London Aquarium review
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I had a fish tank once, a tropical fish tank filled with electric-looking stripes of light and a Siamese Fighting Fish, but they only lasted for a few years and then it all ended in tears (terrible sobbing scenes). It was all red eyes and goodbyes as I buried them in the dustbin (actually, I think I might have flushed them down the toilet). I'm still emotionally raw about it. I'm a very emotional guy. Whenever I go down the fish and chip shop it brings back painful memories. But I'm going to brave the London Aquarium today.
This place is always packed with families because it's one of the big four attractions by County Hall: the London Eye, London Dungeon, Shrek's Adventure and Aquarium. And they're all within fifty paces of each other so the pavement is permanently heaving with people deciding whether to queue, deciding what to do, posing for photos, seeing where the boat goes, or just standing there snapping selfies and getting in absolutely everybody's way (mainly mine). So it's an extremely busy place -- you'll be grateful for the peace and quiet once you get inside.
The very first thing that you have to do once you've paid your money is walk across the top of the shark tank -- and I'm being totally serious. They've put a glass floor on top of it so you can see the frenzied sharks thrashing around underneath your feet, with strings of blood trailing out of their mouths like snot from a school kid's nose, gnashing and sharpening their scissor-like teeth ready for when the wafer-thin glass cracks and sends you plummeting into the water like a human flake of fish food. Apparently this is supposed to be fun. The only good news is that if the worst happens then death will be quick because sharks don't hang about. It will probably all be over in sixty seconds. But I suppose it all depends on which piece they bite off first: your arm, your leg, or your head. Ideally you want it to be your head.
After that you head downstairs to the fish tanks. It's all very dark and stone-like down there. There's a warm watery smell in the air and swirling movie music playing though the speakers (one of those ocean adventures like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea). You begin with the piddly fish: starfish and urchins and anemones. They've got a few jellyfish and squids and an octopus as well. Then you walk round a corner and enter another world... you'll be standing in front of a gigantic tank and the spotlights at the top make it look like there are rays of sunlight falling through it, like sunshine through a storm cloud, cutting through the hazy blue gloom to a carcass on the bottom. It looks like the bones of a whale, or the big ribs of a plesiosaur. It really does feel like you're peering into another world.
The really great thing about this tank is its glass tunnel. You can walk across the bottom and see a million fish above your head. The giant rays swoop across the sky like bedspreads, like a magic carpet, and they've got a big tortoise in there as well, or a turtle, a terrapin, or whatever those floating stones are called. I know the glass distorts everything you're looking at, but when he swims over the top he looks like the base of a rowing boat with four oars on the side.
After that it's back to the sharks. You'll find yourself standing at the bottom of that two-storey tank, with a couple of Easter Island heads sunk up to their chins. This tank is big enough to turn the blue water black at the back, and you can see the sharks emerge out of the cold water like hunting submarines. I know they want to kill us, but I do feel a bit sorry for them just swimming round and round, round and round, and round and round some more, the same direction every day. I wonder if they wake up some mornings and think, right, we're going to go anti-clockwise today, just to mix it up a bit. We went clockwise last week.
Then you're into the little kid's section: Nemo's Kingdom. You won't have any trouble finding Nemo in here because there's about fifty thousand of them in a little tank. This is where you'll find all the brightly coloured corals and tropical fish.
After that you're into my favourite zone: the Aztec rainforest with rock carvings and jungle creepers hanging from the ceiling. It's all tropical storm sounds and cascading waterfalls in here, and you won't believe the size of the fish: they're almost like floating torsos, or rocks dropped in the water. Everything looks like it's ready for war. It's all armoured shrimps and piranhas -- prehistoric-looking creatures from the time of the dinosaurs. They've got a couple of other animals in here as well: turtles (or a tortoise) and a crocodile (or it might be an alligator). They all look the same to me. All I know is this: if I'm in a river then I don't really care whether it's a crocodile or an alligator, because I'm still running away.
The final section is Penguin Point, which I'm happy to report has been completely revamped since the last time I visited. They've added a big wintery grotto to it now, with columns of frozen snow and an icy waterfall tumbling down the back wall. The penguins just seem to be standing there worshipping their new icy altar. They've got their wings out at right angles, looking like a field of empty washing lines.
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