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Old MacDonald and the Book of the Dead

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DAD.info

07 Mar 2011

One of the problems with having a young family is that it suddenly becomes so much more difficult to do those “grown up” things. For example, Clare and I had wanted to see the “Book of the Dead” exhibition at the British Museum ever since it opened last year but knew we were running out of time (the exhibition closed yesterday). So, one rainy Thursday afternoon about two weeks ago when we found ourselves in London we decided to go for it.

The massive logistical exercise codenamed “Get the little monsters and all of their gear into the car” commenced at 1430 hours sharp. It was successfully completed, on schedule, twelve stressful minutes later. The British Museum is a short drive from our flat and so we were there just after 1500 hours. We parked up, constructed the Phil and Ted’s double buggy and inserted two protesting children. We made good speed to the back entrance of the museum on Montague Place and manoeuvred our buggy through the narrow corridor and via the lift to the ground floor.

Entering the Great Court of the British Museum is always an event. A triumph of glass, white limestone and marble, its atmosphere is remarkable. The quality of the light and the muffled hub-bub of a thousand voices from a hundred different lands creates a visual and audio spectacle. Both of the kids have been there a number of times and Arun in particular loves it.

We made our way to the exhibition and the cheery security guard checked our bags (yep – size 3 and size 4 nappies present) and excitedly got us to pose for a picture thinking that it was the children’s first visit. His enthusiasm was so infectious that we didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.

We entered the exhibition space in the Reading Room of what used to be the British Library. This is where numerous great thinkers and writers (including Marx and Lenin, Bram Stoker and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) came to read, study and mature their profound thoughts. If you have not been lucky enough to see the “Book of the Dead” exhibition, it comprises of dozens of texts, some of which are 3500 years old. The hieroglyphs outline compilations of spells designed to guide the deceased through the dangers of the underworld and ultimately to eternal life. The lighting was soft and ambient designed to create a forbidding and sacred mood. The incredible papyri were presented in a revered, hushed atmosphere with solemn and dignified Egyptian music being tastefully piped through the august setting.

This was when Arun started singing “Old MacDonald”. I say singing but the truth is he doesn’t know the words, just the tune. So he just goes, “da-da-da-da” all the way through it. People started to stare. When Meri started doing the “Eee-aye, eee-aye Oh!” bit as well some people started to glare. I was in a quandary – should I be embarrassed (Terrible Parent – clearly has no control over his children) or should I be proud (What a Guy! – introducing his family to ancient history and culture at such a tender age)? In truth, I was both and I relaxed some more when I saw more and more people laughing with my beautiful, happy and joyful family. In fact, a number commented on how charming my little ones were (but none took me up on my offer of borrowing them for the weekend).

We moved through to the final room where a forty foot long display case at shoulder height displayed one of the finest intact versions of the Book of the Dead. Some three thousand years old, it was a truly magnificent sight. By this stage, Clare felt that Arun was feeling cooped up and should be taken out of the buggy. Before I could say “Have you lost all of your faculties and gone completely mad?” she unleashed my son.

He immediately started bottom shuffling around the room with an enormous grin on his face pursued by Clare (I wisely had decided that I was man-marking Meri and the buggy). At a rate of knots he headed for the display case and faster than a speeding bullet was underneath it and settled in there for a little play. Clare knelt down and asked him to come out. Then, she demanded that he come out. Then she pleaded that he come out. Arun, of course, ignored her.

My wife is a brave woman (she married me, after all) and is not easily put off (ditto). She got on her hands and knees and went in after Arun. Next there ensued what I can only describe as a “high speed pursuit” underneath the display cabinet for the priceless ancient scripture. Arun thought it was hilarious and to be honest so did I. Clare eventually caught him and dragged him, kicking and screaming into his buggy.

I started this piece by complaining that as the parent of a one and three year old I very rarely get to do “grown up” things. It turns out that even when we do, our children have a way of putting their own, special imprint upon them. It is fair to say that our recent visit to the British Museum was memorable because of the quality of the exhibition. It was, however, unforgettable because of the qualities of my children.

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