Science Museum review
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If you are anything like me, then you will love learning about industrial-sized pistons and pipes and steam traction engines dating from the years 1715 to 1904. So when you walk into the Science Museum it will be like walking into heaven.
The first hall is like a big factory floor filled with pumps and pipes and pulleys and levers, huge wheels and iron turbines, all puffing and chuffing as they rumble round and round. You can hear metal shrieks and tin whistles coming from the speakers like they are still alive.
If engines are your thing then they've got examples dating all the way back to Boulton and Watt. If engines are not your thing (99% of us, I'm guessing) then head straight through the door towards 'Exploring Space'.
It's quite good in here (albeit quite small). They've got some life-sized models of famous shuttles and ships like the Huygens Titan lander and ill-fated Beagle. They've got some information about the world's earliest proper rocket too -- the V2 -- and how the Americans kidnapped all the Nazis to work on the Space Race. (Poor Nazi scientists... first of all they had to slave away for Hitler in the bowels of a mountain, and then they got carted off to the middle of a desert to slave away for the Americans -- they didn't have much luck did they!)
Best of all is their life-size model of the Apollo 11 lunar lander (the one that took Armstrong to the moon). It looks a bit flimsy to me and it's hard to believe that it even made it off the launchpad undamaged, let alone the 239,000 miles to the moon. I'm not sure that I'd want to climb the stairs even while it's sitting here on terra ferma. They probably wouldn't let you anyway (health and safety). If you look at the spacesuit behind the lander and then try and imagine two of those fat things climbing inside an ice-cold box not much bigger than a toilet, and then riding it down on a violent rocket to the concrete moon, then you will come to the same conclusion as me: that Neil Armstrong and Buzz must have been a little bit nuts.
After that comes the 'Making of the Modern World' gallery. This huge room contains some very famous vehicles like the Puffing Billy, Stephenson's Rocket and Model T Ford. They've got some boats and planes and a few cameras and computers too (like Charles Babbage's Difference Engine). Less interesting are the looms and printing presses, early radios, typewriters, sewing machines, sundials, gas ovens, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and toasters... they've got lots of model trains and planes on the upstairs balcony too, if that is your fancy. And don't miss the Apollo 10 capsule at the far end of the room (for some reason they've placed it in here instead of in the space room). And oh yeah... I can't leave without mentioning the car park on the wall -- they've stacked up six minis on top of each other. Don't ask me why, because I haven't got a clue.
I found the 'Information Age' section a bit dull but if you're into the history of computers and communications then you might like it. It's full of early telephones and supercomputers. The worst thing about this room is that it makes you feel really old because one of the display cases contains examples of early home computers like the BBC Micro and Commodore 64 -- I remember those from when I was a kid! (The BBC Micro still had a paper strip across the keys for the space game Elite.) They had a Casio keyboard too. Jesus christ... my life has become history already.
The third floor is where they keep all of the planes. And I don't mean piddly little models either -- I mean full size aircraft that have been dropped in from the sky (they must have a canopy roof that peels back, because there's no way that they could carry them up the stairs!). They've got quite a nice collection as well: they've got a big business jet, a Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, Messerschmitt, Vickers Vimy... all the way back to the early biplanes built with string and wood. It's worth seeking out just for the total surprise of finding a room full of planes.
The fourth floor is probably my favourite part of the museum. It's sounds a bit boring on paper, but don't let that put you off. It's full of 3D models showing doctor's surgeries throughout the ages. They've got everything from Roman field hospitals and navy doctors amputating legs on the deck of a Trafalgar-era warship, to plague-ridden street scenes and a Victorian dentist. A lot of them are full-size as well -- they've got a Victorian chemist that you can walk inside and see all the bottles of pills in the cabinets. They've got X-ray rooms... intensive care units... and a full-size operating theatre, complete with waxwork surgeons working on a poor waxwork patient.
I finished the day off with a forty-minute movie in their 3D IMAX cinema. It's been a while since I've visited the big BFI IMAX at Waterloo but it looks about the same size (maybe just a tiny weeny bit smaller). They've got a few different films playing throughout the day but I plumped for 'Hidden Universe'. It was okay -- it wasn't the greatest 3D movie I've ever seen (it contained a lot of fluff that had nothing to do with space) but it was an okay way to waste forty minutes of my life. I get the impression that most of their 'movies' are like documentaries -- the same kind that you might find on the Discovery channel -- but with a bit of 3D thrown in to liven it up. It's not as good as watching an actual 3D Hollywood movie, but your kids will probably enjoy it nevertheless.
They also show a few 4D films in their Discovery Motion Theatre; and if that sounds a bit daft then there is a very good reason for that: because it is daft. You'll have to read my review from last time to see what that was like -- because it was a bit rubbish, so I skipped if this time.
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