On Friday night, I came back from a couple of days down south. Rather than write one very long post about my doings in Cambridge and London, I might just split it up a bit. My first immediate thought is about libraries. Given what I do for a living, it was only inevitable I went to a few while I was away. In fact, no fewer than four of them: Cambridge Central, Cambridge University, Conway Hall and the British Library. If you count Room 1 of the British Museum and the Sir John Soane’s museum, both of which have a fair few volumes, then it’s six. In three days. I realise that is quite sad but it was my holiday and I did do other things too. So there.
Cambridge Central Library is in a shopping centre. I only stumbled across it to get out of the rain. I am glad I did. For a start, I was tickled to find a copy of an archaeological book entitled Historic Dunbar, all about my home town. That book, incidentally, is now out of print and was fetching a fair few quid on eBay, I believe.
I was also struck on the way out by there being a donation box, which strikes me as unbelievably sad, though at least there was some money in it.
Cambridge University Library (shown below) is a legal deposit library and like the British Library basically looks like a muckle factory from the outside. They had a glorious exhibition of treasures from their collection, donated by George III in 1715. To their immense credit, CUL had produced a booklet featuring the entire exhibition text, helpful for folks like myself with a rubbish short-term memory. It was an incredible collection brought together by John Moore, bishop of Ely, whose books passed to the Crown after his death in 1714. My favourite had to be the copy of Bede from the 8th century AD, an incredibly precious work that helps us understand the history of these islands and particularly northern Britain.
Library number three was the British Library, conveniently located very near Kings Cross station. Due to being tight, I didn’t pay into their special exhibition though instead had a wander around the building before stopping into their Treasures exhibition. The Lindisfarne Gospels are undoubtedly my highlight but I also liked the Seamus Heaney manuscript and the religious books on display, particularly the Books of Hours. The display on Chinese printing was particularly good, a valuable reminder that the West was never really ahead of the game at the best of times.
The photo above was at night but also captures St. Pancras Station too.
Later that day, I made an impromptu visit to Conway Hall, probably lesser known but no less interesting, housing the Humanist Library and Archives. It’s a nice building, Victorian exterior, hidden on Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury. The library is splendidly old fashioned, mostly consisting of books at the earlier ends of the Dewey Decimal System (not always well covered in public libraries) though with a fair few biographies, magazines and journals. I mostly spent the time blethering to the librarian, who used to be my boss, before she returned to the south. She also fed me very decent chocolate (aye, and from Waitrose too, a better class). As a humanist myself, it was a pleasure to be there in such magnificent surroundings, as shown below.
On bookish matters, I read a couple of books while I was away. The main one was The Bonniest Companie, the latest volume of poetry by Kathleen Jamie, one of the writers whose books I would ring church bells to celebrate if I had access to any church bells. There were a few cracking lines, including this from ‘The Glen’:
‘I’ll lean on this here boulder
by the old drove road
and get my eye in, lighting on this and that.’
I also started re-reading The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, a fine book about walking which begins in Cambridge, naturally enough. I try to read a little about the place I am in while I am there, including when I read a book about hidden Dublin while in that fine city in January. Macfarlane is another author whose books I eagerly anticipate and like Kathleen Jamie, he can turn a cracking phrase.
Some other time I will write a little more about how we perceive the world. Most likely I will have another holiday post soon, possibly about Christ’s Pieces, museums or getting a blister from all the walking. Until then…