The Horniman Museum, London

Mama likes to think that my Superdooper Big Brother is *her* son, although the animal obsession is all his own. But every now and again, he reminds her that Papa also had something to do with it.

One of those times was when she realised that he is a born collector.

It always puzzled her when, after she had given him control of the car boot sale toy budget, he would pass over that snazzy looking lion in favour of this motheaten sorry specimen of an armadillo. Eventually she realised it is because my Superdooper Big Brother is filling in the gaps in an increasingly vast collection of the animal kingdom in soft toy form, currently occupying half the bedroom and most of the space down the back of the sofa.

Mama thinks that he would really have preferred to be born in the Victorian age. This is because his ambition is to have a live animal museum. ‘You mean a zoo?’ Mama corrected. ‘No,’ said my Superdooper Big Brother. ‘You can’t see the animals properly in zoos. I will have them in those small glass museum cases, but alive, because that’s more interesting.’

He also wants to hunt the animals for his museum down himself. Look, he’s six. He’ll develop empathy later. Mama hopes. He is also quite keen on becoming an assassin of rhino poachers, so that’s something.

Anyway. Mama thinks that both my Superdooper Big Brother and Papa would have got on very well with Mr Horniman of the Horniman Museum, a Victorian tea trader and avid collector who eventually realised that he had filled so many of his rooms with carefully labelled stuff that he might as well be living in a museum, and so promptly did. Or rather, didn’t, because at about that point his wife insisted they move out (‘Either the collection goes or we do,’ were the exact words, apparently. Mama sympathises. She also wonders if Mrs Horniman and Mrs Soane had a support group).

The Horniman Museum

Obviously what my Superdooper Big Brother appreciates most are the large number of stuffed animals. The Horniman Museum is particularly proud of its walrus, but Mama really likes the way many of the cases are designed to actually teach viewers something rather than just serve as curiosity cabinets. She and my Superdooper Big Brother, for example, can spend rather more time than I think is strictly necessary looking at the cases about how animals defend themselves and identifying the method each little group of animals used. There are labels, Mama! Yes, says Mama smugly, but my Superdooper Big Brother hasn’t quite twigged to the advantages of being able to read yet and has to work it out from pure observation.

The Natural History Room at the Horniman

Of course, she is also approving of the way that the Horniman Museum supports understanding of the concept of evolution too. In fact, until she discovered the Darwin Museum in Moscow, the Horniman was her go to museum every time she felt he needed a top up.

Evolution of the horse at the Horniman

Attached to the natural history room is a hands on kids area, which is also very well designed – you can draw stuff, listen to bird calls and the game about identifying trees is, Mama thinks, almost unique as a button pushing opportunity which is both doable for people my age and also gets a point about classification across while you play it. Plus! In case you have been driven mad by the fact that is forbidden to fondle the extremely tactile exhibits next door, there are a couple of examples of the taxidermists’ art that you are allowed to stroke here too.

The highlight of the room is the ACTUAL LIVE ANIMALS (emphasis my Superdooper Big Brother’s). Bees, to be exact, and tiny tiny mice, both in cases small enough to make it to my Superdooper Big Brother’s own future museum, although the bees seem to be able to escape at will down a transparent tube.

That’s not all the animal action at the Horniman Museum though! There is also a reasonably priced aquarium in the basement which has a varied selection of small to medium sized fish from all around the world. And jellyfish. Also, butterflies. My Superdooper Big Brother likes the fish with the legs best. I like all of the tanks that come down to the floor, which is sadly not all of them. They do have little boxes you can carry about and stand on to get to the higher up ones though, which is almost as much fun as the fish themselves.

But. The aquarium has all but been eclipsed by the live animal walk in the grounds which arrived a year or two ago. For reasons which are inexplicable to Mama, it’s the rabbits at the Horniman Museum that are the truly fascinating furry things there. She prefers the lamas.

Lama at the Horniman

What she doesn’t realise is that as well as being a varied group with one record breakingly huge white one, the rabbits are pretty lively. No lounging around sleeping off lunch, hiding in the corner of the enclosure visitors cannot see into or staring contemplatively but unmoving into the distance for half an hour while chewing grass for the rabbits! No, it’s all nose twitching and bounding enthusiastically through the tunnels! In close up! Fabulous stuff.

The only down side is that bit opens at 12pm, so you shouldn’t plan to head straight for it when you arrive the way we always want to. Unless, of course, you get there after 12.

Still, if you are caught out, the Horniman Museum’s grounds are pretty cool, all 16 acres of them. Mama likes the spectacular view over London best, but we are more into the small play area. It is musical! There are things to bang, tap and generally make a loud noise with. It’s great!

View from the Horniman

As well as this, there’s a massive field where you can run around shouting or sit and eat a picnic, although there is also an outdoor café with tables, and even a few tables inside a small room if the weather is bad. This is apart from the proper café, which is back towards the main building. What Mama likes about that is that their overspill seating is inside a particularly splendid conservatory. It is imperative that if it is open we have a coffee break here regardless of how awash we are with beverages and sandwiches already.

Conservatory at the Horniman

Now that, as far as my Superdooper Big Brother in particular is concerned, is pretty much it for the Horniman Museum. Mama would like to spend a bit more time looking at some of the other collections they have, such as the African World one, which BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH (emphasis my Superdooper Big Brother’s, who is not one iota moved by the riot of colour, the wild variety of textiles, the oddly shaped statuettes, the mysterious objects or even the mummies inside. No obvious lion/rhino/zebra/giraffe/camel interest, you see) and especially the one about 100 years of collecting at the museum, which is what Mama describes as a fascinating look into the way that what people consider both cool and acceptable to acquire has changed over time, and what we describe as an area insufficiently full of animals or things I can touch.

