12 September 2010

A birthday, the Imperial War Museum and a blown up car.....

It was my birthday yesterday and the one place I wanted to go was the Imperial War Museum. I have never been but always been aware of it. I haven't any military connections family wise but my father worked for the MOD for a long time and going to school in Salisbury meant I was always used to a squaddy or three being about. Growing up in a Wiltshire village, Winterslow, also meant that I could regularly hear the guns on the Plain, and in deepest North Hertfordshire I still sometimes yearn to hear them again and realise that it's just the freight trains clunking through town. At school, in history, we didn't do anything to do with the two World Wars that I can remember. Our history lessons were all about early Christian life in medieval times. If push came to shove I liked learning about house building and looking at the beautiful jewellery made then, but to be honest the rest bored me rigid. In one history exam I wrote my name and answered one question and got 4% and that really was the death knell for me and history at school.

Growing up and maturity does strange and wonderful things to a person though. Whereas as an adolescent things were more black and white, as an adult my thinking landscape has changed dramatically to include a very wide range of colours and saturations. In experiencing these colours there is a cost of course - there are sadness's, tears and loss - but blowing all those out of the water is feeling more human at a fundamentally deeper level. Growing up is scary as life isn't so clear cut - but oh my God, there is a depth's to feelings and experience that makes me know that I have actually lived.

I think that why I hadn't been to the Imperial War Museum. I simply wasn't ready. I was just too young...and this birthday? I was 44, so no spring chicken. Add into the mix a birthday on 9/11 and the Imperial |War Museum was just the place to go.

I managed to clonk my head on this bomber...
Sitting room in the 1940's house
As I say the Imperial War Museum is an amazing place, full of artefacts that by their very presence and reality makes you think about war. Makes you think about fighting for your country, death of children, of innocents, of greed, anger, violation of human rights and of course in seeing the films and models and artefacts in the Holocaust section, witnessing true evil. I love places like the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum as they are filled with such beauty and history, but the Imperial War Museum has artefacts and objects that are graspable as part of our own history, of our own time. The 1940's house isn't one where I grew up, but my 60's/70's childhood home certainly has many echoes of it with the quilts on the beds, the dark furniture and the odd enamel pans in the kitchen. It's not an abstract place, a place of cabinets that hold treasures that I can't relate to. It's the opposite, full of things to see, read and understand and fully enrich me. I have to go back of course. One visit isn't enough.

Trench signs

Epaulettes from captured German soldiers

 What was the exhibit though that affected me most? has stayed in the forefront of my head as I have been doing the washing up, sorting out the bedrooms and listening to the Archers on a Sunday morning?

It was the car bomb shell.  Have a  read of Will Gompetz blog to find out all about it. It wasn't the actual car that held the bomb, that was obliterated at the time of the explosion. No, this was a car in the street when the bomb went off, the bomb that killed 38 people. All that was left was a crushed and twisted piece of rusted metal, and was just on show in amongst the other exhibits of tanks, bombs and a suspended Spitfire. A really interesting member of staff - Grant Rogers - told me that it was probably a Volvo estate. I drive a Volvo.
If you haven't been to the Imperial War Museum please go , I urge you to soon. Have a look at that car and think what war does.

I just wanted to be silent and look and think.

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