I am the…

Meet the Overstuffed Walrus, emblem and central display of the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.

As well as absolutely exquisite apothecarial gardens (learn all about plants for healing, dyeing and eating), there’s a beautiful conservatory, a ghoulish range of suitably spooky ninetheeth-century taxidermy (look out for the half-a-bat), fish, bees, mummies, voudoun altars and an unparalleled view of the London skyline.

Like so many places outside the city centre, it’s undersung, and undervalued.

Go pay it a visit. It’s worth it for the walrus alone.

Does Yours Do This?

The Science Museum has a new pop culture art exhibit, called ‘Electroboutique’- Russian artists Shulgin and Chernyshev have given a fantastically tongue-in-cheek look at the symbols of modern marketing, plus a series of exhibits which respond to you in real time.

If you get the chance, do go and see it – it’s on the mezzanine to the left hand side of the front hall (right above the gift shop, suitably enough). I mean, where else would you get one of these?

Doctor Who in Comics

For something so huge, it really isn’t very big; you can walk round it in under 15 minutes. But the artwork is beautiful, and it’ll take you through time – from 1964 right up to the present day.

You can see how a Doctor Who comics story evolves from script to finished page, follow the roles played by writer, editor, penciller, inker and colour artist. For those who’ve never read the magazine, this display introduces worlds and adventures that you never knew existed – holes in space-time that show something amazing…

The Doctor is comics form may be ever better than he is on screen.

This is a whole new Universe, a side of the Doctor that I’ve been aware of but never really explored and that was completely new to my Who-mad son. And we both loved it.

I couldn’t take too many pictures and was wary of infringing anyone’s copyright; the stuff I’ve shown here is only the smallest taste of the wonders on display. It’s suitably TARDIS-like – very much bigger on the inside.

But don’t take my world for it – go down and find out where the boundaries of space-time really are.

Doctor Who in Comics 1964 – 2011, exhibit at the Cartoon Museum.

Steampunk In Kew

The Steam Museum in Kew is wonderfully surreal.

It’s a movie set; it’s a place out of time. It’s something from an episode of Sapphire and Steel. It’s huge and echoing and slightly creepy and absolutely compelling.

I completely fell in love with it.

It’s a timewarp – it’s a huge hall of incredible machinery, all kept flawlessly running by knowledgeable codgers who love these machines as if they were children. Interspersed with their smoothly oiled running are pieces of period costume, are isolated figures of history and heroism…and goldfish, tiny flashes of colour amid the shining grey.

There are toys and activities for children – in one place, there’s a table of brand new craft products and an interactive wall that could have come straight from best-funded end of the Science Museum; in another, there’s an ancient wooden play-railway and aged boxes of grubby pencil-stubs.

The Museum is a touching tale of its own history, as well as the history of the Thames that’s on display.

The Steampunk Exhibition itself is fantastic – topical Science Fiction iconography from Star Wars and Doctor Who all now wrought with brass and goggles… it’s beautiful, all finely crafted and as a hot a media mash-up as you like…

And yet there’s no-one there to see it.

The emptiness of the place affected me more than anything else – the Steam Museum is a place of love and wonder and discovery and yet it seems that time has passed it by.  Please don’t you.

The Steampunk Exhibition is open until August 29th. And well worth it!

 

 

A Very Short – and Very Honest – Blog Post

I saw a wonder today.

I took my Mother to the Science Museum. She’s never been; she’s lived on the edge of the city for many years, yet such things are a mystery to her. She knows Harrod’s, Harvey Nick’s, Oxford Street… but after that, the map says ‘Here Be Dragons’.

In the 60s, my Mum was air hostess, flying BEA and Jersey Airlines out of the Channel Islands. There are pictures of her, exquisitely glamorous with her little hat perched on top of her swept blonde beehive… I’ve no idea how I manage to be her daughter and such an irredeemable scruff. I knew the Flight exhibit would be special, but I don’t think I was prepared for how much.

This afternoon, I’ve spent an hour watching my Mother walk through her past, seen the memories shadow her gaze and pass across her face like ghosts. I don’t know what they were – only pieces – but to see her youth suddenly shining like that brought a lump to my throat and I had to turn away.

It’s easy to think of our parents as through their lives began when ours did, to forget that they were young and foolish and reckless too. Seeing my Mum transformed like that, seeing the magic of her twenties and thirties, her life and hopes and dreams, seeing everything she loved and lived for…

Even typing it now brings tears to my eyes.

That was quite the most wondrous thing.

Hands-On at the Science Museum

If I ask my son where he wants to go for a day out, he always answers the same – the Science Museum. He never tires of it, there are so many things to look at and play with. And for as long as he wants to go, I’ll always take him. I’m proud of my mini-geek and encourage him to learn as much as I’m able.

But it got me thinking today – why is it such a win?

When I was a kid, the Science Museum was kind of static. There were cool things to look at, sure – but those dear old Massey model tractors in the agricultural display have now been ploughing that little dirty circle for forty years. Even the model trains on the balcony of the ground floor – yes, you can press a button and watch the steam-pistons, but they’ve long since dropped off the timetable.

As attention spans become shorter, so the Museum’s displays have adapted, they’ve become brighter and more interactive.

Isaac loves the space-age stuff – it’s shiny and out-of-this-world and larger-than-life. He particularly likes the movie of the thousands of satellites that orbit the Earth, and the new spherical-holo of the global climate. These things have vivid, compelling colour and movement; it makes them real. It’s much easier to explain global warming to a child when the globe is right there in front of him.

Downstairs in the basement lurks hell-on-earth – the ‘garden’ where the very little ones go to learn about basic sensory input. I fear the noise (particularly at half-term) but I’m very happy that the Cubs are hands-on from the ground up – literally.

As we explore the ‘Secret Life of the Home’, it occurs to me that learning, just like media, has become all about ‘interactive’; it’s about making things real and accessible. And that starts with shrieking noise of the smallest kids – and it goes all the way up.

Around us, as communication becomes faster, easier and worldwide, so learning becomes about sharing and experiencing – not about ‘being taught’. Chalk-dust has become just that. Now, Isaac gazes fascinated at the workings of cockpits and CDs and VCRs; we play classic ‘Pong’ from 1978. These things are history to him, but they’re a part of my life experience and we can share them and learn together.

It brings us closer. And it’s fun.

As the years of new layers have been added to the displays, yes, it has become a little chaotic. The old tractors are next to the modern plastics; classic 1970s Dan Dare looks out over a floor of games about modern energy and resource (though I daresay he’d approve).

Communication, both media and education, is changing – and it’s very good to see that our kids can be really involved in this from the youngest age.

Today, I’ve been asking Isaac to take pictures – hopefully, encouraging him to look at what’s around him and to enjoy the learning experience. Some of his pictures are on this post. You’ll find the rest on his very own Flickr page, here. 

Needless to say, he has help me download them and choose them and label them. I think it’s all part of the same experience.

http://www.youtube.com/get_player