Journal Entries

Sol: NaJoPoMo 7th: A toddler’s Guide to… the London Transport Museum

Mama thinks the London Transport museum is probably the best museum for pre-schoolers in London. She is quite annoyed that she found this out scant months before my Splendid Big Brother became a schooler, but the reason for that is that it costs actual money to get into. Still, for the price you get unlimited visits for one year, which Mama feels is a legitimate way to both reward Londoners while also fleecing the tourists and so we did, eventually go. And boy did we have fun.

The premise of the museum is simple. Stick a load of transportation devices old and new in a large room, let the kids climb all over quite a lot of them, have a model tran circling about and also make it so they can drive the tube. Plus, especially for my Splendid Big Brother, they also have talking horses! We nearly didn’t get any further than that, which would have been a shame as it is quite near the start. No wonder that on the day we all first went, the primary school groups were out in force. Which was great for my Splendid Big Brother, because he just tagged along with them and their storytelling in old train coaches experience. With a will. First with his hands up to answer the questions*, nearly got himself volunteered as an actor in the play, until the teachers realised he wasn’t one of theirs. Later visits have shown that in the holidays they have activities for all comers. You’ve got to be careful though – they do them on the floor and if you are sprinting round a corner escaping from Mama you can come a right cropper as you trip over a huddle of five year olds doing some colouring in.

Anyway, I also enjoyed heaving myself up and down the stairs of old buses, climbing on and off the seats on the trains and hiding behind the wheels of practically everything. I also liked the play area that the museum has near their café and all in all this is really a place that knows its target audience and goes all out to please them.

Mama is bugging me to talk about the eatieries. There are two. A temporary affair down by the play area, which sells your basic coffee and cakes selection, and a sort of bijou restaurant affair near the exit which is nice and has attentive staff but which has the smallest portion of chips known to man. Or, in this case, toddler. It’s probably best to venture out into Covent Garden Market and find some food there, especially as you can also sit down and watch the buskers and street entertainers doing the thing.

Well, you can if you are Mama and my Splendid Big Brother. If you are me, all you will want to do is chase the pigeons.

*This is something that would surprise his current teachers. He usually doesn’t bother with the hands up bit. Mama is told.

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Latest reply: Nov 7, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 6th: A toddler’s Guide to… the Natural History Museum


This museum is my Brilliant Big Brother’s choice. He is very very keen on animals. And dinosaurs. So regular visits here are a bit of an inevitability.

The problem with this, from Mama’s point of view, is that my Brilliant Big Brother is actually interested in the exhibits. He wants to stop and look at them and discuss them.

I, however, am not. I want to run around and find something random to fixate on, like a rope barrier (oooooh) or a leaflet holder (aaaaaah). This means that Mama is constantly either having to coral me in the pushchair, which is difficult as the big people have not yet made pushchair straps I can’t get out of, or drag my Brilliant Big Brother away from a stuffed swan, plaster of paris crocodile or fossilised triceratops, which is also difficult because acquiescing gracefully to Mama’s unreasonable demands is not one of my Brilliant Big Brother’s skills.

Still, we usually manage to spend a certain amount of time in the exceptionally crowded bird hall, where Mama cannot restrain herself and insists on setting my Brilliant Big Brother questions designed to better his understanding of how animals work. ‘Which birds,’ she is wont to ask, ‘eat meat? How do you know?’ This is sometimes successful, sometimes not, and sometimes my Brilliant Big Brother silences her by keeping up a running commentary of random factoids about the lives and loves of the feathered exhibits therein. Which isn’t that surprising given her tepid interest and my Brilliant Big Brother’s close attention to nature programmes*.

The mammal room is also popular. As is the fish corridor. And the bug exhibition. And… well, let’s just say that all the bits with animals are equally as thrilling to my Brilliant Big Brother, and equally as packed with other nature obsessed children equally as unfriendly to toddler expeditions as each other.

Except the dinosaur exhibition, which is even more so. In fact, Mama recommends that the Natural History Museum should be avoided at all costs during school holidays and especially in half term, when everybody within easy reach of London decides to visit in the same week. Not only are there lengthy queues to get into the Museum, but the entire entrance hall is given over to the hour long line of people waiting to go and see the animatronic T-rex, with only the huge, iconic brontosaurus skeleton to entertain them.