In the end, in the face of our total disinterest, Mama compromises on taking us down to the music room.

The music room is pretty good not because of the thousands of instruments on display, but because of the computers. Touch screens! Woohoo! To be honest, for me touch screens can show pretty much anything and I am hooked, but these ones are particularly excellent because what they allow you to do is hear the instruments around you playing, and so Mama will allow us to muck about with them for HOURS because she find this interesting. Yes! My Sooperdooper Big Brother likes it because the sound tables are arranged in such a way that a small crowd of children can (and do) gather around one all at the same time and oooh and aaah over the sounds, and he can socialise, which is something he likes almost but not quite as much as animals.

There are also some live demonstrations of some of the instruments, or at least, we tripped over someone playing a harpsichord last time we went.

Harpsichord at the Horniman

And if you want a go yourself, there is a room with a whole bunch more of hitting, stroking, whacking and plucking opportunities, in case you didn’t get your fill outside. Mama clearly didn’t because she LOVES it in there.

Drum at the Horniman

The Horniman Museum, then, is a quirky treasure trove of all sorts of interesting dodads, and certainly well worth a visit for young people, especially as they are very welcoming towards children, even quite small children. Despite the fact that local families clearly know this and have made it a firm favourite in their going out repertoire, it is still not nearly as busy as the big Kensington Museums at any given time. It even also has what seem to be quite interesting temporary exhibitions on too, although we have never found that we have exhausted the rest of the museum with sufficient time to spare to make paying the entrance fee worth it.

So if you are planning on heading in to London some school holiday and can’t face standing in queues all day to catch a sixty second glimpse of an anamatronic T Rex and some increasingly dusty mammal models, this is a very viable alternative. And if you already live in London and haven’t made it to the Horniman Museum, whether or not you have children, what on earth is keeping you away?

More Information

The museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about wanting to be a conductor.

Address: 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ

Opening: 10.30am to 5.30pm daily.

Admission: Free, except for the aquarium (Adults £3.50, Kids £1.50, Family £7.50) and any special exhibitions.

By bus: Routes 176, 185, 197, 356, P4 stop outside the Museum and Gardens on London Road, and there are a few more which stop close by.

By train: Forest Hill station is a five to ten uphill walk away. It’s on the Overground network (Highbury and Islington to West Croydon/ Crystal Palace) and also has trains from London Bridge (Northern and Jubilee lines) and Victoria (Victoria, Circle and District lines) as well as others from Croydon and Surrey.

By car: There is no parking at the Horniman itself, except disabled parking. The Horniman website suggests some parking spots in the area you could try but is discouraging about the whole idea of car travel as a good travel option for visiting the museum.

Stevenage Museum, Hertfordshire: why small is beautiful and Dickens was wrong.

‘The village street was like most other village streets: wide for its height, silent for its size, and drowsy in the dullest degree. The quietest little dwellings with the largest of window-shutters to shut up nothing as if it were the Mint or the Bank of England.’

– Charles Dickens on Stevenage.

Mama, who grew up in the town, is quite capable of taking the piss out of Stevenage with the best of them. It is, after all, a new town, built to relieve the pressure on the slums and bombsites of London after the second world war and designed with all the architectural and aesthetic principles the 50s and 60s could muster .

It is also the forerunner of Milton Keynes. Yes that’s right, Milton Keynes is what they built while applying the lessons learnt from their previous efforts in Stevenage. Milton Keynes is, in fact, an improvement on Stevenage. Says Mama (see what I mean?).

Stevenage Museum entrance

Stevenage Museum has a fairly large section devoted to the new town aspect. However, Stevenage also:

  • was settled even in prehistoric times
  • hosted a Roman villa yielding 2000 silver coins in an archaeological dig on a new building site a few years back. Must have made the property developers happy
  • takes its name from an Anglo Saxon phrase meaning ‘strong oak’
  • was raided by the Vikings
  • got itself mentioned in the Domesday Book
  • constructed a 12th Century church
  • endured the excitement of trying to farm Hertfordshire’s awful clay soil throughout the medieval period and sending most of it off to the main local landowner, Westminster Abbey
  • was decimated by the Great Plague
  • built a 16th century grammar school founded by a monk
  • which is now haunted (not by the monk)
  • acquired an occupied coffin and alternative tourist attraction in the rafters of a local house
  • went through a boom period when road travel really took off as one of the first major staging posts on the route up north out of London
  • saw Dick Turpin, who worked the area, escape through a secret passage in one of its pubs
  • died down a bit with the coming of the railways
  • was dissed by Pepys and Dickens
  • survived the world wars
  • produced the odd writer, formula one star, a French resistance leader, two films, a heavy metal band, the last person every to be accused of witchcraft in Britain, a brace of footballers of varying levels of fame, a handful of contestants in programmes such as the Voice, twin brother poachers, and at least one actor
  • is currently a relatively popular place for major companies to park their headquarters, being with easy reach of the capital and cheap
  • one of the first representatives of which was the Vincent motor cycle factory
  • is also (for much the same reasons) the first stop for any journalists wanting to report on likely chavy behaviour in the provinces. The Black Friday riots reporting? Was filmed in Stevenage’s Tesco.

