Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Train, O2 andTutankhamen

We travel to London, by train, because I am scared stiff by driving. This is from a woman who, in 1983, took her first driving lesson on the Mad Max route which is the North Circular and Hanger Lane Gyratory system. I was aged 23 and dressed up like a New Romantic with a Thompson Twins haircut, which only adds to the horror.

But the thought of spinning uncontrollably on that massive roundabout today, in 2008, dressed like a down-beat middle-aged woman, screaming alongside three kids swinging punches from the rear, while I have no idea which exit to take, is a vision enough to make me gladly hand over my month's pay to a train operator. A year's worth, if they ask.

Once in London, we head to the Tutankhamen exhibition at the Millennium dome. Or I should say, O2. Looking up at the gigantic stretched roof, it reminds me of a tent, an encampment for displaced persons and refugees, for people who have lost their way. It doesn't make me feel good. I feel like a drifter, with no map and no idea where to go; I feel we could wander aimlessly in any direction, but I don't want to go in any, because none look inviting.

Inside O2, there are theatrical stage-set buildings which look like they're made of fibreboard and plaster and might topple over if we give them a shove. They house cafes, restaurants, bars, and ticket offices which provide directions for us simply by being there and creating channels to flow through. Yet despite these, the whole structure feels empty, and I rather wish it had been left a large vacant space. At least by running through it we would impose a sense of purpose and, in our home ed way, call it kinetic art.

And it just does not feel right, this big transitional space, as a setting for Ancient Egypt. I want that to be about the permanence of people and the endurance of objects. I have high hopes for this, seeded by all our work at home, with our pictures and books on sphinxes and mummies and treasures locked up inside sand. In anticipation, I hope we've covered enough to merit this. The glory and golden bits I have done, but not the gruesome hook-your-brains-out bits, because I am too squeamish. I have studiously avoided descriptions of how to mummify dead bodies. In desperation for gore, Shark has made herself a canopic jar in which she keeps boiled sweets.

Once inside King Tut's bit of the tent, we are plunged into semi darkness and left to grope our way about, dramatically, because this is atmosphere. Then we have to withstand supermarket music which is probably supposed to take us back in time 3,000 years and not just be an irritating noise that has my hand instinctively reaching out for a tin of chopped tomatoes. The faux Egyptian music is only quelled if we listen to Omar Sharif buzzing through the hand-held audio guide. But I cannot say he offers much more to me than I could have gained by reading the information panels which accompany the artifacts.

This is all the problem with the Tutankhamen exhibition. The O2 location of it; the piped music; the wraparound show; the Hollywood celebrity, gambling on a birthright. And all this is distracting and irritating. These things are the ephemera which fail to enhance our understanding of the artifacts on display; they simply get in the way, and I have to be steely jawed to ignore it all.

But most important, we are here for educational purpose and have to get our money's worth, even though we've paid the school rate. Mummy Grit and daddy Dig round up Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, wrestling them away from their play chums with whom we've met up to tour the exhibits, and give everyone a good talking to about getting an eyeful of Tutankhamen's chair and necklace, because it is a long way to Cairo. And we ask them to concentrate on the objects themselves, and ignore the music, the stage lights, Omar Sharif, and the prison warder standing in every room burning eye holes into me just in case I'd even think of whipping out my mobile phone to snatch a quick snap of an inlaid chest and thus undermine the corporation's lucrative picture rights.

But the objects are beautifully crafted: a delicate golden diadem held aloft in a case with its snake head peering out; the solid, sturdy dagger found protecting the mummy; the small gold and azure blue canopic coffinette; shabti figures; small chairs and inlaid chests.

At the end, Squirrel, Tiger and Shark declare the experience good and the objects nice, possibly showing there needs to be some lessons round here on descriptive language as well as Ancient Egypt. But all in all, I count the day as a success and achievement and well worth the school rate.

And, of course, the cost of the train fare home.

A miserable Shark on a train.
Shark, please consider the alternatives.

1 comment:

sharon said...

Welcome back, was beginning to worry that the Cornish Pixies had got you!

Sounds as though the Tutankhamen exhibit was a hit even if the venue left a lot to be desired! I thought the building formerly known as the Millennium Dome was to have been demolished by now. My other half worked for Greenwich Council back in the planning days of the edifice and had very little good to say about it. Poor Shark looks as though she's on her way to the guillotine, does she not enjoy riding on public transport? The smells and sounds of the local wildlife etc... or is it just the lost opportunities for 'interacting' with her sisters?