Natural History Museum review
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If you hate noisy kids then trust me: this isn't the museum for you. Because it's absolutely full of them. They're not the type who hold their daddy's hand and ask their mum for permission to speak. They're the school party type. They come in army-like battalions of thirty of more, all moving through the rooms like they're on a forced march through the Fens.
But anyway... that's the downside quickly dealt with. I'm going to cheer up now because I think the museum itself is pretty great. In fact, I rate the Natural History Museum as the second-best museum in London after the V&A (I can never decide which one is best: this one or that one). And it's not just the exhibits that I like -- it's the building itself, which is almost worth a bus trip on it's own. It's one of those buildings that sucks a "wow!" out of your mouth the first time you see it. It's cavernous entrance hall has a sweeping set of stairs and carved columns that twist up to a vaulted stone ceiling. Unfortunately I can't see any of that today because they've decided to hide it behind a wooden wall whilst they redecorate, but check out my previous review to see what it's like. You might find that the gigantic Diplodocus has disappeared by the time you arrive, though, because they're talking about replacing it with something else.
If you're taking your kid to the Natural History Museum then it's probably because of the dinosaurs. All boys like dinosaurs. It's an inbuilt thing -- it's like a standard setting in our brains. Girls like dolls, grans like knitting, and boys like dinosaurs. It's very dark inside the dino rooms. Theyve got a lot of bones, busted skulls, fossilised footprints, a nest of eggs, but the only complete skeletons I could find were of an Iguanodon, Allosaurus, Albertosaurus, Camarasaurus and Triceratops. They've got a Stegosaurus and Pterodactyl as well, but you'll find them by the Earth Hall. It's difficult to believe that these creatures really existed when you see the size of them. You wouldn't even dream them up if you were writing a fairy story. They look like the fossilised bones of make-believe animals -- no more real than the bones of Peter Pan.
The best one is hiding in a swampy scene at the end. You can hear him from about fifty feet away, grumbling over the jungle cheeps and screams of the kids. His name is T Rex. Maybe you've heard of him (big mouth, big teeth, little hands). They've got a full-size robot striding through a swampy scene of green leaves and misty purple lights. Every now and then he twists his head round and let's out a cacophonous roar, prompting all the toddlers in their pushchairs to start wailing and flailing and begging their mums to pick them up.
After that comes a corridor full of stuffed birds. Every bird that ever lived can be found dead down here. It's basically a big cabinet full of tarted-up bird corpses. The dodo is the obvious highlight, but they've got a few lowly ducks and pigeons as well, which is nice to see. Normally the only time you see a dead pigeon is when it's been squashed under the wheels of a bus, so it's nice to see one with a smile on his face and posing for the cameras.
You might want to skip the creepy crawly section if you're scared of insects, because they've got crickets the size of cricket bats, centipedes the size of snakes, hornets, wasps, and bird-size moths. They've built a fake kitchen and filled it with spiders and flies. Some of the beetles are big enough to be hollowed out and used as a shoe.
If you've got a phobia about snakes then here's some good news: they've got a display case full of them! Some of them could double up as a tree trunk. I've always wondered why people are so scared of snakes because where are their weapons? They've got no arms, no legs, no teeth, no feet... they're just a toothpaste tube with scales on. If you fought a lion with no legs then you'd win it easy-peasy, but for some reason people are scared stiff of snakes. Not me. I love them.
After that comes a room full of fish, squids and lobsters. They've got seahorses, seashells, starfish, crabs, corals and frogs. And then you head round the corner for one of the best rooms in London: the dead zoo. What they've done here is taken the entire population of London Zoo, killed them, stuffed them, and propped them up on a pedestal.
I've just realised something... the only animals they haven't got on display are domestic dogs. Imagine if they had a display case full of Yorkshire terriers as well, all skinned and pinned to the wall. That would be too much for some people. They don't mind looking at dinosaurs and dodos, but looking at someone's dead pet would be a step too far.
The next part of the museum is all about the earth and it's various illnesses: volcanos, tornados, earthquakes and hurricanes -- the planetary equivalent of headaches and stomach aches. You can watch a few movies of a poorly earth spewing out lava, coughing up rocks and blocks of stone, and shaking with an earthquake. You can learn about valleys, rivers and waterfalls, etc... it's basically like a geography lesson at school, but without the textbooks or teacher.
The best thing about the Earth Hall is how you get there: you have to ride an escalator through the centre of the earth. They've tunnelled it through the centre of a globe and all the walls are molten red around you, like you're riding a Jules Verne rocket up through the core.
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