I was working in Newmarket today rather than at the office. For those who aren’t in the know, the first seven months of my IT career in England involved being on-site at a horse vet practice in Newmarket four days a week. Hence me living here. I can’t say I was completely over the moon about it and was rather pleased when I got relocated to working in our main office just south of Cambridge. At any rate, I was back there today filling in for a co-worker. I wanted to wander around at bit at lunch to take in as much fresh air as possible before going back to the tiny office.
One of my stops was WH Smith. I found myself in front of the travel section and one collection of books jumped out at me; Egypt. I picked up the Rough Guide to Egypt and leafed through it a bit. “I should get to Egypt sometime. I could get to Egypt sometime” I thought to myself. This may seem like a passing fancy like “blimey, let’s spend the day in Swindon”, but it has more weight to it than that. No offence to anyone with an undying desire to go to Swindon. You see, Egypt sparked my love of history.
In my early teens I was quite keen on watching most shows that A&E had to offer. You know, before it went a bit rubbish. This included ample amounts of historical documentaries. One in particular stands out in my mind and that was a several part series called The Face of Tutankhamun. I can’t recall exactly which summer it was, but it was one in junior high school. At any rate that summer The Face of Tutankhamun was on in the mornings. I seem to remember that I had intentionally tuned in to watch In Search Of, but this was on instead.
I was completely fascinated of the tale of Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon and the story of the young pharaoh who they uncovered. The show repeated several times, and each time I was glued to the TV. I would never miss any sort of program that would have Bob Brier or Zahi Hawass, two of the more notable Egyptologists. The later now being the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The internet didn’t exist for me in yet in the early to mid 90s so I soaked up all the info I could from watching these shows and what bits of material I could find to read. I knew the line of pharaohs from certain dynasties off by heart. I knew and somewhat understood the rituals surrounding the death of a pharaoh and how the Egyptians believed the world came to be. I could identify a pharaoh by their cartouche. I had seen enough hieroglyph translations that I think I could even read them a bit. I knew which pharaoh was in which KV# tomb in the Valley of the Kings. I had (and still do) an ingrained mental map the internal layout of the Great Pyramid. I had found my obsession. My dream was to see it all for myself one day, and perhaps even maybe make a career out of it. Becoming a historian or perhaps an archeologist.
In grade 11 I took Ancient History class. How exciting! Finally a history class that wasn’t boring old Canadian history (though it must be said, I did enjoy local P.E.I. history in grade six). Each era, Stone Age, Roman, Renaissance, etc., has it’s own chapter in the text. Naturally as soon as I got the text I jumped right to the chapter on Egypt. Pah, what a glaze over it was! And I remember trying to not shake my head at how horrible my teacher pronounced names of people and places.
The Ancient History class was spread over two years, 11 and 12 using the same book. I can’t remember where the break was. By grade 12 I think I had already read the whole textbook and was starting to get into medieval history, specifically English, and the Discovery Channel staple of World War II. I recall nearly running out of paper when it came to the essay questions for the test on WWII.
Ancient Egypt was still tops in my book, but the story of a damp island nation was moving up the ranks of interest. Britain has had numerous invasions (Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Romans, Normans, staved off the Germans though), adaptations (Britons wearing togas), evolution of language (from Beowulf to Cockney), society, royalty, government, battles, heroes and villains. And of course stiff upper lips. So much human activity over so many years in such a small place, a bit like Egypt. I had a new obsession, and this time I had the internet to fuel it in addition to my traditional methods.
Strangely enough, I don’t completely know or remember how London became the end all and be all of all things historical for me. Probably had something to do with “the war”. I have a grasp on why it is my end all and be all, and why I felt so compelled to move across the ocean to be closer to it (with the goal of one day living in the heart and soul of it). However, it’s a grasp that is difficult to put into words. Being surrounded by living, breathing history is amazing.
I get to see it at least a couple times a month, and not to mention all the other interesting places I have visited in the UK and have yet to see. Heck I’ve even seen a fair bit of Egyptian antiquities between the British Museum and museums in Cambridge and Bristol (now with a larger gallery than the one I saw). Perhaps it’s time to think about getting back to my “roots” and fulfill my teenage dream. Walking around the Giza plateau and marveling at the incredible things that humans accomplished so very many years ago.