Day 3 in England: In Which I’m First in Line at the British Museum When It Opens, and Get Trolled at Buckingham Palace



The day's agenda:

  1. British Museum, open to close
  2. Buckingham Palace
  3. Shopping

British Museum

Other than the fact that I still don't know why certain busses simply never came when Google said they were supposed to, nor do I know why occasionally the entire contents of a double-decker bus or an Underground train would simply get dumped off at a random stop and told to wait for the next bus/train/whatever, by Day #3 in London, I'm happy to say that we'd basically cracked London public transportation. 

So it was as easy as steak and ale pie to make it to the British Museum with plenty of time for the kids to get fun coffees to drink while we stood in line with the other tourists getting an early start on their museum day:


Tiktok has since informed me that we are having a "hot girl European summer," and that is why every single tourist spot in Europe is as populated as that one cattle car in the Lassie movie I watched several dozen times as a young child (It's definitely this one, and it got terrible reviews, but it sure kept lonely little Julie entertained during at least one long, boring summer spent all by myself in my air-conditioned Arkansas living room!). All we knew at the time, though, is that if we wanted to be in any tourist spot for a few minutes without existing nose-to-tail with a million other tourists, we'd better be in that tourist spot the second that it opened and enjoy our approximately twenty minutes of personal space before it got so fucking crowded.

Here, then, is my uncrowded photo of the Rosetta Stone!


Fun fact: You can own a super high-quality image of pretty much anything in the British Museum's collection, provided they've already photographed it for themselves. A decade-plus ago, I had to create an online account, request the image download, then receive it by email, but these days, you can just clickety-click and it's yours with a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license. I've actually already downloaded images of most of my favorite things from the British Museum so I can look closer at them without fifteen thousand other tourists coughing in my face, so my photos here are mostly just for reference, and to remind me what I wanted to download when I got home. 

The Rosetta Stone isn't part of my teenager's History and Culture of England study, nor is it really even part of her Ancient History study beyond just "Hey, look! Rosetta Stone! Now listen to Mom monologue for the thousandth time in your life about how it was discovered and how cool it is and how much she wants to lick it!", but just the other day, my college student and I took a break from Night Vale to listen to this podcast episode on the Rosetta Stone while working on our puzzle--

--and although I'm side-eyeing the podcast's BYU provenance a tiny little bit just because their Honor Code is gross, we both quite enjoyed it and found it very informative! The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decipher the Rosetta Stone is now sitting pretty in my nook, waiting for me to finish the murder mystery and couple of smutty novels ahead of it in line.

After looking at the Rosetta Stone, and perhaps to preserve the children from an entire morning of watching me behave the way I behaved in front of the Rosetta Stone, ahem, Matt sent the kids off to tour on their own, and then he was the only one who had to follow me around all morning while I looked at stuff and said, "Yay!!!" Also, he did all the map-reading, which was very helpful when I started freaking out that I needed to see the Parthenon Marbles or the Lewis Chessmen or the Egyptian mummies RIGHT NOW OMG WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE IN MY WAY?!?

Parthenon marbles!!!


Lewis Chessmen!!!



I like investigating the conservation treatment that's been given to these objects. Back in 2014, they had to sew some of this mummy's toes back on!

Here's the location of one of my favorite scenes from that insightful documentary, Night at the Museum 3:


And this gave me fond memories of our family trip to Greece:


Centaurs always be doing crimes!

Since the teenager and I had spent so much time in Mesopotamia last year, I wanted to see the Mesopotamia galleries. And to my shock/mild horror/delight, I discovered that either the British Museum has stolen most of the most important art pieces of the Mesopotamian empire, or the teenager's AP Art History textbook creator had written their chapter on Mesopotamian art while sitting in this gallery, because most of the artwork covered in Gardner's Art through the Ages, Chapter 2: "The Ancient Near East," are here!

