WESTBERE, England - No one has ever confused me with a historian or expert on art. However, museums are irresistible when I travel.
I’ve been in the United Kingdom since April 16 and in 23 days I have visited seven museums or special exhibitions. I’ve seen 12 drawings by Leonardo DaVinci, a Rembrandt ink drawing, artistic post cards of the 1960s and the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes at 22 Baker Street in London.
I visited the Glasgow Police Museum, where I learned the Glasgow force, established in 1779, is the oldest in the UK. In the Hunterian Art Gallery of Glasgow rests a collection of German Expressionists, a subject of which I know absolutely nothing. One of the pieces on display was by the Norwegian Edward Munch, best known for “The Scream.”
The ultra modern British Library in London is full of resources, naturally, but it also features major exhibits from time to time. I was so pleased when I entered the library and learned that it is hosting Writing: Making Your Mark, a remarkable exhibit of more than 100 objects, from hieroglyphs to emojis. Among the snippets of information that I wrote in my notebook:
- Clay tablets used in ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) more than 3,000 years ago were usually dried in the sun or fired in kilns after scribes had used a reed stylus to write on them.
- Paper was invented in China more than 2,000 years ago.
- Italian calligrapher Niccolo Niccoli developed the italic style of handwriting in the early 15th century.
- The BIC Cristal pen was developed in Paris in 1950 by Baron Marcel Bich. Now the world’s most popular pen, several million are sold every day around the world.
The exhibit also included handwritten notes that James Joyce wrote on his draft of the novel Ulysses, as well as research notes by nurse Florence Nightingale.
- A newspaper advertisement for the Paul E. Wirt fountain pen contained this amusing testimony (at least to me):
“An absolutely perfect reservoir pen, a pen compared with which all other pens are frank failures.”
- Mark Twain
Pro tip for museum goers: Many of them in the UK have free admission, but special exhibits like the one on writing charge 15 pounds, about $20.
The last three days I’ve been visiting some dear friends in Westbere who used to live in Spokane. This is my third visit with them and each time the historic Canterbury Cathedral is on our agenda. Every time I go there, my host shows me something he hadn’t shown me before. Wednesday, we stood at the spot in the cathedral where Thomas Becket was murdered. He was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is a saint and martyr venerated by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
Finally, dear readers, I’ve determined that the lower the ceiling, the older the pub. Near Bradford on Avon and Bath my nephew’s family and I had dinner in such a pub, which was established in 1610. Tuesday night, my hosts in Westbere took me to a pub with an even lower ceiling, built in 1348. The six foot-three bartender, an American born in Akron, Ohio, had to duck going from room to room.