Natural History Museum review
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I used to quite like dinosaurs when I was a little kid. That was my big interest as a child: dinosaurs... and Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish. I used to like Michael Jackson as well, but I don't admit to that anymore. Obviously I'm a lot older now so I have totally grown out of dinosaurs (I like Star Wars instead), but you can imagine how many times I've been to the Natural History Museum... millions. If you're a kid who grows up near London then this is always one of the places that your parents drag you to during the school holidays because it's educational. They do a "fun day out at the museums" which involves getting a train to Waterloo and then a bus to South Kensington (the tube is too scary for mums). Then you run around the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum for three hours whilst your mum tells you not to press all the buttons.
Well I am going back today... and I am damn well going to press all of the buttons! I am a grown man now, and my mum isn't here so I can press whatever the hell I like. If I want to press the buttons I will. But I'll have to fight my way past all the school kids first because there's a whole army of them outside. You've got to be careful with kids these days because they are more heavily armed than the police -- I'm glad I'm not a teacher. In my schooldays the worst weapon we'd face was a thwack from a plastic ruler, but now they come tooled up with razors and blades. I remember that my pencil case used to have a secret compartment for ink cartridges, but these days they probably use them for rifle cartridges. (I exaggerate only slightly.)
But anyway... I am in now. I am standing in the entrance hall and staring up at the famous dinosaur. This Diplodocus has been standing here for thirty years at least. He's 26-metres long and 5-metres high and he faces down the hordes as they storm through the door. Luckily he's a vegetarian so you don't have to worry about getting eaten (unless you're a vegetable).
Sometimes I have a hard time believing that dinosaurs actually existed because they look totally impossible. They've got a prehistoric sloth off to the side, for example, which looks bigger than a Mini Metro (no joke!). They've got a huge Triceratops which could probably charge down a Challenger tank and flip it over. Some of the animals are just... nuts. It's almost as if they came with weapons attached to their face... huge knives coming out of their thumbs and six foot horns like lances on their head. Imagine trying to catch your dinner in 1 million BC when it came with armour plating and ten tonne feet. It would be difficult enough trying to bring it down with a gun -- and all they had was a sharpened stick!
I quite like the way they've done the dinosaur room... it's very dark and moody inside and they send you up onto a walkway to look at all the dinosaur bones down below, before doubling-back and doing the whole lot again from the floor. They've got plenty of full-size skeletons and lots of half-exposed bones still buried in the rock. They've got lots of fossilised footprints and dinosaur eggs as well.
You'll find a couple of animatronic Velociraptors for the kids, but wait until you get to the very end for the big surprise... because that's when you'll come face-to-face with a life-size T Rex! You'll round a corner into a darkened swamp, with misty purple lights drifting over the trees, and then he'll be swinging his great big head around and roaring at the crowd of screaming toddlers. I'm pretty sure that it's a robot. I don't think it's real. I waited around for five minutes to see if he'd rip the head off one of the school kids, but no luck. They probably would have fought back and stabbed him anyway -- you know what kids are like these days.
My favourite part of the museum is the mammals. It might sound boring on paper but trust me -- it is good. It's basically like a modern-day zoo, except everything in it is dead. Instead of having lions and tigers walking around the cages they've got them standing up in display cases instead.
They usually have a collection of birds on show with a Dodo and hundreds of colourful tropical finches, but that seems to have disappeared now. I did manage to find a sign saying the area is being redeveloped though... so I'm sure they will return at a later date.
It will probably be around this stage of the tour that you'll be thinking that you're close to the end. Well... you'll be wrong. You will wander into the entrance of the Earth Hall and go woah! It's a big huge escalator rising up through the centre of a planet, past a molten core bubbling with thunder and noise and pulsating with flames and lava, and it's easily the best escalator in London. (Yes, I am that sad -- I have a favourite escalator.) When you get to the top you can learn about volcanos and earthquakes.
After that comes a small section on the solar system, and what the different planets are made of, followed by a room full of jewels and gems and precious metals. This was a lot more interesting than it sounds, because they've got everything from wood and rock and marble, to iron, quartz and gold. If you want to see some rubies and sapphires and emeralds and diamonds then this is the place to go. The gold ore is a surprise because it just looks like a bit of sparkly stone that you wouldn't give a second look if you stumbled across it in a park. It's a bit like the ugly duckling I suppose (a bit like me)... on the outside it might look rough and ugly (like me) and dirty and dusty and cut up and ruined (like me) and loved by no one (me) and worth next to nothing (me), but once you've polished it up it suddenly becomes the most beautiful thing in the universe (me!) and coveted by women all around the world (me!) and worth bazillions (me!).
Probably the most overlooked and under-appreciated part of the museum is the museum itself -- the building. You don't notice it when you're a kid because you are too busy running around screaming your head off, but when you take some time to look up above the display cases you'll see that it's every bit as impressive as a palace or a church. There are statues of animals everywhere you look -- they are climbing up the columns and across the tops of arches, wrapped around the banisters and guarding the tops of doorways. They don't have statues of saints in here: they have gorillas and Griffins and winged dragons. I could quite easily lapse into my usual boring rant here, about how we don't build anything of this quality anymore, but it's true: we don't. (I am on the verge of a rant, but I will hold myself back.) But I'll just say this one thing: if this museum didn't already exist then I'm guessing it would be impossible to create, because as soon as you killed your first animal or felled your first tree you'd have three thousand Greenpeace protesters outside the front door. If Charles Darwin had set out on the Beagle today, and Greenpeace discovered that he was keeping a load of captured animals on board, they would have stormed his boat and burnt his books.
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