Vincent motorbike at Stevenage Museum

Stevenage is a great town, in fact, for exemplifying in a largely undramatic way how history affects ordinary people. There are even six mysterious mounds in the centre which, as tradition demands in such cases, everybody thinks are plague pits, but actually aren’t. It really doesn’t get any more representative than that.

Shopping List at Stevenage Museum

And Stevenage Museum does not miss the opportunity to showcase the full extent of this. It’s emphatically not a museum which just glorifies Stevenage’s award winning cycle paths.

The coming of the railways at Stevenage Museum

Although perhaps there should be more about these given that Stevenage is responsible for proving that it doesn’t matter how good your bike infrastructure is, the same small number of people will still cycle to work and the rest will take the car (no really. There are studies).

Actually, Mama thinks that if they wanted more people to cycle they shouldn’t have made Stevenage so easy to drive around. As long as you like roundabouts. You can do 40 mph right through the centre, round the edges and then all the way back again along arterial roads! Mama, who always drives in Stevenage immediately after having had to slog across the middle of London by car, really appreciates this sort of thing. And the ample reasonably priced parking.

Ahem. Where were we?

Medieval house building at Stevenage Museum

Stevenage Museum also understands that the people who will be most interested in what it has to say are those living in the town and to keep them coming back you need to offer a wealth of different activities so you can never feel that you have definitively ‘done’ it.

Back when Mama was a girl (a looooooooong long time ago), this was mostly achieved via a vast and ever changing number of paper scavenger trails. Stevenage Museum still has these, but they have also added an extensive and very varied selection of extra button pushing and other interactive opportunities sprinkled around the exhibits in addition. We certainly didn’t have time for half of these in one visit.

Coin rubbing at Stevenage Museum

Of the ones we partook of, my Fantastic Big Brother particularly enjoyed the multi-part audio recordings of a modern day Stevenage boy who travels back in time and meets an equally ordinary child from the past. A particularly nice touch was how each episode involved things from the display cases nearby.

Mama, on the other hand, was thrilled to find a board where you can weigh up the arguments for and against building a New Town.

New town debate at Stevenage Museum

I preferred the full-sized 1950s play kitchen.

1950s kitchen at Stevenage Museum

And we all agreed the hats you could try on from each era were beyond cool.

Audio trail at Stevenage Museum

All in all, Stevenage Museum is probably not somewhere you will ever make a trip to specially unless you are enjoying a stay in Stevenage or the surrounding area and have some time to kill. Although when Mama found out about their excellent and very reasonable birthday party deals, with four different historical themes to choose from and food included, she did briefly consider hiring transportation and shipping all our little friends out there this year.

But if you are in the area permanently and you haven’t been then it’s high time you went, and I recommend you put it on your list of regular wet weather afternoon hangouts to boot.

More information

Stevenage Museum’s website.

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

Address: St George’s Way, Stevenage, Herts, SG1 1XX

Opening: Wednesday to Friday 10am – 4.30pm. Saturdays 10am – 5pm

Admission: Free.

By car: Stevenage is bang on the A1M, which is convenient for London (40 minutes to the outskirts). There is extensive parking in the town centre car parks, especially the multi-story carpark on the other side of the road. Use one of Stevenage’s iconic underpasses to reach the museum.

By bus: The SB6 is the route that gets the closest to the museum, but all buses will stop at the bus station, which is on the other side of the first totally pedestrianised town centre in the UK to the museum, about a ten minute walk away.

Getting to Stevenage by bus is now much harder than previously, after the cancellation of the 797 service from London.

By train: The train station is likewise on the other side of the town centre.  There are regular trains out of Kings Cross and the fast ones take about half an hour.

By plane: Stevenage is excellently served by both Luton and Stanstead airports, both within 30 miles. Heathrow is 45 miles and a trip round the M25 away.

Pin for later?

Stevenage Museum is an excellent example of a small local museum going out of its way to engage its visitors.

Polytechnic Museum, Moscow

Polytechnic Museum entrance

The Polytechnic Museum is Moscow’s premier science, engineering and technology museum.

It’s currently closed for a total refurbishment.

Luckily it has found a temporary home in one of the large pavilions in the exhibition park VDNKh. Mama heard was particularly chock full of interactive aspects. Clearly we had to check it out.

The pavilion is rocking a sort of ornate classical look, but once you get inside you are in a dim mysterious world of technological goodies gleaming in the spotlights of all the different ways artificial light can illuminate.

Polytechnic museum pavilion, ornate details

We first came to a stop in front of a large TV screen showing a life size image of a scientist pottering about his laboratory.

Then he started to talk to us! In Russian, but we were invited (in English) to hold our hands up, in which case he switches to English. I know this because Mama immediately did. The hologram goes on to give you a little overview of the section you are standing in, with options at the end for you to ask him to explain more about some of the individual exhibits.

It’s FAB.

And repeated for all of the different areas and themes. Mama enjoyed the stern Soviet era babushka physicist and the floaty cosmonaut but she was particularly impressed by the splendidly sneery rapper who introduced the display on genetic engineering, although the translation really doesn’t do him justice.

Holograms at Polytechnic Museum

She was a bit dismayed thereafter though to find that the in depth explanatory labels, also helpfully provided in British English as well as Russian if you stab at the Union Jack in the corner of the screen, were a good few notches above her level of understanding of how physics works. And sadly this was not due to dodgy translations.

