It took Mama three years to get around to taking us to the London SEALIFE Aquarium the first time, which is odd given how fish-adoring my Incomparable Big Brother is. She says it is because the aquarium is something called ex-pen-sive. But there she was, practically about to give birth to me at any moment, feeling sorry for my Incomparable Big Brother, who was about to be thoroughly displaced a king of all he surveyed by a small smelly little sister. Mama thought. So off we went. Funnily enough I do not remember much about that visit. I have been since, though, and I can tell you that the London SEALIFE Aquarium is worth the money. And if you can visit often, the yearly membership is not as outrageous as you would expect from the one-off entrance fee. Mama says.
Mama thinks the creators of this big fishy extravaganza have been very clever. Faced with a relatively small plot of land, they have dug down and built the place on the vertical. Admittedly this means that they milk the huge shark tank and the enormous giant turtle tank for all they are worth – you go up a level, round a corner and think you are going to look at something new, but actually it’s just the same old fish bowl from another angle. However, they are correct that this doesn’t really matter. My Incomparable Big Brother and I are quite capable of spending the entire evening staring gormlessly at the two goldfish and four snails we have at home going round and round in only a few centimetres of water. We can be entranced by the rather larger, more exotic circles made by the diverse creatures in the London SEALIFE Aquarium again and again and again and for much much longer.
Well, my Incomparable Big Brother is. He really does like fish. And sharks. And turtles. And cats. And dogs. And mice. And snakes. And birds, and worms, and bees, and spiders, and pigs and cows and sheep and goats and zebras and tigers and elephants and… look, he pretty much likes any and all animals to a quite obsessional degree.
But calling the London SEALIFE Aquarium a two tank pony is a bit rude of Mama too, I reckon. There are plenty of other glass fish boxes with the smaller or, in the case of the piranhas, vicious exhibits in them leading up to and away from the showstoppers. Plus penguins! Penguins I tell you! And a small crocodile. And even a special tank you can lean over and absolutely not stroke some rays. Or, in the case of Mama, eye up the plaice that also occupy that space speculatively. Mama enjoys cooking fish.
I like taking things apart. Papa has taped down the lid of the aquarium at home because I was looking like I would be in there disassembling the really cool bubble making machine as soon as his back was turned. Or possibly the fish. So although I really enjoyed the tanks with the brightly coloured tropical fish, and the ones with the boiling masses of small turtles banging up against the glass, and naturally I relished the opportunity to stick my hand in the water and try to grab hold of a starfish in the actual handling tanks, I get quite restless and start looking for the plug was when all that is on offer is a large grey toothy predator lazing around in the middle distance.
It is for this reason that Mama recommends a sling or a pushchair for active toddlers. The London SEALIFE Aquarium is dark, full of twisty passages and lots of people and if you are in any doubt about your young’s ability to stick close and come when called, you really want them strapped in somewhere accessible. She says. Adult chest height is best I say, because the aquarium is one of those places which take insufficient account of the eyeline of people in pushchairs.
Mama also thinks it is genius that the aquarium plays really soothing music… really soothing… soothing… mmmmmmmzzzzzzzzzzzzz… all the way round. Even the most energetic of small people are reduced to a zombielike calm by the time they leave the place, for which Mamas and Papas should be duly thankful. Except that what it is really for is inducing a hypnotic state of extreme suggestibility in the big people, so that when the family pops up into the sunlight and the shop, every time the children, who shake off the spell much quicker than the adults when faced with brightly coloured tactile shiny STUFF, demand ‘I want…’ the parents ask ‘how high?’ Certainly works on Mama. My Incomparable Big Brother and I have scored bendy sharks, a snake and a pot of miscellaneous underwater creatures on our visits. Result!
The one major sacrifice the London SEALIFE Aquarium constructors have made to the finding the space in London problem is to not include a café. Or any other kind of food consumption area. They even discourage you from munching your sandwiches in front of the tanks. Now, they will let you in and out as many times as you want, and there are plenty of food outlets and a park nearby. But basically Mama recommends that you either feed up before you go in for a long afternoon, or arrive smartly after breakfast because the aquarium, while not quite suitable for a whole day’s adventuring, is certainly a long half day’s worth of outing, and you don’t want to schlep all the way back through the winding corridors, eat, and then trudge back again only to discover that there are just two more small tanks and the shop to go. Not that that has happened to Mama ever.
Should you be wanting to make a day of it, do not fear. The London Eye is just outside although it’s not an eye at all but a socking great wheel carrying people up and over the Thames with excellent views of the nearby gothic splendour of something called the Houses of Parliament and beyond. Who Parliament is and what she does and why she needs more than one house sounds interesting given the architecture she has chosen to live in but Mama says no, not really, more infuriating and don’t get her started. Either way you can get deals on tickets for both the Eye and the Aquarium. Not that we have. They are not that great deals. Mama says. Although she has been collecting cereal packets with a gleam in her eye lately so perhaps they are particularly easy to turn into pounds. I look forward to that day’s craft project.
But if you don’t have any badly cut out bits of cardboard with you or have just blown what is left of the ents budget on some Happy Meals and a plastic turtle, the river is right there and available to be sauntered along free of charge so generally that’s what we do. If you turn right as you go out you’ll be on the run up to the South Bank Centre, where there is a whole avenue of people in costumes standing on boxes who will dance if you throw small round bits of metal at them. Which someone (not us) always does. They joys of being in tourist land. If you go a bit further up you can watch people attempt to jump improbable concrete barriers on planks of wood with a few wheels attached. Why, my brother and I wonder. Mama says we’ll probably find out when we turn thirteen or so.
Anyway. Go to the London SEALIFE Aquarium. It’s great. Just don’t expect any good coffee, take lots of the folding paper Mama seems to like so much, and don’t let any toddlers stick their hands in with the bitey fish.
Address: County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB
Opening: Monday to Sunday 10:00 to 19:00 (slightly longer in the school holidays)
Price: Adults £25.20 Children over 3: £19.50 Family (2 adults/ 2 children) £85 (there’s a discount if you book online and if you go after 3pm and you get some perks with the family ticket). Mama highly recommends looking out for 2:4:1 offers at the supermarket.
By tube/ train: The nearest station is Waterloo, although Charing Cross and Westminster tube station are also within walking distance.
By bus: Loads of buses stop at Waterloo, and the Aquarium is on the sightseeing bus routes too.
By car: No.