Started off by listening (in the car) to a podcast of a Radio 4 programme (part of the In Our Time series) about the rise of cities - part 1 started with a brief trot through very ancient history (Ur, Mesopotamia, some mentions of Egypt etc) before moving onto Athens & Rome, then the decline of cities in the West followed by their regrowth culminating in London matching Rome's highest population (1 million) in 1800. Along the way they touched on how the decline in cities across large chunks of Europe was partly because they had been imposed from the outside by the Roman way of government and empire building. And also that this decline was a European thing - Baghdad in particular was still a large city with a population of 2 million centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. China too had cities through this whole time - with their own ups and downs, but no declines as total as that in the West. Overall though it was a very Euro-centric programme, and in fact fairly focused on London. Part 2 went from 1800 to the present day, but we ran out of batteries on the MP3 player so only heard the first half of it. Some themes they drew out were how the cities of Europe look back to classical times a lot - the architecture etc and even forms of government are based on re-classicising the modern day. Also how cities just don't work without the organisation - you need sewage systems, you need fresh water systems, you need transport systems. And we tend to take it all for granted now (even our towns are historical-city sized after all) but it all had to be invented and put in place. And the failures cost lives - the life expectancy in London in the early 1800s was dreadful.
Once parked up at Cockfosters we headed into central London to go to the British Museum (couldn't have a London trip without it!). The plan was to complement our listening by looking at the Mesopotamia galleries, but to get there we walked through the Ancient Levant galleries and got sidetracked. Levant is an area that covers the space between Mesopotamia and Egypt - Israel, Jordan, Syria, that sort of place. The galleries covered very very ancient up to the Iron Age, starting with a culture that didn't even have pottery till the culture was on the decline in about 5000 BC which boggles the mind a bit (pottery as the Shiny New Tech of the day ...). Something I'd not thought much about before was how Egyptian history would've affected the areas around it - but this display brought how that clearly would've been the case. Passing references to how the collapse of the Old Kingdom had plunged the Levant into an economic recession as their economy was based on trade with Egypt. This lead to the abandonment of cities (no trade, no food) for a more pastoral lifestyle again. Later the withdrawal of New Kingdom Egypt from the Canaan area may be what lead to the Hebrews as a people - dispossessed Canaanites (called Hepiru) coming together to form their own nation. There were also a lot of artifacts with Egyptian flavour decorations, whilst not being Egyptian - particularly from the Phoenicians. Including a lovely piece of work with the label noting that the hieroglyphs were rubbish, just for decoration and didn't mean anything. Tourist tat with pseudo-Egyptian elements started way back in the 6th C BC it seems ;)
We weren't long done with that when Paul called to say he was in London (we'd had time to look at the Nebamun gallery again tho), so we headed to the front of the museum to meet him. With a couple of sidetracks and pauses ;) Went down the other staircase that we don't normally use, and had to stop and look at the casts of various antiquities - including some gorgeous painted casts of a bit from Seti I's tomb and a bit from Merenptah's tomb. Then as we'd come down that way we walked through the Enlightenment gallery and discovered there's more Egyptian stuff in there. We clearly need to look more closely at that next time :) And a trip to the bookshop, just to see what was on offer, but didn't buy anything this time.
The next order of the day was dinner! :) Went to the Wagamama's near the British Museum, as we knew it'd be open that early and on a Bank Holiday Monday too. And the food is always good :)
Then, on to the Royal Albert Hall for the truly surreal part of the day ;) My purple shoes broke on the way there, which was rather annoying although purely cosmetic, I just need to get them fixed again soon. But eventually we got there and joined the crowd of Opeth fans waiting outside for doors to open! If you've not been in the RAH or not heard Opeth then you might not realise quite how surreal this was ;) Basically, the RAH is a big concert venue in a very very Victorian style - lots of red and gold, two tiers of boxes all of which look very swish. We were up in the circle above those which feels like at the top of the sky. And the whole thing is ornately decorated and posh. Generally I think of it as the venue for the Proms, and other classical music concerts (or other fairly civilised stuff, I've seen Tori Amos there). And Opeth are a Swedish death metal band, complete with growly vocals. And last time we saw Opeth play was 8 or 9 years ago in the Mean Fiddler, which is such a tiny little venue it would've fitted on the stage for the RAH I think ;) And to add to the surreal, in the interval (!) we ate ice-cream from one of the ice-cream sellers in the venue!
The gig itself was good - not the best I've ever been to, but it had some factors counting against it for me personally. Firstly being so high up in the circle there wasn't as much atmosphere as there would've been down in the crowd. And secondly whilst I've listened to a fair amount of Opeth and seen them live before I don't know their music that well and certainly not as well as I would generally know the music of bands I go to see live. These were offset by having a fantastic view (not a given for me at a gig), and the music being so full of energy that it carries you along anyway :) They opened by playing the whole of their Blackwater Park album for the first half of their set (no support). This was done with no speaking from the band (except once to tell the crowd to shush) and it's probably their best album so it really worked. The second half was more relaxed with the singer telling jokes and saying things he wanted to be the first to say in the RAH ;) Best put down - heckler shouted something and after a pause he said "Is that funny in England? Coz in Sweden ...shut-the-fuck-up!". The music for this set was a chronological trip through their material with a song from each album (skipping Blackwater Park as we'd already heard it all) - the show was about celebrating 20 years of Opeth, and 10 years since Blackwater Park was released. I'm very impressed with the singer's voice - despite a set that lasted 2.5-3 hours with only a 20min interval, including a lot of growled vocals as well as clear ones, the last song started with just him singing and it was still powerful (and he's got a lovely voice when he isn't growling).
I think I need to listen to more Opeth again. And buy a new t-shirt - we didn't find the merch desk, just the programme sellers, so I'll need to wait for the ones I like the look of to come back in stock on their website.