I’m rather ashamed to admit that I visited the British Library today – for the first time ever.
I’d heard on the Twittervine about their exhibition of Crime Fiction, and as I had a work stop-over in London, I was hoping to try and get up early enough (after a very late – or early…) finish to check it out before heading home. By the time I finally got to bed last night at stupid-o’-clock I’d written the idea off – just too pooped!
But thanks to the crashy-bangy hotel cleaners I was awake a few hours after dropping off, and after a couple of hours of trying to snooze I finally gave up and decided to head home via the British Library. Just for an hour, to check out the Crime Fiction thing.
What a plonker.
I mean – an hour! Hahahahahahaha!
After a small moment of panic that I might not be let in with my bright orange hi-visibility rucksack and little wheely case, I was in.
I had a wander round the foyer to get my bearings and find the loos, and peeped into a dimly lit narrow room lined floor to ceiling with books, and with people sat at single desks, engrossed.
And I thought, ‘Bugger. I only have an hour.’
I’d quite like to buy one of those desks and live at it. The books! The books! Floor to hugely high ceiling!
After walking through the Crime Fiction exhibition on the way to the loos without realising (well, I was somewhat sleep deprived…), I realised, and did the whole A to Z thing. I must admit, it was a teeny bit disappointing – I think I was expecting something a bit bigger. But there were some interesting bits and bobs, and a few fascinating old volumes with excellent illustrations.
I was rather impressed with a Conan Boyle ‘draft’ of one of the Sherlock Holmes stories – not a single crossing out!
I’ve also added a few books to my “to read” list, including The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (the edition on display had a really good retro-feel cover) and Recollections of a Detective Police Officer by William Russell, which may be a struggle to find as it was published in 1856. I also need to read the “Nordic Noir” Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö. I’ve read most works by Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg (and Stieg Larsson of course), and there’s something very appealing about the mood of Scandinavian crime fiction. I’d sort of run out of authors in this genre, so it’s good to discover I have ten new books to get through by a totally new authorical collaboration!
So, I did the Crime Fiction thing, and as I had some time to spare I headed for the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, temptingly marked Treasures of the British Library.
I honestly-ponestly could have spent all day in there. Or a few days. As it was, I had about half an hour, so just headed for things that caught my eye.
I think I probably should have been more impressed with the Shakespeare stuff, but was distracted by an original Edward Lear manuscript. It was the Nonsense Alphabet, and was aptly open at C:
C was a cat
Who ran after a rat;
But his courage did fail
When she seized on his tail.
Crafty old cat!
Just nearby was Jayne Austin’s writing desk, which I smiled at.
Homage was also paid to Beowolf and Oscar Wilde.
I also peeped in to see the Magna Carta – you could almost hear it bleat…
Then I turned round and – hang on, I’ll have to give you a bit of background information here.
I love Celtic knotwork.
I mean, really love it.
I used to spend a lot of time doing it – copying old examples, and creating new patterns. There’s something hugely satisfying about the detail and the… mathematics (?) of it. Over under over under over under over under…
Many years ago I spent weeks on a version of the cross on the Aberlemno II Stone. It was done in black and gold ink, and I found a local craftsman who cut a cross to the right shape and I mounted the drawing on it.
So, back to the point – I love Celtic knotwork. I still often think I’d like to zoom back a few hundred years and be a scribe, sitting in a drafty old scriptorium, writing and illuminating manuscripts by candlelight…
*pauses to dream…*
Right, back to reality.
I turned round, and there in front of me was a glass case with ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’ written above it.
I’d completely forgotten it was there. I was honestly so gobsmacked I nearly lost control of my little wheely suitcase.
As there was no-one else looking at it, I headed forward and peeped in the case.
I remember seeing The Book of Kells in Dublin many years ago, and was rather disappointed that the pages it was open at were pure text. I love the calligraphy, but I was hoping to see some illumination, so was rather disappointed.
But today in the British Library, the Lindisfarne Gospels were open at an absolute blinder of a page.
I’m such a big silly that before I realised, I’d actually dripped a tear onto the glass case and for a moment expected all sorts of alarms to go off. But it was okay, nothing happened, and I managed to wipe it off with a handy glove.
And then I had to leave to catch my train.
As I walked up Euston Road to King’s Cross, I realised I had a faint smile on my face, and I couldn’t get rid of it. Despite being totally knackered, I felt absolutely on top of the world.
And that, my dears, is the power of books…