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Friday, February 25, 2011


During the half-term break I take my son up to London for the day. A museum in the morning and then his choice in the afternoon. He has always loved history but his favorite is a trip to the Tate Modern art gallery, mainly to see the latest installation in the Turbine hall. He seems to get real inspiration from them. It's a familiar routine, but he is getting older now and is less willing to fall in with my suggestions.

We start off at the British Museum.

'Oh God!!' he says 'not that again!'

He has a point. We always start off at the British Museum. In fact we never seem to get any further than the marble statues on the ground floor. Or the Egyptians next door.

We push through the heavy double doors and into the vast atrium. It is filled with people all scurrying with purpose in and out of the different rooms. My sons face is cemented within an expression of thunderous gloom. I try to match it with one of perky and uplifting insight.

'Well, we're here now so we'll just have a quick look at the sarcophagi and some of the statuary. You'll probably enjoy it once we're in there '

I look at him warily. He gives me a death stare.

I feel as if we are entering the Dark Ages. After years of him fitting in amenably with any of my plans all of a sudden we are constantly at battle. And yet I know its normal. That knowledge doesn't seem to make it any easier though.

I decide that the best thing to do is to ignore him. I plough on with deep parental disregard for his misery and march ahead with an energetic flounce. I glance behind to see him following, twisted torment written upon his face, nausea and revulsion playing across his pursed lips.

We start to elbow our way into the Egyptian rooms and through the milling masses all circling around the sarcophagi. It's too warm and too crowded and it gradually begins to dawn on me that it's actually a rather unpleasant experience. I remember my own childhood visits to museums with my father.

My father was always an avid museum goer. He loved anything ancient, dusty and trapped behind glass. Add a couple of wretchedly bored children and a queue to get in and he'd have had a highly enjoyable afternoon.

He didn't ever listen to us when we moaned, sulked or even cried our way behind him on endless stifling excursions. The only highlight was the gift shop at the end and the feverish purchasing of postcards featuring exhibits we had studiously avoided for the previous 3 hours.

I treasured those postcards. They were kept for decades. I still have some from a visit to the Tower of London with pictures of the Crown Jewels, the corners now well-thumbed and as soft as rabbit ears.

But it put me off museums for years.

I tell my son that he has twenty minutes to do what he wants while I go and look at the Parthenon Friezes. A look of utter relief floods into his face.

I walk through into the hall next door and stand and gaze in blissful peace and at the overwhelmingly beautiful Roman statue of Aphrodite bathing. I marvel at the exquisiteness of the artistry which has created her smooth voluptuous beauty. I go on inside and view the Sirens, their damp dresses clinging to their thighs, chiseled painstakingly and miraculously out of massive slabs of cold marble. I am enthralled by the centaurs on the Greek friezes, they rear up lustful and vicious, fighting warriors and galloping off with their maidens. I look at each piece, drinking in the tiny details, each breathtakingly crafted feature, each furrowed brow and taut polished muscle. They are magnificent.

My mobile rings. It is my son.

'Hi Mum'

'Where are you?'

'In the gift shop'

I go and find him. He is standing in the queue for the till. He looks happy. He is clutching a set of postcards.

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