February 14, 2008

Dinosaurs, Blue Whales and Bears! Oh My!

Last Thursday, at the children's insistence we went to the Natural History Museum. I wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about it as they were, because after all the walking we’d done over the past several days, my feet were already aching at the thought of walking about for another whole day. Still, a mother must sometimes just suck it up.

I’ve been to other natural history museums, and was sort of wondering what the point of going to this one really was. We were in England to do English things, right? But no two museums are ever really just alike and this one is different than any of the others I’ve visited. First, this one is larger than most I’ve visited. It has the largest collection of stuffed animals (as in the taxidermist sort of stuffed, not the teddy bear version) that I’ve ever seen, and although The Boy is not as into dinosaurs, he was absolutely thrilled with their very large dinosaur exhibit. I actually can’t comment on the other floors of the museum and what they contained, we never made past the animals. We spent over 3 hours learning and walking through that single floor, without getting to the levels dealing with the geology and other subjects.

My three year old thought the taxidermy collection was pretty “weird,” but she did appreciate the zebras. I sort of agree about the “weird” part. Seeing stuffed birds and bears (Alaska is covered in stuffed grizzlies and polar bears) isn’t so strange, but I’d never run across a whole stuffed elephant, hippo or giraffe before. My son was completely thrilled to see a stuffed dodo. I didn’t ever have the heart to break it to him that it was a mock-up and not a real one.

In the bug room, there were lots of creepy crawlies, living, dead and plastic. The Boy was interested. The girls who are usually in hysterics over seeing a dead bug somewhere out in the open handled it quite well. I was not nearly so sanguine after seeing the room demonstrating all the things that could be living in a kitchen. Remind me to stock up on bleach when we return to America.

Next came ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and then the dinosaurs. There was a nice discussion about Mary Anning, who found the first intact skeleton of an ichthyosaur when she was 11. The Boy was impressed that she was a kid, which gives him hope to make a big discovery in the next few years. Since she is always in competition with her brother,
the Oldest Girl to discover that it was girl who first made such a discovery.

The dinosaurs were quite impressive -- loads of skeletons and a large and intimidating robotic T-Rex, which had the Japanese tourist snapping pictures like mad. Okay, I took a couple of the kids in front of him too. One could have spent a long time just in the dinosaur room alone reading all the material presented, but I had four kids with me. The only thing we sat still long enough to read was a list of reasons for and against the dinosaurs being either warm or cold blooded. Unfortunately, from the list presented there was no way to form a conclusion on the subject, because for every reason they might have been one, the same data could be used to also show the other.

The stuffed birds had come before the dinosaurs, but the rest of the stuffed menagerie came afterwards. Along with stuffed animals both ordinary (like sheep and horses) there were exotics like pygmy rhinos and pandas. None of these are new, in fact signs made it quite clear that they no longer collect any new animals, but do maintain the historical collection. Floating (okay, hanging really) over the top of the other animals is a full-sized model of a blue whale (It is enormous!) and above that is a blue whale skeleton.

By the time we made it out of the animal section, the two littles were extremely wiggly and wouldn’t stand for much more, all the kids wanted a snack, and I was tired. So we decided to save the rest for another day, which is really the joy of free museums. When we return another time, I’ll get to journey to the center of the earth, I suppose.

Before we made our way back to the Tube though, since we were practically right next door, I decided the best thing for squirmy children was to let them run. So we walked up to Hyde Park and played in the park. As a sometime reader of Regency romances, the words Hyde Park are somewhat thrilling, but running around in a big open space was more of a necessity for my crew than a sightseeing chance for me that time around.