Do I give the impression that I spend all of my time wandering round the galleries of museums?
Al least when I am not revisiting the memories of my home in Brittany?
In reality I spend most of my waking hours, and a great deal of my energy working here, as an internet threat analyst, or, to the layman, a computer virus analyst.
It's a demanding role, fast-paced, the threats are always changing, evolving, becoming more sophisticated and challenging.
At work I live very much in the here and now and, of course, in the future as we work to second-guess the Bad Guys' intentions.
Which is perhaps why, when I am not at work, I am drawn to return to the past and to a time when life was simpler, more easily comprehended, when we lived at a pace more in keeping with our human nature.
And so, after a visit to Brittany, I'd like to take you now to my second favourite, no wait, my fourth favourite, museum, after the British Museum, the Louvre and the Natural History Museum, the Ashmolean in Oxford when I went in search of Words which are, it must be said, one of my passions, after all, where would we be without words?
through the familiar entrance door to the Ashmolean is wonderful enough
but the host of lovely guides made it even more special. Each and every
one of them seemed to be really happy to be there and each and every
one of them was kind, helpful and gracious. So much so that it felt as
if we visitors were all specially invited and very welcome guests.
have to mention the lovely man who, when asked "Please could you tell
me where Egypt has gone?" replied with a twinkle in his eye "Ah, that's
too large and heavy to move far so Egypt has stayed where it was" and
then proceeded to lead me through various rooms until we reached the
Egyptian collection where he waved towards the exhibits with a flourish
and said "Enjoy your visit".
And the quietly-spoken man who
walked up to me as I took pictures and said gently "You are permitted to
use flash photography Madam, we've found it doesn't damage the
And all of the other guides who were so happy to help
us navigate our way around the new museum and for whom nothing was too
Where to start?
I decided that to try to see
everything would be too exhausting and wouldn't do justice to the
exhibits so I thought I would wander around the Ashmolean looking for a
few of my favourite things, words, language, books and writing....
You wouldn't think that a museum would be the place for such things, would you?
Well it is, if you look carefully
Of course I headed first for "Egypt". I have spent the best part of
twenty years accompanying the Ragazzi to Egyptian exhibitions. Along
with dinosaurs all children are fascinated by mummies.
the hieroglyphs, of course, though I did linger by a very small mummy
case containing the mummified remains of a woman and as I was trying to
imagine just how petite she must have been a few passing ladies and I
discussed whether our own hips would fit such a small burial box, and
concluded that no, they wouldn't!
One of our group of casual
debaters was almost compelled to stretch out on the case containing the
mummy but we managed to persuade her that it was not a good idea to
measure herself for a coffin just yet!
A copy of the Koran...
Open at Sura 23 - Believers
Prosperous are the believers who in their prayers are humble, and who
from vain talk turn aside, and who in alms giving are active"
Arabic script is so beautiful. I wish I could read and write it
Upstairs in "Early Italian Painting" I found a picture of one of my heroes.
This is St Jerome
is the second most voluminous writer (after St. Augustine) in ancient
Latin Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is recognized as the
patron saint of translators, librarians and encyclopaedists.
Well, of course a patron saint of translators would be one of my heroes, n'est-ce pas?
Mary reading a bedtime story to an infant Jesus?
I expect that the book is the bible but I rather like to imagine that Mary is reading a Beatrix Potter to her baby.
so important to read to your children. I still do it even though the
Rags are both adults now. In fact when we cleared out all of their old
toys and gave them to the children who lived next door I kept the books
back. They're sitting in boxes in my house in France, safely stored for
future visits when I will, once again, sit and read to the Rags.
Catherine of Alexandria, also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel and
The Great Martyr Saint Catherine (Greek ἡ Ἁγία Αἰκατερίνη ἡ
Μεγαλομάρτυς) is a Christian saint and martyr who is claimed to have
been a noted scholar in the early 4th century.
The Catherine wheel firework is named after the instrument of torture, the breaking wheel, on which St
Catherine was martyred.
It's all Greek to me...
An ex-colleague, one of the nicer of the people I once worked with,
studied Ancient Greek so that he could read old biblical texts. When he
told me that I was deeply impressed.
His tales of ice-fishing in
Norway and his lecture on how to bone a pike also impressed me greatly
though when he told me "I expect you're like me, a portfolio of less
than $4,000,000 is worthless when you come to retire" I realised that we
live in different worlds!
it is forbidden to use images of living creatures in mosques you will
find some very elaborate and beautiful calligraphy used as a decoration
Suits me, I find words as beautiful as artwork any day
I really must study calligraphy one day.
There's a manoir in the next village in Brittany which is owned by a
fascinating man who offers courses in it. Now why didn't I enroll on one
while I had the opportunity?
I can't recall what this is!
But it forms part of an exhibition on restoring old manuscripts and reminds me of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
they use some form of magnetic scanning thingy now which reveals the
words hidden under the grime and dirt of centuries.
So much better than the days when such scraps were stuck together with sellotape and washed with detergent!
I think this is in praise of Allah.
I listened to a BBC World Service programme a few weeks ago devoted to the Most Beautiful Names Of Allah...
Allah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim...
well as learning calligraphy and Farsi (see a previous post on Iran), I
would love to visit some of the world's beautiful mosques and sit and
gaze at the "writing on the wall".
This is a scrap of Old English.
It's not very impressive, is it?
It's not even real, being a picture of the original page.
We Gardena in geardagum,þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,hu ða æþelingas
ellen fremedon.Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena/ þreatum,Oft Scyld the Scefing
from squadroned foes,monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,egsode eorlas.
Syððan ærest wearð/feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad
Of course I'm not serious.
This is Beowulf, the oldest piece of Old English writing in existence. A linguistic treasure.
"Noumenis, an infant, lies here"A child's gravestone.
few years ago I took The Ragazzi to the museum in Viterbo, Umbria. I
will never forget wandering round that dusty, empty museum with a
forbidding old female guardian following us to ensure that we didn't
When we reached the little stone sarcophagi that
held the mortal remains of children my daughter asked me to translate
the words engraved on the sides and, as I whispered the grieving prayers
of parents she cried.
Correct me if I'm wrong.
I thought of learning Japanese once.
my daughter was born I embarked on my first French course. Those were
happy days, her safely in the creche at Caversham Adult Education
Centre, me sitting at a desk conjugating irregular French verbs...
When my son was born I took up Italian. A double blessing because that's
where I met my best friend Jeannie and together we studied for the
Institute of Linguists exams that were to earn us both distinctions.
Had I had more babies I would have enrolled for Japanese and German.
Perhaps it really is time to start studying Farsi?
So,that's my linguistic tour of the Ashmolean museum.
Please excuse my self-indulgent memories but this is the real treasure of a museum
like the Ashmolean. It leads you on a voyage of discovery, not only into
a whole world that you never knew existed but also into the depths of
yourself that you often forget.