The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert, generally known as the V&A, presumably, Mama says, because the owners don’t want to have to keep explaining that Albert is not another name for David or something, is a design museum with somewhat the same remit as the British Museum. The difference is, whereas the Stuff in the British Museum is significant, the Stuff in the V&A is pretty. Plus, there are more dresses.

The V&A front enterance

Mama likes it a lot. However, the problem with it as a venue for the younger set is that many of their display cases start at adult waist height, which is no good to me, while at the same time they also have a habit of putting things like large 3000 year-old sculptures in the shape of a dragon just asking to be stroked on the floor at toddler height.

You are not supposed to stroke them.

Mama knows this because when my Wonderful Big Brother did, back when he was even younger than me, she saw, out of the corner of her eye, two museum personnel wince dramatically.

This recalled her to sanity; she’d been spending so little time in big people space that up until then she had half assumed that nobody would put a sculpture on the floor if they didn’t expect a bit of small person handling. She whisked my Wonderful Big Brother away but unfortunately she chose the sculpture gallery to retreat to. After he then tried to play hide and seek amongst the rather flimsy plinths holding busts and small figurines (again, too high up for a little ’un to really appreciate, so… you make your own fun), Mama left the building and didn’t return for quite some time. Especially after a head by Rodin had actually wobbled on its stand. Time stood still for Mama that day, I can tell you.

Funnily enough the very first thing I headed for the very first time she let me off the leash inside were the exciting columny things, which I then prceeded to dance excitedly around, just outside easy grabbing reach. I even targeted the same artist!

At least we have taste!!! Mama says, somewhat hysterically.

My Wonderful Big Brother has since matured, Mama has learned to keep a firm hand on my collar, and searching for interesting animal knick knacks has become a profitable pastime. The section devoted to the Indian subcontinent is particularly excellent for this. We also really like the writhing glass tentacles and colourful dangling planet sculpture in the front entrance hall. But Mama fears for the impressive Persian rug if our muddy feet should stray on it, and is not thrilled by the way we beg passers-by for coins to throw in the fountain just off the entrance foyer, so all in all she recommends basically that the whole of the ground floor is not one to linger on unless you are planning to visit the coffee shop. Mama sneaks in there quite often when I am asleep. The coffee, Mama thinks, is vastly over-priced and so are their scones, but on the other hand you can choose between drinking it in the outdoor courtyard surrounded by the rather splendid building facades or drinking it in the large rooms where the walls are amazingly beautiful old patterned tiles.

One of the beautiful buildings in the courtyard of the V&A

When I am awake Mama heads for the lifts. If you go up to the very top floor there are a series of rooms which Mama thinks must actually be a glorified store for surplus ceramics. All the decorative plates, figurines, pots and tiles you could possibly want from all areas and all eras and as the cases are floor to nearly ceiling I can actually see them! And it’s all behind glass! Mama invariably breathes a sigh of relief and lets me gallop up and down the aisles to my hearts content as there aren’t many people up here usually either. Just don’t go round the corner to the furniture gallery. It may look like a living room, but it isn’t because you aren’t allowed to sit on anything. Or fiddle with the interesting little lights spotlighting the chair-shaped art. Apparently.

Ceramics at the V&A

The middle couple of floors are much more touchy feely. There are telephones! I haven’t found Papa on the other end yet, which is odd because it’s usually him on the one at home, but some of the music they play while they are looking for him is fun. There are also drawers you can open and close and open and close and, look, more drawers to open and close and open and close. They have stuff in them, but that’s not the point, of course. Mama appreciates the drawers greatly. She can have a rare moment of actually looking at the exhibits while I am otherwise occupied and relatively static.

Drawers at the V&A

If you fancy a sit down, they show films on these levels too. Oddly they are not in colour and everyone walks around very quickly. Mama says they are films of everyday life from a place called ‘over 100 years ago’. She finds them quite fascinating. So do I – the women have princessy sort of dresses and there are loads of horses. I will move there when I am bigger. Mama says the laws of physics might have something to say about that, but I am half Russian and most laws do not apply to me so I do not foresee any problems there. You can also find areas specially for small people, and although clearly they can’t compare to the drawers, I do enjoy the building blocks, which gives Mama a sneaky chance to get stuck into the dressing up. Sometimes Mama also amuses herself by going on a hunt for the mythical music room. She hasn’t found it yet – presumably it is only in the building every second Thursday when the moon is in the final quarter or something.

Anyway. Overall, the V&A is not the most restful of venues for those toddler Mama’s out there due to the need for constant vigilance to ensure that no priceless bits of artwork are destroyed by small questing hands, but there is plenty to see and the refreshment area is superior.

