Day 8: A View (of The Bridge) From The Bridge

Having visited Fascinating Mummies at the NMS on the first of my two days off the latter of the pair was destined to be slightly lazier. Having done various dull things with the start of the morning a last-minute arrangement was made to have late morning coffee and cake with my dad and older brother in South Queensferry.Forth Rail Bridge, Edinburgh, South Queensferry, Lent, 40 Days of photos

The Rail Bridge is a self-styled Bistro which does everything from breakfast to dinner, via brunch, cakes, ice cream and lunch. In this case I went for a mouth-watering fruit scone and what can only be described as a bucket of coffee, with a side of good conversation; but I kept glancing through the massive picture windows which look out over the water and the famous Forth Road and Rail bridges. It is certainly a room with a view, a view of the bridge from the bridge.Forth Rail Bridge, Edinburgh, South Queensferry, Lent, 40 Days of photos


Day 7: Unraveling Without Unwrapping – Fascinating Mummies

“Mummies as you’ve never seen them before” proclaims the advert. The leaflet opens up to reveal an X-ray of a mummified cat and the back of an amulet engraved with hieroglyphics. The exhibition – the first temporary venture at the newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland (or for a less formal option here’s what I thought of it), Edinburgh running until the end of May – aims to take you deep into the folds of the linen wrappings, showing you all of the treasures, curiosities and rituals that went with Ancient Egypt’s most recognised process – all without physically unwrapping anything.

Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, Mummies, Ancient EgyptAs you enter into the darkened exhibition room of Fascinating Mummies you are faced with a wall, a wall which (once you go around it) you discover makes up the end of a mock burial chamber, complete with incantation on the wall (in English, I’m not quite good enough to read hieroglyphics), a ‘back wall’ of illustrations and the sarcophagus sitting in pride of place in the centre.

This pretty much sets the tone for the whole exhibition, big, bold, packed with artefacts and bound to capture your imagination if you have even the remotest interest in anything Egyptian. After you’ve gazed at the sarcophagus you are led through a corridor of three sections, each giving you a brief summary of the most important parts (dates, notable Pharaohs, etc.) through the six dynastic periods on one side, and the main differences in the evolution of the burial/mummification process on the other.Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, Mummies, Ancient Egypt

Once you are acquainted with these basic facts you’re taken through the mummification process that results in what we know today as a ‘mummy’. Including – sparing indelicate language, but not leaving much to the imagination – what happened to the innards of the Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, Mummies, Ancient Egyptbody, the reason and mythology behind the organ removal and other little details you wouldn’t immediately think of (like how do you stop the body from shrinking or collapsing without its internal filling).

In a very natural progression the exhibition then moves on to the burial tomb itself. How it was adorned, some of the scrolls and enchantments it included and how they believed that these provided the wherewithal to allow the deceased to be reborn into the eternal afterlife, how they should eat along the way and who would serve them for all eternity. This part is adorned with charms, amulets, figurines, stone slabs from tombs and a whole range of relevant artefacts.Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, Mummies, Ancient Egypt

At this point the exhibition puts its serious face on. Whilst what goes before is by no means a joke, the tone changes in the blink of an eye as it goes on a brief interlude to explain – in the regretful manner only hindsight can muster – how mummies were mistreated, dehumanised and destroyed during the subsequent centuries until their historical and archeological importance was realised.

Although entirely true, I think it is not there merely as a warning over the treatment of artefacts, but to provide the base to say why one of the oldest studies has been at the forefront of modern science and medical technology. Mummies have been put through many new non-invasive techniques, giving an ever-increasing insight into the lives, deaths and burial processes – and without a scalpel in sight. They’ve even done a mock-up of a recent CT scan done at Edinburgh University and how it’s being used to build 3D images and reveal the life of the plaster’s inhabitant. And explained how X-rays have proved that a mummified cat and other animals sold to European ‘pilgrims’ were not as genuine as they thought.

Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, Mummies, Ancient EgyptThe final section of this exceptional display focuses in on just one man – Ankhor, the priest at the temple of Thebes. From this exceptionally well-preserved specimen (a curator ahead of his time stopped it from being opened up when it was brought to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden collection) they have studied his life; deciphering the hieroglyphics and scanning the body to find his age, health (aside from the obvious fact that he’s rather dead) and how he was preserved for all eternity. The centrepiece of the section being his bandaged mummy and his sarcophagus, elaborately (and beautifully) decorated and inscribed.

There were a couple of things that bugged me during my trip – never do a museums course, I did one module as part of my degree and it has ruined me – just little things such as having to hunt for a few pieces which were some distance from their text boards, like they’d been moved when the display was being installed. Also, I know I border on OCD with things like this, but there’s such a thing as ‘justifying’ text. Just saying. But if I’m honest, I don’t think I’d have noticed these minuscule details if it hadn’t been drilled into my head keep an eye out for them, and they certainly don’t detract from the overall sense of wonder.

If it is not already rather obvious I would like to say, for the record, that I absolutely loved this exhibition. I was concerned when I got to the end with the speed I had gone through it (I thought I’d taken my time over almost every detail), however, a quick glance at my watch told me that I was clearly so engrossed that I had not noticed that almost two hours had passed me by! I know some people will be put off by the fact it has a price tag (the rest of the museum being free – something we should remember to be grateful for), but as this exhibition has been developed in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in the Netherlands and is not going anywhere else in the UK this is your only chance to see this staggering collection on our shores – and believe me, it’s not something you are going to want to miss!