This, these days, can be very entertaining, mind. They’ve rigged it up so that you can light it up different colours and even make it roar. But only if you pay an extortionate sum of money, which Mama, well, Mama doesn’t. About the only thing in favour of a half term visit is that there will be many many desperate parents, and so the roar gets played quite often. Still, this does not compensate you, in Mama’s opinion for the wait, which is swiftly followed by the news that the lift to the walkway you have to use in order to reach model dino heaven is out of order and no, you cannot just abandon the pushchair at the entrance and come back for it later.

The T-rex, mind you, is almost worth it in Mama’s opinion and TOTALLY wirth it in my Brilliant Big Brother’s, which is why we all keep coming back and back. I am less convinced, being much of the opinion of my Brilliant Big Brother on his first visit (< wobbly voice > “Teef, Mama, TEEF!”< /wobbly voice &gtsmiley - winkeye, but I am generally overruled.

There s also a whole other bunch of galleries about the earth, the environment and, I dunno, plants and such, but we only go there when my Brilliant Big Brother thinks they might have hidden a few more animals in them. Although the rocks room is an unexpected hit. To Mama one bit of quartz looks very much like another, but Granny the geologist is proud that her Grandson can spend hours and hours and hours in there getting Mama to read the captions (“Quartz. Quartz with iron. Quartz with copper. Quartz. Quartz. Quartz with gold. Oooh. Quartz.”) and I am happy because it is really quiet up there and Mama let’s me play hide and seek round the quartz cases.

Anyway, on to the coffee, or not because Mama never stops for refreshments here. The cafes are too open plan and busy for someone with two children who will probably run off in different directions with that much stimulation just as she has taken her first sip. There’s a restaurant, but that is particularly expensive and even a balloon per child cannot compensate for that. The best option on rainy days is the basement, where there is an extensive lunch room for school parties and other picnicers. On better days, there is a nice bit of grass outside and it even has its own snack kiosk.

*Mama basically thinks that nature in its entirety goes ‘they have sex and then something eats the really cute baby’. Which is especially true if you watch David Attenborough’s Planet series, except that there it is done to ominous music. Nature missing a trick there. Anyway, Mama finds this both boring and traumatic. My Brilliant Big Brother does not.

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Latest reply: Nov 6, 2012

A toddler’s Guide to… the Science Museum.

We go to the Science Museum a lot. This is because Mama finds herself in South Kensington with me and time to kill quite often, and so when it’s raining she often takes me here on the grounds that some of the rooms are really big and there is plenty of room to run around.

Just like my Fabulous Big Brother before me, I really like the Space room. It’s dark and mysterious with shiny things hung from the ceiling. My Fabulous Big Brother’s favourite thing was always a diorama on the left of the launch of one of the first rockets. Mama feels this is unfortunate since it was basically one big bomb, and this doesn’t make for a nice improving tale with which she can embellish the experience. I prefer the revolving globe where they project satellite images of different aspects of terrestrial life as seen from space. This is lucky as Mama is also quite entranced by the one where everybody switches their lights on, one by one, all over the world. Sometimes, usually when Papa is with us, we play hunt the Russian references. This is surprisingly difficult.

We spend less time in the room with all the cars, trains and boats now that I can walk. Mama has been told off once too often for letting me touch the machinery. This is a great shame as I love machinery. The family (both sides) engineering gene is strong in this one. Of course, what I most love is to take it all apart, so they might have a point.

Sometimes Mama takes me upstairs, especially when the Museum has a temporary exhibition on. Mama finds some of the permanent displays a bit dead fly for her liking – displays of things without much engagement in their context or significance which sit there collecting dust and mummified insects*. But some of their exhibits in passing are as whacky as anything you find in the Tate Modern and considerably more grounded in something inherently interesting. Mama thinks.