Y'all, I am apparently not as close a reader as I thought, because when I read about the Standard of Ur, I thought it was HUGE!!! Like, wall-sized! Ishtar Gate-sized! So even though it's incredibly impressive at any size, I could not stop cracking up at how small it is. 
The bull-headed lyres! If I'd actually been thinking about it I would have realized that these treasures obviously had to be somewhere other than Iraq, and the British Museum would have been an obvious guess. But how fun to be surprised!

The Royal Game of Ur! You of course have to play it for yourself, because the universality of certain pastimes like board games is an important lesson of history. Here's a good download, although an excellent art history project for any age would be to recreate the game board from scratch, copying the historical embellishments or designing your own. Younger artists can use 1" graph paper to assist, but older artists can practice their ruler measuring for some sneaky hands-on geometry reinforcement.

The British Museum actually has over 1,000 artifacts from this excavation of the Royal Cemetery of Ur, and it's fascinating to browse the listings. Check out this headpiece! These rings found with the queen! This creepy as hell goat demon

Exposing the teenager to the Epic of Gilgamesh to such an extent that she became a Gilgamesh fangirl is one of my greatest triumphs as a homeschool parent, greater even than the older kid's acceptance into a really, really good college, so I was also super stoked to find some Gilgamesh representation in the gallery, as well:

The museum also has Gilgamesh tablets that aren't on display, but now we know what Humbaba is supposed to look like... if Humbaba is made of sheep intestines, that is.

It's true that my teenager and I insert gay subtext into everything that we read--90% of the fun of reading is finding the gay subtext!--but we had a particular amount of fun pointing out all the gay subtext in the Epic of Gilgamesh, because it's not even subtext. 

Tangent: sections of Gilgamesh are incorporated in the local public high school's Honors English curriculum, but apparently they take out all the gay stuff, and all the good stuff, and apparently just all the stuff that gives the story context, because one of my acquaintances included Gilgamesh, along with the Bible and Oedipus Rex, in a Facebook rant about her kids only getting assigned works written by white men. Like, 1) I don't think any of those authors were white as we'd currently define it, and 2) considering all the incest and gay sex alone in those works, not even counting the sex with gods, I feel like they all have perspectives much more interesting and complicated than just simple heteronormative masculinity. All of those are terrific works to speak to the current cultural connotation of whiteness and male-ness! BUUUUUT who knows if you'd know that if you read those works only in excerpt and out of context, so her point about the public school's presentation of them probably still stands. I dunno for sure, but I can say that the one year my kid spent in that school's Honors English program, she read The Odyssey IN GRAPHIC NOVEL FORM.

ANYWAY, I was delighted to point out to my teenager, when we swung by the Mesopotamia gallery again later that day, that this Gilgamesh exhibit is part of the museum's LGBTQ collection and her interpretation is, therefore, supported by the United Kingdom:

Here's the direct link to the museum's LGBTQ collection info.

I'm really interested in hoards and ship burials and barrows and random stuff kicked up by plows or picked out of the muddy banks of the Thames, so I was also really excited to see the Sutton Hoo, Iron Age, and Roman Britain galleries. Bonus points: England legitimately owns this stuff. No looting or stealing from colonies or acquiring from looters and thieves was necessary!

Here's the full extent of what Gordon Butcher found (we're leaving that asshole Ford out of it).

Tangent: my older kid, when tiny, was entranced by this Roald Dahl retelling of the discovery of the Mildenhall Treasure, specifically the version illustrated all dark and creepy by Steadman. Dahl loves to write children's editions of the Heart of Darkness, and this one, especially, tells a tale of how big and powerful people can indulge their cynicism and greed by screwing over the innocent, naive, and powerless--intoxicating reading for kids who are growing to realize that life isn't always fair and people aren't always, either!

