Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford. Website here. Founded in 1683, open Tuesday to Sunday, and Bank Holiday Mondays, 10am–5pm.
Admission is free but there are buckets by the door.
What a splendid place. The Ashmolean is in receipt of The Cardinal Wolsey Seal of Approval (not a real seal, just bags of approval).
With one exception (more of that later) it is a grown-up space and has successfully resisted the social tsunami of baby-friendly plastic bouncy nonsense. It is a proper museum, stuffed to the gunwales with lovely stuff that we’ve nicked over the years.
Chief among this “the stuff”, for me at least, and constituting the basis of a quasi-spiritual pilgrimage, is what may plausibly be described as Mr Guy Fawkes’ lantern, the one that came oh so close, so very close to giving Parliament the kick up the Arsenal Villa that it needs more than ever today.
Had the gentleman succeeded then there would perhaps, today, be no snuffling drift of “the pigs of politics” in Westminster, raising their filthy snouts from the trough just long enough to demand that the English tax-payer fork up cash on the order of between £3,700,000,000 and £5,700,000,000 to pay for the restoration of and sundry improvements to their sty.
For those of you who deal in das Mickey Mousen money, that’s roughly between $4,932,086,994 and $7,597,924,363 at (the risible, uber-manipulated) exchange rates as of May 2018. It’s what we call “thousands of millions” and the residents of the U.S.of.A. call “billions”. Yes, for the restoration of just ONE building… if it were not so tragic I’d say that they were havin’ a larf.
But enough of politics, you’ve let me ramble on for far too long. Just gaze upon the lamp and repeat after me ‘We sorely need another, more successful Mr Guy Fawkes… We sorely need another, more successful Mr Guy Fawkes… We sorely need another, more successful Mr Guy Fawkes…’
Back to the Ashmolean. There are treasures beyond counting in the Ashmolean. There’s the full set of drag once worn by T.E. Lawrence, he of Arabia, for a start.
I am more of a jeans and grandad-style cotton shirt wallah myself, but there you go, horses for courses.
There is what is reasonably reliably believed to be Henry VIII’s tinder box…
Who knew that old Henry was on Tinder, eh? Perhaps that explains many of his relationship problems…
There is old Archbish Thomas Cranmer’s “band” which is what was used to confine him neatly while he was imprisoned for making a pact with the wrong sky-fairy, for which mistake he was later set alight a bit until dead.
Incidentally, the spot (“ish”) where Mr Cranmer was reduced to ashes may be found on what is now Broad Street. I think that perhaps the heat of the fire damaged the tarmac, and it was mended by slinging down a few old tiles in the rough form of a cross. That’s what it looks like, anyway. Details here.
The Ashmolean exhibits are all elegantly conserved and displayed in the good old-fashioned way (I mean that seriously) – there’s not a touch-screen in sight, no neon plastic explaining in words of half a syllable that history is generally thought of as what happened in the past. It is almost all very delightfully and deliciously sober and sensible.
The exception to his “deliciously sober and sensible” motif is what is termed “the café” (as opposed to the “the restaurant”, more and much better of that later). The café is a clattering, echoing, cattle-market of a place quite out of keeping with the rest of the museum. Holding court there is what I think is, these trendy, metropolitan, nerdy, hipster days, referred to in hushed, awed tones as a bah-rees-tah.
The service in the caf’ is slow, so slow that between ordering “please, just a cup of ordinary coffee and a slice of Victoria sponge or something” and actually receiving the goods a chap might find himself becoming qualified for his State Retirement Pension where hitherto he had been in his prime. The long, long wait for coffee and a slice of Marie-Antoinette is made all the more dismal, not to say aurally painful, because the bah-rees-tah appears to see his primary function as being to make noise, lots and lots and lots of artless, unpleasant noise.
Imagine being in a vaulted echo-chamber (already populated by crowds of geese-like hoi-polloi at full volume) while the first few bars of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” are played over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over by some chap armed only with the metal parts of a coffee-squisher and the metal edge of some coffee-dregs waste-disposal unit.
Stomp-stomp-clap – stomp-stomp-clap – stomp-stomp-clap – bang-bang-rattle-clatter – bang-bang-rattle-clatter… endlessly. ENDLESSLY. BANG-BANG-RATTLE-CLATTER at wholly unnecessary volume. To the bah-rees-tah concerned: it’s not clever, it just makes you look like a
I have never before seen so many OAPs in one room all reaching in desperation to switch off their hearing aids to prevent their (remaining) brains being blasted out of the opposite ear, and all in the name of caffeine, cake and a sit-down somewhere, anywhere.
The restaurant, on the other hand (and on the roof, far away from the idiot with the percussion fixation), is at the far, far end of the eatery drinkery spectrum. The great end of the spectrum.
The Bro and I hove up there on spec, sans booking, and we must have looked as though we knew our fish knives from our Gazpacho spoons, because they found room for us at the communal “overflow” table – and reet glad we were that they did, thank you!
I am going to be very cheeky here and use the Ashmolean’s own image (I wasn’t crass enough to take a photograph of my own. Actually, I was far too hungry…). I will wrap it in links to their website, and hope that thus they won’t mind…
Yes, it is actually on the roof, so you do even from indoors get a hint of the architecture of the rooflines of Oxford. It is all very civilised.
The food is absolutely splendid – menu here and my cucumber & rosemary gin and tonic caused my knees to tremble with happiness. We sat on the foreground end of the bench table nearest the window, from which position we were able to converse with a brace of North American tourist ladies. I can only hope that we didn’t bore them to death, and say that I enjoyed their conversation and the first-hand details of that strange, strange land.
The ladies were most surprised to hear that in England we no longer, upon being arrested, have a “right to silence” (silence now being taken as, effectively, evidence of admission of wrong-doing). The tourist ladies also thought that London (and other English cities) were amazingly clean and free from rubbish. The Greek and Roman gawds alone know what North American cities must be like then, because I always think that London is an untidy midden with a generous helping of non-house-trained rats. Obviously, where once we were merely separated by two entirely different languages (English and American) we must now add to the mix an extra portion of Social Gulf, with the U.S.A. marching towards the oblivion of national insanity while England totters unsteadily in the direction of “entirely gone to the dogs”.
There could not have been a more fitting locus for such a conversation and comparison than in the Ashmolean, over truffle gnocchi and Hendrick’s gin. The museum stretched our minds back through the centuries and millennia, the conversation took us back and forth three thousand miles over an ocean.
In short, at some length, do visit the Ashmolean and do take with you all of the time you can possibly spare.
Visit it at your leisure. Revel in it, roll in it all the way a dog rolls in fox poop, soak up the history like a hairy Welsh Collie sponge. Make a booking for the restaurant (though perhaps skip the café unless desperate, or until someone muffles the baaaaah-reeees-taaaaah). You will most certainly not find the museum wanting – and I have merely mentioned two or three of the thousands and thousands of wonders held therein.
I left a message with the Ashmolean to the effect that they were doing very well, very well indeed, and that I thought they ought to continue in this manner for the foreseeable.
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Cheerio, And Thanks For The Apocalypse – COMING SOON!