More information

The Victoria and Albert Museum website.

Here’s what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the Functions of Chairs in the 20th Century.

Address: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL

Opening: 10am to 5.45pm daily, with opening to 10pm on Fridays.

Price: Admission is free.

By Tube: South Kensington is is about five minutes walk. Piccadilly, Circle and District lines.

By Bus: The C1, 14, 74, 414 routes stop right outside, as do tour buses.

By Car: Seriously?

The British Museum, London

The British Museum makes Papa and Babushka laugh a lot. They walk around, look at the frankly astonishing amount of stuff from a ridiculously large number of countries and snigger about how hoseistvenii the British are. Being hoseistvenii, translated from the Russian not particularly well by my Mama, is connected to the idea of being a home-maker, a sense of ownership and playing the host, and whenever Papa makes this comment, which he does whenever these sorts of places are mentioned, Mama always imagines the British Museum as a sort of national mantelpiece upon which all the items brought back by people who would nick anything not actively nailed down as a souvenir of their holidays are beautifully arranged as conversation pieces for dinner parties.

The Elgin Marbles

The British Museum always makes Mama feel slightly guilty, and not just because she comes from a nation of tea leaves. She thinks she ought to understand the significance of what she is seeing more. For example, she once took a whole course at university which she calls the appreciation of pots module and which everybody else calls ancient history, and briefly she actually knew the difference between black figures on a red background and red figures on a black background in the GrecoRoman displays. Unfortunately, somewhere in the last twenty years or so she has forgotten it all, and is now forced to fall back on appreciating the aesthetic beauty of the objects. This is not Mama’s skill. She really should take a tour or something, but probably not when I am about. I take a lot of looking after in museums. Luckily the GrecoRoman area is not busy.

Pots @ the British Museum

The mummies do not need a lot of understanding in order to be appreciated but Mama would like to recommend that people with aggressively ambulatory toddlers do not go and visit them because the huge press of visitors makes it less fun to chase the small person around. If you have a pushchair, you can use it to ram the little knots of tourists preventing you from keeping up with the small body wiggling its way though their legs, but if you do not then you will be forced to use your elbows. Something to consider when you are faced with the choice of putting the pushchair in the very accommodating cloakroom or not. Mama says. I just think it is one big game.

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In my opinion, we could quite happily avoid most rooms, because the huge space which now encloses the famous reading room is beyond fun for me to toddle around. There is a gutter! I can walk with one foot in the gutter and one foot out all the way round the edge of the massive, massive room, as long as I squeeze carefully behind the odd bust-bearing plinth. This gives Mama plenty of time to wonder why they still need a gutter when the whole thing is indoors.

A gutter

Mama likes the Oriental rooms, as most of the items are kept sensibly behind glass rather than on standing free and open for anyone (me) to touch. She was impressed,too, that most of the display cases came right down to the floor, giving me an excellent view, especially as they are also not obscured by a huge press of bodies. And as many of the ceramics are brightly-coloured and some of them are animal-shaped, the actual exhibits held my attention for all of five seconds, which is something of a record in a museum. Of course, I also had an excellent view of the fire extinguishers.

Ceramics @ the British Museum

But the clear highlight of our visits are the benches, which Mama not only lets me touch but also lets me pull myself on and slide off! Until we find ourselves on an upper floor and get to go down about five million steps to get back to the main hall. I really like going down steps even if it does take all afternoon. Mama, who is quite the connoisseur of staircases these days, likes it because it was sweeping and affords an excellent view of the people scurrying round the main hall with which to entertain herself during this long expedition.

The Great Hall @ The British Museum

Mama would like to recommend the eating arrangements. It seems as though the tables attached to the cafes in the main hall are open for all to picnic on, as long as the place isn’t too busy, and the main hall is a lovely place to hang out. Of course, Mama is generally compelled to supplement our packed lunch with a coffee, so she would like to add the caveat that you get a truly tiny cup for your three pounds. But hey, it’s all supporting the collections. If it isn’t raining there is always outside, where there is ample space for lounging around on walls, running around on a square of grass and a caravan selling coffee as well as ice cream.

A very small cup of coffee

Anyway, I recommend the British Museum to anyone who thinks their toddler would like to go on an indoor treasure hunt, where the terrain is vast and varied yet easy on the little legs. For older kids there are all sorts of trails and worksheets. And for the adults there is the satisfaction of being able to say that they briefly saw the Rosetta Stone as they trotted past it on their way to inspect another bench.