But Mama is soothed by the suspicion that the designers are being very clever and providing enhancements pitched at different levels of understanding or different levels of interest, rather than make every interactive dodad work for the under tens.

Fair enough.

So as well as the labels for the serious enthusiast, the museum has comfy armchairs which murmur soothingly in your ear about inventions and inventors for the senior citizens, child-height tablets showing short visual cartoon clips explaining things to the next generation, and an array of frankly bonkers artistic interpretations of science for the humanities graduates.

Still, Mama thought the bit that worked best for her was the section on teraforming on Mars because she actually came away knowing more about the subject than she did when she started, and interestingly, this was arguably the most traditional of the displays, with a series of dioramas doing most of the work.

Or perhaps she was just most interested in this. Too much Heinlein in her formative years.

Which is not to say that she didn’t enjoy the modern art. The one with the bank of TV screens of performance artists interpreting science was hysterical if almost completely baffling, and we were all delighted by the installation which converted waterflow into binary digits for, as far as we could tell, no real reason whatsoever.

Science is Art at Polytechnic Museum, Moscow

We also enjoyed lighting things up, making electricity spark, smearing our fingers all over the many many touchscreens, the experiment to make water spike into different shapes by the power of hand held or knob-twiddled magnets, and especially the place where we were all able to lay flat on some cushions and contemplate the universe swirling on the ceiling above us.

Mama’s main reservation is that some of the whiz bang squeeeeeeee completely overshadows the actual exhibits rather than enhancing our appreciation of them, although I think she is being a bit of a killjoy there. It would also have been nice if more of the buttons were actually working. Mama in particular was disappointed she didn’t get to launch a spaceship.

She thought the doors which invited us to guess what invention had been inspired by someone observing nature closely were particularly good value, though, being comprehensible, touchy feely and, specially for my Amazing Big Brother, involving copious animal interest.

Nature-inspired science at Polytechnic Museum, Moscow

The actual name of the whole exhibition is ‘Russia did it herself’ which is both disconcertingly flag wavy and also oddly defensive, Mama says. This might be because, as most of the actual stuff is from upwards of 40 years ago, you do get the impression that Russia’s glory age of scientific exploration is somewhat in the past.

But then, what glory days they were!

Clearly the pinnacle is the TV with the water filled goldfish aquarium as a standard attachment. Papa says his Papa used to have one of these at work. Once again I am persuaded that this Soviet Union must have been a paradise. How great must that have been?

TV with fishbowl lense at Polytechnic Museum, Moscow

Mama’s highlight was the simulation of a nuclear bomb exploding. Now, some people might feel that this is a monumentally tasteless bit of button pushing fun, and Mama admits that there is some merit in this although, she also points out, the Russians have never actually used a nuclear explosion to incinerate thousands and condemn survivors to a particularly nasty lingering death, unlike some people.

Perhaps you should assume that what the designers are trying to do is instill awe in the visitor at the sheer scale of the power involved. And if you do, then by means of clever white out lighting, a super strong blast from some hidden fans, and a truly impressive noise which is not only loud but so low it vibrates right through you it really does the job.

If it helps, you have actually ask for the exhibit to be turned on. It gets a bit much otherwise, the docent said, and lessens the impact.

Guess who did the asking in our party?

Nuclear bomb at Polytechnic Museum, Moscow

It’s not that the museum ignores the destructive uses of this invention. Visitors are invited to reflect on what happens when science is harnesssed for evil purposes while adding to an ever-growing mobile composed of origami doves. Not sure it entirely makes up for it though. Mama clearly was more interested the BIG BADDA BOOM than contemplating the horror, and, again, it is perhaps a tad sophisticated for us kids, especially my Amazing Big Brother, who has the paper folding skills of a jellyfish.

Basically, if the aim is to make people generally excited about how utterly cool science, engineering and technology can be, Moscow’s Polytechnic Museum scores a resounding win. And Mama thinks it’s pretty exciting that given a temporary space to play with, the Polytechnic Museum has decided to have fun and accelerate right out beyond the edge of what an established museum might attempt with its displays.

So as a teaser for the eventual reopening of the main building it is very successful. She will certainly have us first in the queue to find out. And we will be bouncing up and down beside her.

More information

The Polytechnic Museum’s website (in some English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Andrei Sakharov, the USSR, the H bomb and human rights.

Address: VDNKh, Pavilion #26.

Opening: Tues – Fri, 10am to 8pm. Sat – Sun, 10am to 9pm. Monday – CLOSED.

Prices: Adults – 300 rubles (£4.50), schoolchildren – 150 rubles (£2.30), under 7s – free.

By metro: From VDNKh (on the orange line) you need to walk through the VDNKh exhibition park. The Polytechnic Pavilion is easy to find, being on the left of the full size space rocket.

RAF Museum, Hendon, London

Every now and again Mama realises that there are places to go in London which do not have anything to do with animals. One of those is the RAF Museum in Hendon, which is full of planes.

The Spitfire outside the RAF Museum, Hendon
Copyright Alan Wilson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It also has a really big car park. I think that if Mama found out somewhere had a really big car park in London she would visit it no matter what it contained. Admittedly, the one at the RAF Museum is not free, but neither does it require lots of the shiny metal things Mama hordes so assiduously, and the museum itself does not charge for entry, so Mama doesn’t seem to mind. If you do, there is a limited amount of free parking on some of the streets round about.

Or, y’know, public transport, which might be a better option if, unlike us, you are not going on a Sunday. We have only ever visited on a Sunday. If you have to travel all across London by car, reasonably early on Sunday morning is the time to do it. Mama says.