The Sutton Hoo helmet is probably my favorite object on the planet, period. Sometime over a pitcher of margaritas I'll treat you to my full monologue on the subject, entitled Beowulf is So Cool and So You See Sutton Hoo is Equally Cool Because It's from the Time of Beowulf and the Helmet is Basically Beowulf's Helmet: Dragons are Real.

I had to wait for a time practically beyond endurance for my turn to moon over the Sutton Hoo helmet, as there was a school trip of children sitting criss-cross applesauce in their high-visibility vests three kids deep all around the display, all busily copying the helmet into their workbooks while their teacher walked around and encouraged them to "add more detail!" I peeked at a couple of workbooks to make sure that the kids were getting the awesome red eyes of the animal on the helmet's brow and the wing-like eyebrow pieces and the perfect mustache... and they were! When I was their age, my cultural heritage field trip was to the 19th-century gallows downtown. I haven't been back since Pappa died, but I wonder if they still hang a noose on the anniversaries of execution days?

Matt and I rejoined our kids for lunch, because hunger was a constant burden and nearly intolerable distraction from my desire to see All The Things during this trip. One of the reasons why I love packing food when we travel is how quick and effortless it makes meals, and constantly having to source pre-made food throughout England, specifically lunches, was the WORST. This day's lunch in the museum's pizza restaurant was bad enough, but a couple of days later, when it turned out that the lunch special that we'd ordered at the Natural History Museum was actually being served in honest-to-god courses, I literally left before the last course because it was taking so long. I was all, "Fuck dessert. Mary Anning is in the next gallery and I CANNOT NOT BE LOOKING AT HER FOR ONE MORE MINUTE." Thank god that on this particular day there was some drama at the next table over between a couple who'd sat at a table and a woman who came over a couple of minutes later to say that she'd also sat at that table but had just gotten up to place her order and so in fact it was her table, because eavesdropping is one of my favorite activities and it was a good way to distract me from the fact that the museum was full of things that I was not at that time looking at.

After lunch, it was back to looking at things!

Um, excuse me--stealing artifacts from your other former colonies is one thing, but this stuff was stolen from ME!!!!!!!

Interestingly, the artifacts in the museum's Hopewell collection seem to all come from the personal collection of Squier and Davis, who are the notable archaeologists who did the first modern explorations and excavations of the Hopewell mounds in Ohio. They're the ones who created the famous maps of the earthworks that are still used, and who wrote about other earthworks, including the avenue seeming to lead from Newark towards Chillicothe, that no longer exist. I've got a reprint of their seminal work in my to-read pile! It looks like while they were working for the Smithsonian they also put quite a few things in their pockets, though, ahem. I bet the Ohio Historical Society would really like to have their stolen antiquities back now...

My college student and I love museums the MOST, and we spent most of the rest of the afternoon in the Enlightenment Gallery while the other two kept the benches warm and quietly resented us. The gallery is meant to recreate the original look of the British Museum during its heyday of exploration, Eurocentrism, colonialism, and collection mania of the 1700s. So many cabinets full of little things! So many books and trinkets on shelves! Antiquities and fakes all mixed together! 

Even though much of Mary Anning's named finds live in the Natural History Museum now, many had previously lived, under the names of their purchasers, at the British Museum, and I'd been keeping a weather eye on the fossils in this gallery to see if I could find any... if by "weather eye" you mean crawling on the ground, the better to peer nearsightedly at the small print on handwritten labels, that is. But it all paid off, because I found one!!!

I cannot for the life of me find this fossil in the British Museum's online catalogue, but I DID find a print of an ichthyosaur that I'm sure is one that she found. The clue is that it was commissioned by Henry De la Beche!

I'm pretty sure that the other two thought that once the college student and I had looked at every single artifact and read every single label in this gallery, they'd have earned their sweet release, but come on, guys--the museum wasn't even closed yet! And then my college student mentioned that she'd visited the Chinese Ceramics gallery that morning and really enjoyed it, and I was all, "OMG I have not seen these things yet! Take me there!"

So she did!

