The pen is mightier than the sword

Just spent a few pleasant days in the great city of Oxford. Thoroughly recommended, especially if you can grab yourself a bargain like we did. Quick plug – Holiday Inn ninety-eight pounds for 2 nights bed and breakfast (that’s a full English breakfast – not any of your continental rubbish) with dinner on the first night. Well OK… £130 actually, as we upgraded our room to executive. Not as posh as it sounds – but does include bathrobes and other little extras, like nice toiletries in the bathroom. Great hotel – friendly staff, brilliant food, nice pool and spa treatments available onsite.

I’d not visited Oxford before but would certainly return, as there was lots to see and do. The hotel was conveniently located next to the park and ride on the Peartree roundabout – so getting into the centre was cheap and easy (£2 return). We did the touristy things, like wandering about through the streets surrounding the 39 colleges, around Ship Street and the Cornmarket – grabbed a sandwich in the covered market. Peeped inside the Bodleian Library and pondered the shelves of Blackwell’s bookshop (and couldn’t resist buying one or two new books).

The highlight of our trip, was our visit to the Ashmolean Museum. A beautiful old building dating back to 1683 which has been lavishly transformed into a museum fit for the 21st century. Old meets new. A mix of classical and contemporary interiors housing artefacts and paintings spanning thousands of years.

I hadn’t done my homework so had no idea what to expect – but I was captivated. We had every intention of starting at the top and working down through the building – but instead were guided by serendipity. Ignoring the floor plan and the key objects guide the nice lady had handed to us at the entrance – I found a pen and started to jot down the names of the paintings I found interesting. I had my camera but had refrained from snapping photographs as I wasn’t clear at this stage if this was allowed. We moved from gallery to gallery, greeted in each by helpful staff. I’m always amazed that you are permitted to get ‘up-close and personal’ with the work of some of the greatest artists. It’s very touchy-feely (even if you’re not actually supposed to touch). We moved through the music and tapestry galleries and into rooms with display cases brimming with ceramics and china – some dating from 800 AD – and therefore safely behind glass. I was fascinated how ‘modern’ the Chinese pottery looked so decided to take a few pictures to show James and Emily. I’d noticed people in the other galleries with cameras – and the guide informed me photography was permitted in most areas.

As I turned to move on, my way was barred by a member of staff. My first thought was I’d made a mistake taking a photo in this particular room. Nope – it wasn’t the camera… it was my pen!

I was told pens were not permitted in the galleries and I would have to hand it in at the information desk. I was offered a pencil as a replacement and kindly told that pens could damage works of art. I understand ‘rules is rules’ – but don’t remember seeing anything about the pen ban during my travels. No one else challenged me. Nothing on the floor plan/guide (I checked – believe me).

I slipped the offending pen into my pocket and proffered instead my newly acquired HB pencil. But as I continued my journey around the building I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty in the knowledge that not only did I have at least 4 more pens secreted in my handbag – but also a Swiss army knife, with blades, scissors and any number of implements that could potentially wreak havoc on these national treasures.

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