The first section is the one with the older flying contraptions. You can walk around the gallery at the top and observe the ones suspended from the ceiling but that’s not the main point of the place.

No, the real attraction is that they have these REALLY AMAZING interactive touch screen information points, which I could play with forever. Press this, see the picture change, press that, see the picture change, press this, the picture rotates, press that and the picture stops rotating, press this, see the picture change, press that, hey Mama, pick me up again! I wanna press the buttons! Yes, there is a design flaw. You have to be a bit bigger than I was the first time we went to reach it all easily. But I’m getting there now! Next time it will be impossible to tear me away!

The ground floor allows you to get up close and personal with the plane undercarriages. Not that up close, though, although the rope barriers guarding them are rather lackadaisical. Someone really needs to do something about them. They seem to keep out the adults well enough but they are very easy for toddlers to climb over or slide under. Us small people can have a lot of fun flaunting our amazing ability by cavorting just out of grabbing reach underneath the planes.

However, I am not entirely convinced all of the machines displayed in this area would really fly. The looked quite flimsy. We discussed our favourite. The consensus of opinion was that we liked the one with the checked looking pattern in purple and green. Because it was pretty. Mama thought about pointing out the paintwork might have another purpose, but she suspected she might be overruled.

Then we went into a new hanger. The planes here were much bigger and rather less colourful. Even our adults seemed overawed by the sheer hugeness of some of them. It took quite a while to go round and see all of them, but that was just fine. There was plenty of room to run about, so it wasn’t necessary to find our own fun by hurdling the barriers too often. Also, because we were there quite early, we were allowed a moderate amount of overexcited shrieking. But even as it started to fill up later in the day, it never got really crowded.

The very very big Lancaster Bomber at the RAF Museum, Hendon
Copyright Michael Reeve (CC BY-SA 3.0 and GNU FDL)

Popular flying machines included the maaaahooooosive great back monster aeroplane for dropping things out of, an elegant varnished wooden one with brass fittings that looked like it should be a yacht for discerning rich people, the huge plane with raked back wings and scooped out with the TV inside showing how impressive a whole bunch of them looked taking off, the plane with its nose painted to look like a shark, which my Incredible Big Brother dragged us over to see specially, the one which had spent a great deal of time at the bottom of a lake and whose metalwork had gone an intriguing colour as a result, and ALL the toy ones in the shop, which is cunningly situated at the exit.

Mama avoided it by trekking us back the way we had come and going out the entrance the next time we came. Spoilsport.

If you start to get too rowdy, the grown ups can take you to where there is an extensive indoor play area at the back, with a whole bunch of child sized cockpits you can pretend to drive, various machines which have a wide range of button pressing or handle turning opportunities, some flying ping pong balls, the opportunity to fire a parcel out of a plane at a target, a bit of shape sorting, and other such things. We were happy. Mama seemed a bit disappointed that neither me nor my Superlative Big Brother came up to a line on the wall next to a large box which kept flinging itself around every time someone gave it some of the round metal things. Mama says it is a flight simulator, and she is clearly determined that one of us will want to have a go on it someday. I am not so sure.

There are also tables for eating your lunch on, and a cafe too not far away, right in the middle of some helicopters. Mama also discovered that you can get coffee in a takeaway cup to bring over to the picnic area, so basically, the refreshment options are pretty good all round.

In fact, the only problem with the play space is that it has two exits. Mama really wishes that in dedicated play areas she could let us go out of sight and relax with her coffee safe in the knowledge that we haven’t escaped the child-friendly section and are being sticky all over delicate paintwork somewhere else. But then I fell out of a plane on my head the time she tried being laid back, so hey. It’s probably best if she follows us around closely at all times anyway.

Anyway. The RAF Museum London. if your children like planes the way we like animals and horses, this place is an absolute must visit. But even if they don’t, a bunch of grounded aircraft are a lot more interesting than you might think. In addition, it’s certainly not as busy as the big central London museums, but there is just as much floor space to get some much needed exercise. The fact that the play area is indoors makes it just about perfect for any inclement day.

And don’t forget about the car park!

PS: Mama cannot find any photos of the RAF Museum. Either she is having a senior moment, which is possible as she is really really old, or the museum is SO GOOD that she forgot to take any. Whichever it is, we will be forced to return for pictures. Wheeeeee!

Image credits

The Spitfire: Copyright Alan Wilson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Lancaster Bomber: Copyright Michael Reeve ( CC BY-SA 3.0 and GNU FDL)

More Information

The RAF Museum, Hendon’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft.

Address: Grahame Park Way, London. Use the postcode NW9 5QW for your satnav.

Opening: 10am -6pm.

Price: Free (apart from the car park).

By tube: Colindale (Northern Line). Do NOT get off at Hendon Central.

By train: Mill Hill Broadway (15 mins walk) on the Luton/Kings Cross/Thameslink line.

By bus: The 303 bus goes directly past.

By car: Yes! You can go by car! There’s a car park! It costs up to £4 but it is TOTALLY WORTH IT (says Mama).

The Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum is my Brilliant Big Brother’s choice. He is very very keen on animals. And dinosaurs. So regular visits here are a bit of an inevitability.

The Natural History Museum from the outside
Dino world, here we come!

