Oh to be in England

Spring has sprung and April is well and truly established. ┬áIt’s a month where the weather is as changeable as the days. Showers, wind and sunshine chase each other through the hours. Trees get greener, more blossom laden by the minute.

It’s a time of hope, of new life, and London stirs like a great beast and stretches towards summer.

Tomorrow, Sunday 17th April, I am leading a walk around Denmark Hill and Camberwell. It’s an area close to the centre of London, but greener and leafier than you might expect. In the past it was called South London’s answer to Belgravia. It was also the home to many German families who had migrated to London, including some of my own family. Indeed my grandparents were married there, and it is where my father was born.

So it has a special meaning for me.

P1200922

The William Booth Memorial College, Denmark Hill

Continue reading

A Tale of Two Libraries

Up on Level Three at the British Museum you’ll find the Mesopotamian galeries; a civilisation that gave us writing, a system of counting, and a 30 thousand volume library.

The British Museum is currently involved in a project to recatalogue the library and to make its contents available for modern readers to access. It’s called the Ashurbanipal library Project, as although several kings were involved in its creation, Ashurbanipal seems to have been the keenest.

Until the small display of clay tablets appeared several months ago at the BM I had rather assumed that the library had been mainly composed of financial records and accounts of religious practices.

Ashurbanipal library project (BM blog)

Ashurbanipal library project (BM blog)

It turns out to be much more interesting, and a reminder that all that separates us from these people who lived two and half thousand years ago is technology. The ancient Assyrians were very keen on divination, rather in the same way that the Greeks consulted the Oracle at Delphi, so there are numerous reference works to help tell the future.

Ashurbanipal is described as writer, acquirer, chief librarian. He wrote about his own life, and his wife and sister could also read and write. His sister seems the keener scholar, and my favourite fragment shows a note from her to her brother’s wife asking why she isn’t doing her scribing and practising her homework.

It’s a fabulous glimpse into a lost civilisation, and for someone like myself who loves libraries, it has a magic that is nothing to do with divining the future. Continue reading