This time, when a docent caught me crawling on the floor trying to read the tiny print of a label, he showed me how to use this online collection database. YAY!!!

Oddly enough, the other two members of our party managed to rally when the college student and I suggested that we hit up the museum gift shop before it closed. OMG, the museum has SO MUCH ROSETTA STONE MERCH!!! They also had this series of Sherlock Holmes "escape books"--

[TAG20] [TAG21] [TAG22]

--that I am desperately regretting not buying. They were a combination of Choose Your Own Adventures with those murder mysteries in a box that I love, all narrated like a Sherlock Holmes story.

Finally, and only when it was a choice of "leave or get kicked out," did we leave the British Museum:

Do you see tiny me and Matt? Thanks for taking the photo that I requested, Teenager!

Next stop: Buckingham Palace!

Buckingham Palace

I'm glad that I just tacked this onto a day in which I was plenty excited about other things, because Buckingham Palace was... underwhelming. We dutifully took the photos and looked at the pretty things--





--but mostly it was just... tourists milling about? In front of a big building that's not even a proper castle?

And check out this bullshit!

I was trying to take a cute picture of my kid on the Victoria Monument, but I took it from pretty far away because I also wanted to get the entire monument in the frame. So when I got home two weeks later and zoomed in to see if my kid looked cute or not, look what else I saw!

Like, excuse me, Ma'am? 

Yes, fine, super funny. It's not even a great shot of the kid, anyway, so tbh rando tourist bunny ears kind of improve it. But then I was trying to find a photo that WAS a good shot of any of us, and just look what I kept coming across:

Props for the funny idea, but what kind of lord of chaos do you have to be to commit to doing that in every. Single. Photo? 

Eh, we were making weird faces in pretty much every photo--that's what happens, I guess, when you've just come out into the bright sunlight after spending the previous ten hours inside a dimly-lit museum--so the bunny ears are, if anything, at least an interesting touch. But, like, ONE photo, guys. It's only funny for ONE photo.


Whenever we go into a shop, I develop a little bit of sympathy for what certain members of my family go through whenever we visit a museum together. I swear to god that I will die if I have to leave a museum before I have taken a long look at every single thing inside that museum and read its informative plaque--maybe even twice! And I swear to god that I will also die if I have to spend more than four minutes inside a store, any store. 

Like, I still want to GO to a store, especially a gift shop. It has little themed gifts and accessories! But I just want to look at the books, and the hoodies, the candy and alcohol if they have it, and then immediately leave. But for certain other people, the promise of looking through all the little shops at one's leisure is the only reason I didn't have to hold them at gunpoint to get them on the plane to England. 

So we visited all the little shops on the way from Buckingham Palace to Victoria Station. Lots of Coronation swag. Lots of tiny Big Bens. Many swords, and I have to remind the teenagers every single time we see a sword that we can't take it back on the plane... just wait until those teenagers have to sit around for 30 minutes a pop in two different airports while TSA figures out what to do with the giant rocks I'll have in *my* carry-on!

I only put my foot down when the kids asked to go into the American Candy store, because OMG how embarrassing for a family of American tourists to wander around mooning over the candy of their people. We finally decided that it would be okay if we just didn't speak inside the store, because how on earth would anyone peg us as American tourists if we didn't speak? Ahem. Instead, of course we just foolishly mimed our excitement over the marvelous fake Wonka bars and Pringles cans and bags of Warheads and other items that are apparently a front for a money laundering scheme, question mark?

Then there was some kind of "police activity" near Victoria Station, so all the busses, including the one we'd wanted to take, simply weren't going there, so we had to instead figure out how to get back to the part of the station where the trains are, then figure out which train would take us to Battersea Park Station, then figure out where the track for it was, then figure out how to get there, then figure out where the bus stop was at Battersea, then figure out what bus we wanted, then figure out when that bus came... I was so glad to get back to our AirBnb and eat leftover pizza!

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