The problem with this, from Mama’s point of view, is that my Brilliant Big Brother is actually interested in the exhibits. He wants to stop, and look at them, and discuss them. I, however, am not. I want to run around and find something random to fixate on, like a rope barrier (oooooh) or a leaflet holder (aaaaaah).  FIRE EXTINGUISHERS! IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN FIRE EXTINGUISHERS!!!

This means that Mama is constantly either having to coral me in the pushchair or drag my Brilliant Big Brother away from a stuffed swan, plaster of Paris crocodile or fossilised triceratops. Both of us end up feeling that Mama is an unreasonable old whatsit and are not afraid of making our opinions on this subject known.

Still, we usually manage to spend a certain amount of time in the usually exceptionally crowded bird hall, where Mama, the career teacher, simply cannot restrain herself and insists on setting my Brilliant Big Brother questions designed to better his understanding of how animals work. ‘Which birds,’ she is wont to ask, ‘eat meat? How do you know? Lookatthebeaklookatthebeak’ This is sometimes successful, sometimes not, and sometimes my Brilliant Big Brother silences her by keeping up a running commentary of random factoids about the lives and loves of the feathered exhibits himself.

Stuffed dodos in a display case
Dodos!

My Brilliant Big Brother, you see, pays close attention to nature programmes. Mama, on the other hand, thinks that nature in its entirety goes ‘they have sex and then something eats the really cute baby’ and that this is especially true if you watch David Attenborough’s Planet series. Except that in the programmes it is done to ominous music. Nature missing a trick there. Mama, basically, finds the animal world both boringly predictable and excruciatingly traumatic. My Brilliant Big Brother does not.  Therefore, in a fauna fact-off, my Brilliant Big Brother always wins.

A blue whale and other animals at the Natural History Museum
That’s not a *real* whale, you know.

It should come as no surprise then that the mammal room is also popular. My Brilliant Big Brother finds the elephants in various stages of evolution fascinating. Similarly the fish corridor. With added crocodiles! And the bit with the giant sloth (it’s GIANT!). And the bug exhibition. With your actual leaf cutter ants carrying your actual leaves. Although he also thinks the case explaining the difference between centipedes and millipedes (not as obvious as you might think, Mama says) pretty essential. And… well, let’s just say that all the bits with any kind of animal are equally as thrilling to my Brilliant Big Brother, and, unfortunately, equally as packed with other nature obsessed big children and so equally as unfriendly to wide-roaming toddlers as each other.

Giant prehistoric sloth at the Natural History Museum
GIANT SLOTH IS GIANT!

Except the dinosaur exhibition, which is even more so. In fact, Mama recommends that the Natural History Museum should be avoided at weekends*, during school holidays and especially in half term, when everybody with children within reach of London decides to visit in the space of one week. Not only are there lengthy queues to get into the place, but the entire entrance hall is given over to the hour-long line of people waiting to go and see the animatronic T-Rex, with only the admittedly impressive Gothic detailing and the huge, iconic diplodocus skeleton to entertain them.

Entrance hall and Diplodocus skeleton at the Natural History Museum
An unusually empty day at the Natural History Museum.

Actually it can be quite entertaining. They’ve rigged the massive plant eater so that you can light it up different colours and even make it roar. But only if you pay an extortionate sum of money, which Mama, well, Mama doesn’t. Of course, if you should make a half term visit there will be many many desperate parents, and so the roar gets played quite often anyway. Still, this does not compensate you, in Mama’s opinion, for the wait, especially when it is followed by the news that the lift to the walkway you have to use in order to reach model dino heaven is out of order and no, you cannot just abandon the pushchair here and come back for it later.

Gothic details at the Natural History Museum
Cool, eh?

Of course, the T-Rex is almost worth it in Mama’s opinion and TOTALLY worth it in my Brilliant Big Brother’s, which is why we all keep coming back and back. I am less convinced, being much of the opinion of my Brilliant Big Brother on his first visit (< wobbly voice > “Teef, Mama, TEEF!”< /wobbly voice>), but I am generally overruled.

The animatronic T-Rex at the Natural History Museum
Teeeef!

There’s also a whole other bunch of galleries about the earth, the environment and, I dunno, plants and such, but we only go there when my Brilliant Big Brother thinks they might have hidden a few more animals in them or when Mama is trying to make me fall asleep. Not even being in a real earthquake or making your own clouds really compensates for the lack of furry/scaly action. Although the rocks room is a hit. To Mama one bit of quartz looks very much like another, but she says Granny, the geologist, should be proud that her grandson can spend hours and hours and hours in there getting Mama to read the captions (“Quartz. Quartz with iron. Quartz with copper. Quartz quartz. Quartz with gold. Oooh. Quartz.”) and I am happy because it is really quiet up there and Mama let’s me play hide and seek round the quartz cases. Granny must really like quartz. I wonder what she does with it?

The quartz room at the Natural History Museum
Quartzquartzquartzquartzquartzquartzquartz!

And so to the coffee, or not because Mama rarely stops for refreshments inside. The cafes are too open plan and busy for someone with over-stimulated children who will probably run off in different directions just as she has taken her first sip of the warm brown drink she seems to like to much. If you must go, the one in the Darwin Centre is probably the quietest. There’s also a restaurant, but that is particularly expensive and even a balloon per child cannot make up for that. Says Mama. The best option on rainy days is the basement, where there is a vast lunch room for school parties and other picnickers. It even has a small coffee shop at one end! On better days, there is a nice bit of grass outside and it even has its own snack kiosk and, in summer, a carousel. In good weather there is also a stall selling ice-creams at the entrance to the nature garden, a small wildlife preserve of overgrown foliage, twisty pathways and water features, with which my Brilliant Big Brother and I like to end our visit to the museum. You aren’t supposed to picnic there though.

