many tiny shops (each one literally a 'vault') filled with silver:  ancient, antique and contemporary.  We look in the windows and visit a few of the dealers but we don't buy much at all.  Last week we saw a silver chess set through an open doorway  - we didn't go in fearing we would be seduced into buying - the chess pieces were about 8 - 14 inches (roughly 20 to 35 cm) high, and the castles or rooks, were massive battlements.  The playing board would have been at least 30 inches (about 75 cm) square.

We have no photos of the Silver Vaults because being a high security place, photography is banned and bag searches are in force.  It is two storeys underground and was originally built in 1876 to provide secure storage for the 'wealthy elite' but during and following the Second World War, satisfying the needs of  silver dealers became its focus.  I suspect the present building over the vaults is more modern than 1876.

So now we are back in the dust and heat and facing a long hot summer.  It was 50 celsius (122 Fahrenheit) last week while we were away.  Since we've been back it hasn't been quite that hot, yet.  It is usually 32-34 celsius (90-93 F) at 6 am and up to 43 or 45 (109-113 F) during the day.  Nice to be er, home.



Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed your trip over here - and the weather was quite pleasant wasn't it? (well we all thought it was a heat wave!) I hadn't heard of the Silver Vaults before - sounds somewhere interesting to visit.

jabblog said...

The Silver Vaults sound most inviting.