Fascinating Mummies is at the NMS until the 27th May and I for one will certainly be going again before that date comes around.Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, Mummies, Ancient Egypt


PS. As you aren’t allowed to take photos in the exhibition (for obvious reasons) these photos come from the museum’s permanent Egyptian collection (some on this trip and some from my last visit).

Day 6: Allez Les Blancs!

Allez les Blancs!, or so went the retort from this (very Edinburgh) crowd at Murrayfield every time Les Bleus started up.

Murrayfield, SRU, Rugby, Scotland France, Six NationsNo, I’ve not tip-toed over the line into insanity, I was at the rugby. There have been several posts that have been shortened/not written on time of late for which I’ve blamed the rugby, but I’m enjoying watching this year’s Six Nations somewhere other than the University library (where cheering/screaming at the tv is somewhat discouraged) and most things have been taking a back seat for it. Today, however, was even more fun – I was there (and have still written this on time… ahem…).

Living just over the hill from Murrayfield – the home of the Scottish Rugby Union – I’ve been going to the rugby with my dad or friends since I was fairly small and I absolutely love it (and have rambled about it several times). Yesterday’s match was Scotland Vs France, which Murrayfield, SRU, Rugby, Scotland France, Six Nationshappens to be one of my favourite matches. Unlike certain other Six Nations matches the atmosphere is a lot more relaxed, there’s not the intensity of other matches (namely the Calcutta Cup between Scotland and England). Don’t get me wrong, we’re there to win – sadly not on this occasion – but people are there for a good game, not a brawl.

Whilst the score line was not what we wanted, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we played quite well. For starters we scored two tries! However, my main gripe about the match (and not just because we lost, I’m sure a sporting Frenchman would probably agree) is that the referee was more than just a little awful. It is not often that chants of ‘The referee’s a w*nk*er’ resonate around Murrayfield, but for Wayne Barnes that is putting it lightly. Anyway, I’m sure at least his mother still loves him. Possibly. All in all it was a great match to watch and, the two rather good tries aside, man of the match for me comes from the guy behind me in the crowd who, when David Denton displayed a moment of stupidity, shouted the following at the top of his voice: “Denton! Denton! Oh Jesus Chirst! Denton!” If you’re staring blancly [EDIT: entirely unintentional typo, but I think I’ll let it slip on this occasion] at your screen perhaps this video will help.Murrayfield, SRU, Rugby, Scotland France, Six Nations


Day 5: Silhouette

From my old office you could see little glimpses of stunning, imposing architecture that Edinburgh is famous for. Be it the Castle, the spires of the Cathedrals in the city, the dome of West Register House or the ragged outline of Arthur’s Seat, they stand out against the hazy morning mist as the sun is coming up. But they are all in the distance. One piece of history was right on our doorstep – Fettes College. Set back in its many acres of lawns and playing fields this elite educational institute has been around for centuries, its gothic central spire being silhouetted against the morning sun, and then in silhouette again as the sun sets. It was one of the things that often made me smile on my way to work through the cold, dark winter mornings (often the only thing before I realised it was home time).

Sadly, due to the wire fence at the back of the playing fields (don’t worry, I made sure there were no kids about first, this is a school after all) it is virtually impossible to get a photo of it at sunrise. So sunset will just have to do instead. Fettes, Edinburgh, sunset, silhouette, spring

Now, I’m off to go find my thermals for going to the rugby at Murrayfield this afternoon (I’d put in a Go Blue! or Go White! in here, but I’m not sure which strip we’re using and since we’re playing France if I get it wrong it would be a little awkward). Go Scotland!


Day 4: Friday Night at the Circus

Me? Rock and Roll? There are many things I could justifiably claim about myself, however, this is not one of them. In case you (for some strange reason) don’t believe me let me tell you how I spent my Friday night. Having had my last day at my (old) job you may have expected celebrations galore, but alas not. I took the dog for a walk and then sat watching a film with a bag of frozen carrots on my ankle.

I should probably explain at this juncture that I hurt my ankle last weekend whilst in St Andrews. I don’t just put bags of frozen veg – it was peas last weekend (diversity matters) – on my joints for kicks.

Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyBack to the point. I decided that if I was going to sit in and watch a film on a Friday night (and subsequently bore you with it today)  then I was at least going to watch a decent one. Well, luckily whilst sitting resting my ankle last weekend I got bored and started shopping on Amazon, the result being a copy of Tomas Alfredson’s masterful 2011 film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy dropped through my door on Wednesday morning. This was one of best films I saw last year. Actually, it was by far my favourite film of last year. It is absolutely fantastic, with an incredible cast lead by the amazing Gary Oldman. If you haven’t seen it, well where were you for the last third of last year? You need to go watch it. Although perhaps indulge my ego and finish reading this first. Please.

However, in languishing all sorts of praise on it – I’m not the only one, google it if you’ve had your head in the sand for the last 6 months (I think this is about the only way you could have missed it), there are plenty of gushing 5 star reviews out there – it should be said that you can have the best actors/director/crew in the world, but the story and the characters are king. If you’ve enjoyed the film and haven’t gone back to le Carré novels yet, then I would clear your diary and make your way to your local bookshop. Escaping to the strangely contemporary, Cold War espionage ‘reality’ of George Smiley will not let you down.Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I’m quite a fan, not sure if it shows. Here’s hoping that the rest of the Karla trilogy are not too far away. Now where are those frozen sprouts?