Stone monkey climbing the walls of the Natural History Museum
Awww. Cute, innit?

Anyway. The Natural History Museum is an essential on any list of places to visit in London for children of all ages. Mama will just have to continue sucking up the drawbacks and start bribing me with the promise of dinosaur toys, because we will be regulars here for some time to come.

*Except for the last half term before the summer holidays. Mama reckons people are saving it up. Go then, if you are trapped by school. Unlike me. Nyahnyahnyahnyahnya.

More Information

The Natural History Museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about dodos – an extinct bird.

Address: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD

Opening: 10.00 – 18.00 every day.

Admission: Free

By Tube: South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly lines). 

By Bus: The 360 stops on Exhibition Road. The 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 414, 430 and C1 stop at South Kensington.  

By Car: *sigh*

The Science Museum, London

We go to the Science Museum a lot. This is because Mama finds herself in South Kensington with me waiting around for my Fabulous Big Brother to be culturally and linguistically indoctrinated at his Russian school quite often. So when it’s raining she often takes me here on the grounds that some of the rooms are really big and there is plenty of space to run around. Of course, sometimes she takes me here when it is sunny too. This is because if you want to go to the Science Museum on a weekend, you can avoid some of the worst of the crowds by picking a time when everybody else will have gone to the park. Sadly there isn’t much you can do about the crush in the shorter school holidays, but luckily the children will probably still enjoy themselves. Mama says, resignedly.

Bicycles hanging over the entrance to the Science Museum
Welcome to the Science Museum, give us all your money now.

I really like the Space bit. It’s dark and mysterious with odd things dangling from the ceiling. One of the first things both my Fabulous Big Brother as a toddler and now I make a beeline for is the diorama on the left, mainly because it has that rarest of things, a step up specially so we of under average height can actually see it. Mama tells me it shows the launch of one of the first rockets EVAH but also that it is basically one big bomb. She is therefore a bit miffed that she cannot embellish our interest further with a nice improving story. Still, I also like the big revolving ball hanging, apparently, freely in thin air, where they project what Mama calls satellite images of different aspects of terrestrial life as seen from space. Mama is quite entranced by the one where everybody switches their lights on, one by one, all over the world. I just want to know how I can get it down and throw it around.

The moon landing vehicle at the Science Museum
Check out the big US flag!

Sometimes, usually when Papa is with us, we play hunt the Russian references. This is surprisingly difficult given that, Papa rants, the Russians did almost everything in space first. Except land on the moon, Papa! Interestingly, the moon landing apparatus happens to be one of the focal points of the whole room. What can you do? That big car is shiny shiny shiny!

The Science Museum display about Yuri Gagarin
The extensive first man in space display at the Science Museum.

We started spending less time in the room with all the cars, trains, boats and weaving looms after I learned to walk. Mama was told off once too often for letting me touch the machinery. This is a great shame as I love machinery, and the plinths are at a very inviting height for exploring toddlers. They have even added a bit of exciting challenge in the flimsy string barrier, a challenge I was more than happy to take up. I recommend sliding underneath. Or flinging yourself wildly over the top.

The Making the Modern World gallery at the Science Museum
That is NOT the first steam engine.

Nowadays  I make sure to rush Mama past it, partly because I know about the play area on the other side and partly because if I stand still for long enough, Mama will yet again tell me how although the centrally placed Rocket is the most famous early steam locomotive, it wasn’t the first. The first one is over there, shoved out of the way in a corner. Which is, in its way, also significant. But then this will cause her to segue into a rant about how, whilst she, the early modern specialist with time to spare as she waited to see if I would get to touch the early Ford before the guard rugby tackled me or not, has given considerable thought to why each of the items in the room is there, she does feel that there could be a little more focus in the room itself as to the importance of the items on display and their placement.

This is why Mama needs me and my Fabulous Big Brother around to entertain her in such places, I say. Also, when would she have the chance to read explanatory placarding these days anyway?

Sometimes Mama takes me upstairs, especially when the Museum has a temporary exhibition on. She may be sniffy about what the website calls the ‘objects rich’ galleries (hahahaha. Oh deary me. Mama says) but some of the Science Museum’s exhibits in passing are as whacky as anything you find in the Tate Modern and considerably more grounded in something inherently interesting. Mama thinks.

Her favourite of recent times was the anatomy of an orchestra they put on, which led to strains of the Planet Suite by Holst randomly echoing round the ground floor. Mama enjoyed very much the experience of going through different ‘rooms’ and sitting with different sections of the orchestra, listening to the music from each instrument’s point of view. There were also some interactive elements, but Mama couldn’t get the hang of conducting and so we went and sat in the bass section so Mama could relive her youth playing in the coolest section of the orchestra. Until the school party in the percussion section got their hands on the drums, symbols, more drums, more symbols and a few more drums and really let fly right in the middle of the war section, startling me something wicked. Oh how I cried and clung to Mama as she hastened out of there, her hands over my ears. Still, also an authentic experience, Mama says. The brass section in particular were invented to deafen the basses.

Also somewhere on the upper floors is a play area for older children called the Launch Pad  with all sorts of hands on activities with a vague connection to something scientific. Mama does not like this area. It is absolutely heaving with large bodies and she has no hope of keeping an eye on both me and my Fabulous Big Brother at the same time. Especially as I can’t reach anything and just want to run around getting underfoot. There are plenty of buttons to push and computer screens to stare at and stab elsewhere up there though, even if the point of the displays does rather escape me, and it is well worth having a stroll around.

