By Bill Longworth
March 4, 2009
Have you ever packed a weekend so full of phenomenal once-in-a-lifetime experiences that even the most fabulous experience is rendered somewhat ordinary by the other? This happened to me when one unbelievable venue overshadowed all other events on a British weekend when I was employed there as a secondary school math teacher at the Magna Carta Technological Institute.
Staines, the town where I lived, was located very near Runnymede where the Magna Carta was affixed with the King’s Seal as it was only about a convenient ten-minute carriage ride from Windsor Castle, the King’s Palace of the day.
The town was also a quick 45 minute commuter train ride to Waterloo Station in Central London, a place I habited most every Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday when I wasn’t travelling elsewhere in England. Because I see, do, and experience so much on my international “working holidays”, I always keep a daily journal.
While in London one Sunday at the end of June, I visited the British Library. I don’t know exactly what took me there because a library is not usually a place I’d visit while abroad. I think I found the place while walking toward Camden Markets, a popular tourist place in London and one of the centers of “Goth” fashion, which has been a prime export from England to the rest of the world.
One of the advantages of working abroad is that you get lots of time to “explore”, something that is at a premium for tourists. Having all the time in the world, I think I simply went into the British Library because it looked like an interesting building. I later learned that it had many similarities to America’s Library of Congress being a repository for all books, maps, and music registered in the U.K. and is one of the world’s greatest research libraries. None of this, though, struck me as exceptional.
What did capture my attention was that the Library houses and displays a priceless treasure trove of original materials from Beatles lyrics for songs such as “Michelle”, “A Hard Days Night”, and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” all drafted out on scrap paper, an original copy of the Magna Carta, the Gutenburg Bible, the original handwritten manuscripts of “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, and “Finegan’s Wake” by James Joyce. Had I been one of Joyce’s teachers, I would have complained bitterly about the unintelligible random scribbles all over his drafts which he intentioned as revisions. I was struck by the original neatly handwritten and personally illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland which Lewis Carroll originally penned for his grandaughter. Little would he know that this book would be enjoyed by virtually every child in the world. Handwritten notes by Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, and Captain Robert Scott’s diary containing his last famous words before he died on his epic return from the South Pole all captivated my attention. Original musical scores by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Chopin were there for the viewing. The wealth on display kept me mesmerized until closing hour.
While writing my diary on Monday, I remembered all of this…but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what I’d done on the Saturday.
I guess I was completely overwhelmed by what I had seen at the British Library.
I thought and thought and thought….Whatever did I do on Saturday. I know it was another once-in-a-lifetime experience…but what was it. I struggled at length over the answer to this question. And then it struck me.
I had gone to Wimbleton and saw the world’s top male tennis star, Australian Lleyton Hewitt, playing in Centre Court, something few Britishers would see as tickets are drawn in a National Lottery. I also saw legend Martina Navratilova playing in #1 court, and the famous Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, playing a doubles match. I saw Russian beauty, Anna Kournikova, playing in one of the outer courts. It was surprising that all of these stars walked among the people in getting to their games.
It may amaze you that the priceless artifacts I saw Sunday in the British Library overshadowed my visit to Wimbleton, the most famous tennis venue in the world and something that few tennis buffs would ever get to see, but then you didn’t see the wondrous stuff I saw in the library.
When I told some of the teachers at the school what I’d seen at Wimbleton, one gym teacher said, “I’ve never been there before!” while a fellow maths teacher asked, “How’d you get those tickets, Bill?”
And I don’t even like tennis! For heaven’s sake, I don’t even know the rules!
Leonardo da Vinci
Sir Robert Scott
Gilbert and Sullivan