Coming home from London last night, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I could write about my day. Thinking about being in the British Library and the British Museum, the heatwave and managing to read four books in their entirety, I came up with just one phrase: unabashed joy.
Usually when I go to London, there is a long period beforehand when I can plan. When I get there, I invariably cram a lot into the day. This time, though, there was a much shorter timescale from deciding to go there to actually setting foot in the place. There was also the added complication that nearly made me cancel the trip. On Sunday, I read in the news that there was a heatwave forecast for yesterday with temperatures in London to reach 32 degrees Celsius. Now, I’m from the east coast of Scotland. Any sunshine we had was tempered by an ever-present wind. We didn’t have that level of heat. With the slightest degree of heat or humidity, I sweat buckets. I am hardly a male model anyway but in the heat I am invariably soaked and looking like I’ve just come out of a boiler suit. I decided to wear a T-shirt and shorts and spend as little time as possible outside. Thankfully, my train ticket was an open return so I could come north as swiftly as possible if I needed to.
The train journey down was wonderful. I sat and read pretty much all the way, managing to read two books straight through (Uniquely Human: A Different Way Of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant with Tom Fields-Meyer and the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). Particularly further south I sat and looked out of the window, waving as we passed Milton Keynes at the home of the Open University. I was listening to music and the right tunes seemed to come on at the right time – ‘Here Comes The Sun’ when the train hit Milton Keynes with its streets laid out according to the sunrise and sunset on Midsummer’s Day, and Kate Rusby’s version of ‘Village Green Appreciation Society’ as out the window we passed England’s green and pleasant land with fields, trees and canal boats sailing. I am so used to seeing hay bales in rolls on the fields so it was weird to see hay bales stacked high, so high indeed that they have crenellated battlements like a castle wall. As the train hit London, though, my dark humour came out when I saw a sign by the railway which said ‘Prepare To Meet Thy God’, to which my first thought, quite seriously, was what would David Gray be doing in London when he should be training for Hibs’ game on Saturday?
As I walked out of Euston, the heat just hit me. It was sunny and incredibly, incredibly just fuckin’ roastin’. I decided to head for the British Library and walked much slower than I normally do over the short distance along there. The BL is in a huge building that looks like a factory though it actually fits in well into the cityscape, particularly with St. Pancras Station’s spires in the background. Inside was an exhibition about punk music, which was well done with well-designed exhibition panels, archive documents and records even while I could care less about punk. I also went into the Treasures of the British Library exhibition, which I’ve seen before, but took in different things, not bothering about the handwritten Beatles lyric sheets and looking instead at the beautiful Bibles, Buddhist scrolls, Qu’rans and a letter written in 1703 by the philosopher John Locke. The letter featured a great quote that I would like to share:
‘Reading is for the improvement of the understanding. The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, for our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver and make out that knowledge to others.’
I sat for a while outside the British Library in a raised courtyard like an amphitheatre and ate lunch in a highly-prized shaded spot among quite a few others doing the same.
I walked down to the British Museum. Before I went in, I had to have my bag searched and ended up being fanned by the security guard as this was going on. Once that was over with, I headed straight for one of the finest spaces in the world, the Great Court, and did three circuits taking in the stunning pillars, glass and masses of people around me before spending the next three hours wandering around the museum, broken up only by a quick sojourn to the cafe for a sugar rush. That is a key part of my museum strategy, given I was up at 4.30am and had a long way to go, coupled with skimreading a fair bit of it and just pacing myself, taking breaks and sitting down at regular intervals as I went round. I did the usual bits I like – Lewis Chessmen, Vikings, Romans, Mesoamerica and Africa – and also found a bit I had never seen before, all about Ethopian Coptic Christianity and early Christianity in Egypt, which was fascinating. Every time I go to the BM, I always find something new that I’ve never seen before, like a mirage in the desert, and it’s why it’s always a pleasure to be there because it’s always different but always the same.
Before getting the train north I went for food and ended up eating some pasta sitting in King’s Cross Station, which has more food choices in and around it than Euston. The PA announcer at King’s Cross was Scottish – we’re taking over the world. As I walked out, I intended to take a picture of the sign for Platform 9 3/4, keeping up the Harry Potter theme after reading the play script earlier in the day. There was of course a huge queue with an American girl marshalling the hordes to get their selfies taken next to the sign toting a wand towards it in a way they really don’t in the books or the movies.
On the way home, I read two more books (the excellent memoir Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson before finishing off the also good Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From 80s Movies by Hadley Freeman) and did some writing. The 4-hour journey down in the morning had been very pleasant though being tired meant the journey home really dragged, especially since the train was stopping at every stop north of Warrington. Reading was absolutely lovely. Having been so busy for so long, I haven’t had the chance to read (or really the inclination) in ages and ages. Today, I’ve read two already and there’s another on the go (it’s about the Labour Party leadership election last year). Yesterday was just a lovely day, uncomplicated and relatively stress-free, even with being in London. I barely ventured a mile from the train station but that didn’t matter since I was in places I like and knew how to enjoy them. It was peaceful, even with the searing heat.