But the highlight of the Science Museum from my point of view are the two interactive areas for the under tens. Mama is a bit trepidatious about the one called the Garden. This is a secret play area, secret because the signage in the museum is a bit coy and unless you know what the Garden is you would probably never go down to the basement there and find out. All that’s there apart from the Garden is the picnic area for schools, a small coffee shop, some lecture theatres and the domestic appliances exhibition, which is almost always deserted. This is a shame, Mama feels. Early models of washing machines she can get quite enthusiastic about without further prompting, especially as there are more buttons to push so you can watch them spinning around. And the coffee shop is usually uncroweded and serves, well, it serves coffee. What more do you want? Anyway. The Garden. Yes, well, the thing about the Garden is that somebody decided that a really extensive and engrossing water section would be a good idea and when she first took my Fabulous Big Brother there, all unsuspecting like, Mama ended up having to hold him under the hand dryer in the toilets for forty five minutes to get him dry again. Nowadays we don’t go there unless it’s a really sunny day or Mama has bought a spare set of clothes because I, too, love splashing about in water with no regard for my clothing whatsoever.

Water play at the Science Museum
Those orange overalls do not protect clothes as well as you might think.

There’s also a bit where the Science Museum has decided to teach us about the futility and repetitive nature of our future lives as working stiffs, where we load up a wheelbarrow with bean bags, haul them up in a pulley driven bucket, slide them down a shute, load up the wheelbarrow again, fill up the bucket, tip them down the shute, load up the wheelbarrow… Mama seems surprised by how popular this is, but she clearly doesn’t know how thrilling it is to organise your minions into a smoothly operating machine, all doing exactly what you say and keeping you well supplied with all the bean bags you can eat.

The rest of the Garden pales into insignificance beside these two bits of equipment, but then we have plenty of big lego at home. Mama enjoys hitting the sound making objects, so I usually indulge her a bit in that, and less energetic children might enjoy the den with the soft toys or the self service puppet theatre.

The Pattern Pod is another play area for younger visitors on the ground floor just beyond Mama’s favourite Modern World extravaganza. When it’s not too busy and you can get a decent go on all of the equipment it is GREAT but that’s really only happened once or twice. I really like trying to catch the projected fish in the projected fish pool on the floor which RIPPLES WHEN YOU JUMP ON IT (finally, says Mama, water play which does not involve any dampness!), and putting ‘seed’ tiles into slots to make different patterns grow on the walls. I will also spend hours putting different geometric shapes together to make aeroplanes. But the best bit is the dancing room. They play you music, you bop around and your picture appears on the wall overlayed with different psychedelic effects. Even Mama wanted to have a go at that but she’s too big – the image is just one big blur. My height is perfect, which is not a sentence you get to type about museums on a regular basis.

The Pattern Pod at the Science Museum
It could be 1960 all over again.

Mama’s only reservation about the Pattern Pod, aside from a big sulk about her size not being adequately catered for, is that there are two exits, and she maintains that her paranoia about not being able to keep both of us under full surveillance when it is busy and one of us leaving from the other one and getting lost is perfectly reasonable, even though we have never shown the least inclination to do such a thing so far. There is a place to park pushchairs in both the Garden and the Pattern Pod, so at least Mama is free to chase after us unencumbered should she need to, for which she is duly thankful.

There are, of course, cafés. The one in the basement is always surprisingly quiet, and so is definitely worth a visit if a fix of caffeine and cake is all your big people need. Mama’s other favourite is called the Energy Café. It’s in the first gallery, the one with all the early steam engines, the ones that weren’t used for locomotives. Mama loves that they have the biggest one working at weekends (and holidays?) so much that she sometimes pops in just for that. It’s something about the noise, she says, and the smell, all hot oil and metal. In the cafe, Mama recommends the generous salad plate, which I like a good nibble off too. And the coffee is ok. She says. You have to play hunt the child high chair a bit sometimes, but now that I am bigger and spurn high chairs, this is less of an issue. The restaurant at the back of the ground floor we haven’t been to. But it is very blue and luminous, which looks lovely.

The Science Museum is huge and has a huge variety of different exhibits which we have only really scratched the surface of, despite our many visits. The top floors have a lot more for the bigger kids, and when we have my Fabulous Big Brother with us again, I suspect we will be spending more and more time up there. There are also a lot of shows and 3D film experiences and so on and I can see from her longing looks at the posters that Mama is just itching for us to grow up a bit so she can go to all of them. As is it is, I highly recommend the Science Museum for really young kids for the play areas alone. But those are not the only reasons I like it, and I am always happy to go, to the extent of gesticulating wildly in its general direction if Mama tries to nip past it to go and look at dinosaurs.

For example.

More Information

The Science Museum’s  every daywebsite.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the first manned space flight.

Address: Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.

Opening: 10.00 – 18.00 every day.

Admission: Free

By Tube: South Kensington (District, Circle and Piccadilly lines). There is a subway walk that runs directly from the station to the museum entrance.

By Bus: The 360 stops right outside the museum. The 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 414, 430 and C1 stop at South Kensington. The 9, 10, 52, 452 and 70 stop at the Royal Albert Hall (five minutes away). 

By Car: No. Nonononononono. NOOOOOOOOOOO!

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.

027

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