diamond geezer

 Friday, November 16, 2007

Tut Tut

Another day, another grand reopening. The ancient boy king Tutankhamun is back in town for the first time since 1972, and his worldly goods are now on show inside the Millennium Dome. Well, some of them anyway. The Egyptian authorities haven't allowed all of Tut's treasures out of the country, although at least 50 are on show (alongside 80 further artefacts from his extended family). And there's one particular iconic treasure that you may be surprised to hear isn't present - Tutankhamun's funeral mask. You know the one, that stripy gold head-dress interspersed with strips of lapis lazuli, the one that's come to symbolise the opulence of the Pharoahs. Well sorry, it's not coming to North Greenwich. It's too weak and fragile to be transported, apparently, so you won't see it again unless you go to Cairo.

So what's that gleaming artefact pictured in the Tutankhamun advert on the front of yesterday's London evening freesheets? It looks exactly like the legendary King Tut face mask, and you might well be fooled as you head to the website to book your exhibition tickets. But check the blurry smallprint underneath. This is actually the "Canopic Coffinette of Tutankhamun". You what? It sounds like a motor-caravan perhaps, or maybe a blended cappucino. But no. The smallprint continues... "This gold and precious stone inlaid canopic coffinette contained Tutankhamun's mummified organs." Yes, this is a mini-coffin, just 15 inches high, created to hold the boy king's pickled liver. It's ornate, and intricate, and magnificent, but it's not the mask you're expecting. "Not the funerary mask." In the advertising business they call that a disclaimer.

And what of the exhibition itself? Well I can't tell you that yet because I haven't been. The first few days are only open to O2 phone customers, and as a second-class customer of a lesser network I am not worthy to attend. Plus it's quite expensive. The 1972 exhibition cost 50p to get in, whereas the O2 extravaganza costs £15 on weekdays and £20 at weekends. Plus, well, I've read some really very variable reviews of what's on show inside. Some visitors liked the atmospheric mood muzak pumped round the galleries and the concise accessible text used to label each exhibit. They enjoyed the fake pillars, the swirly drapes and the video presentations narrated by Omar Sharif. They relished the intimate opportunity to get nearly up close to history, and the exotic relics so beautifully reproduced in the souvenir shop. Others, however, found the whole experience tacky, vulgar, overhyped and underwhelming. "Swindle" was, I believe, a word used by one blogger who saw the exhibition last year in Chicago. It would be wrong to jump to conclusions without visiting myself.

So, when to go? Don't start looking via the O2's website, it's distinctly under-informative. Instead you'll be wanting the official website over at Visit London <...pause while page loads...> where they offer two different purchasing opportunities. Alas neither Ticketmaster nor SeeTickets make it at all easy to pick out the dates and times that aren't already sold out. One month's time at 3pm? Click click wait sold out. Two months time at 3pm? Click click wait sold out. Three months time at 3pm? Tickets available! If you can wait that long. You might instead prefer to use the touring exhibition's official website which provides a much better idea of hourly availability between now and next August, even if many of the times they claim are available actually aren't. And if you don't mind going on a weekday evening you could be Tut-tutting very soon. I may not bother.

Top Tut tip 1: Of course, there's another Egyptian exhibition in town. Head over to the British Museum, up at the back on the first floor, and there's a bloody marvellous collection of statuary, artefacts and proper big mummies. And all for free.
Top Tut tip 2: Not in London? Don't worry because you can now enter into the Egyptian spirit every morning over breakfast. King Tutankhamun was particularly fond of his morning bowl of Coco Pops, and that's why Kellogg's are the "Official Cereal Partner" of the O2 exhibition. Well, either that or the world's gone mad. You decide.

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