More Information

The British Museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about why we have museums.

Address: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG.

Opening:  Daily 10.00 – 17.30, Fridays until 20.30.

Price: Admission is free.

Tube:  Tottenham Court Road (Northern and Central lines – 500m), Holborn (Piccadilly and Central lines – 500m), Russell Square (Piccadilly line – 800m), Goodge Street (Northern line – 800m).

Bus: Stops on New Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street or Southampton Row.

Parking: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

I am forced to admit that the Soane Museum, based on the collection of architect Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837), is not for the fainthearted toddler mamas out there.

Soane Museum

Housed in a perfectly ordinary London townhouse and the two either side Sir John bought when his collection of architectural knickknacks started getting out of hand, it is both cramped and stuffed very full of really fragile objects. A bit like the British Museum, but on a less national scale. Or Papa’s loft, but with fewer amplifiers, turntables and many many cables and more bits of cornicing, gargoyles, stone urns, sarcophaguses and busts of random strangers. It is, in fact, very much the sort of place where people whose first instinct is to run around with outstretched sticky hands and whose second is to find anything breakable within reach are not particularly welcome. And it is not pushchair friendly, not pushchair friendly at all.

So Mama was quite smug that she had anticipated all of this and turned up without my Amazing Big Brother and with me in a sling, forethought that had the museum authorities direct a distinct look of approval at my immovable status. They still made Mama leave her big bag at the door, only permitting her to take her valuables round in a clear plastic bag held strictly in front of her to prevent, I suppose, accidental brushings up against precariously perched bits of statuary. Mama’s usual habit of feeding me rice cakes to keep me quiet was also vetoed – no food and drink of any kind inside the house. Or stilettos. I don’t know what they are, but they sound like fun. Mama says not though. Be warned. Plan accordingly.

As for the museum, Soane’s special interest being something my Mama knows nothing about, she really should have bought the guide book, particularly as this is a museum somewhat lacking in explanatory labelling or any apparent logical order to the items on display. The attendants are happy to chat about the rooms, however, and what Mama did glean is that while Sir John was pretty successful as an architect, most of the money used to buy the collection came from an unexpected but massive inheritance by his wife. Acquiring the collection dented this so little that Sir John left such a vast amount of money in his will that it was only relatively recently that the museum has really had to work hard to search out more funding.

Did the man not have anything better to do with his (wife’s) money, I hear you cry? Well, he quarrelled badly with his two sons, and seems to have set up the museum as a way of keeping them from getting any (more) money out of him. Mama remains rather worried about the sons, despite the evidence they were extremely unsatisfactory offspring. She is a sucker for put upon children stories these days. I blame hormones.

Of course, Mama is also prone to saying things like, shame the wife didn’t get to choose what to spend her own money on.

Still, Mama thoroughly enjoyed poking around all the rooms, a total lack of intellectual understanding of what she was seeing notwithstanding, because it is such a glorious monument to rampant eccentricity. She says. And they have lots of pictures by Hogarth, which Mama, the former historian with an early modern bent, finds absolutely thrilling, and who seems to have had a sharp sense of humour for the ages.

I’m not sure what this picture is all about, but it looks like fun. Mama says yes.

The Rake's Progress - orgy

Obviously in such a small space they don’t have room for frivolities like a coffee shop (although they do have a souvenir shop) so when the call of the cool tactile objects became to much we repaired to Lincoln’s Inn Fields opposite the museum. Surprisingly, it isn’t a field. It’s a large London public garden with plenty of space to run round and have something to eat. We’d bought a picnic, but there’s a café, which looked nice. Mama thought. She does like her coffee. I got to hang out with two dance students casually trading moves on the bandstand, much to Mama’s delight. She thinks my dancing is amusing. Mama enjoyed watching all the office workers doing bootcampesque exercise on their lunchbreak. Mama says it’s called schadenfreude really, but that word is a bit long for me for everyday use.

Anyway, I recommend the Soane Museum to all those toddlers still small enough to be firmly immobilized, to very well behaved children, and to their parents. Mama even took Papa there when they had some time to themselves when my Amazing Big Brother and I were staying at my Grandparents recently, although what they wanted that break for I do not know. Papa enjoyed it so much he donated actual money.

This is very high praise indeed.

More Information

The museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the museum.

Address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP.

Opening: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm.  Last entry 4:30pm. Closed every Sunday, Monday and bank holiday.

Price: Admission is free.

Tube: Holborn (Piccadilly and Central lines).

Bus: Nearest stop at Holborn tube station.

A Green and Rosie Life