Her favourite of recent times was the anatomy of an orchestra they put on, which led to strains of the Planet Suite by Holst echoing round the ground floor, distracting Mama for just long enough for me to climb over the token barriers to get at the Stephenson’s Rocket. After that we had to go and have a look, and Mama enjoyed very much the experience of going through different ‘rooms’ and sitting with different sections of the orchestra, listening to the music from each instrument’s point of view. There were also some interactive elements, but Mama couldn’t get the hang of conducting and we went and sat in the bass section so Mama could relive her youth. Until the school party in the percussion section got their hands on the drums, cymbols, more drums, more cymbols and a few more drums and really let fly right in the middle of the war section, startling me something wicked. Oh how I cried and clung to Mama as she hastened out of there, her hands over my ears. Still, also an authentic experience, Mama says. The Brass section were invented to deafen the basses.

Also somewhere on the upper floors is a play area for older children with all sorts of interactive games with a vague connection to something scientific. Mama does not like this area. It is absolutely heaving with medium sized bodies and she has no hope of keeping an eye on both me and my Fabulous Big Brother at the same time. Especially as I can’t reach anything and just want to run around getting underfoot.

Mama is also a bit trepidatious about the Garden in the basement. This is a secret play area for the under 6s, secret because unless you know that’s what the Garden is you would probably never go there and find out. All that’s there is the picnic area for schools and such and the domestic appliances exhibition which is almost always deserted. This is a shame, Mama feels. Large steam driven pumping equipment leaves her a bit cold, but early models of washing machines she can get quite enthusiastic about, especially as there are buttons to push so you can watch them spinning around. Anyway. The Garden. Yes, well, the thing about the Garden is that somebody decided that a water section would be a good idea and when she first took my Fabulous Big Brither there, all unsuspecting like, she ended up having to hold him under the hand dryer in the toilets for 45 minutes to get him dry again. Basically we don’t go there unless it’s a really sunny day (in which case we’ll be in Hyde park most likely) or Mama has bought a spare set of clothes because I, too, love splashing about in water.

There are other things to play with in the Garden, but really, with water about, who would bother with that?

There are also cafés. Mama’s favourite is called the Energy Café. It’s in the first gallery, the one with all the early steam engines, the ones that weren’t used for locomotives. The ones that Mama largely fails to really understand how they worked. Anyway, the Energy Café has, for a tourist attraction in central London, okish prices and we sometimes go there for lunch is Mama is feeling particularly rich or fed up. Mama recommends the salad plate, which I also enjoy eating bits and pieces of. And the coffee is ok too. She says.

*Mama has been digging around on the website and notes with amusement that the museum calls these ‘objects rich’ galleries. Hahahahaha. Oh deary me.

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Latest reply: Nov 5, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 4th: a toddler's Guide to... nothing very much

Today is Mama's birthday.

She will mostly be eating cake.

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Latest reply: Nov 4, 2012

Sol: NaJoPoMo 3rd: a toddler's Guide to... the Victoria and Albert

A toddler’s Guide to… the Victoria and Albert.

To be honest, Mama doesn’t really take me to the V&A, which is a design museum with basically the same remit as the British Museum. The difference is, whereas the Stuff in the British Museum is significant, the Stuff in the V&A is pretty. Plus, there are more dresses.

Anyway, Mama is scarred by memories of taking my Wonderful Big Brother there. This is because if you think I am a grabby little menace, you haven’t met him. Unlike him, I often look round at Mama to check if it is ok to smear my sticky little hands over something. I do it anyway, of course, but at least Mama gets a bit of warning. Plus, generally, I am slower. Boy is he quick.

The problem with the V&A is that many of their display cases start at adult waist height, which is no good to me, and they also have a habit of putting things like large 3000 year old sculptures in the shape of a dragon just asking to be stroked on the floor at toddler height. You are not supposed to stroke them. Mama knows this because when my Wonderful Big Brother did, back when he was my age, she saw, out of the corner of her eye, two museum personnel wince dramatically. This recalled Mama to sanity; she’d been spending so little time in big people space that up until then she had reasoned that nobody would put a sculpture on the floor of they didn’t expect a bit of small person handling. My Wonderful Big Brother was whisked away and after he then tried to play hide and seek amongst the rather flimsy plinths holding busts and small figurines (also too high up for a little’un to really appreciate, so… you make your own fun), Mama left the building rarely to return. Especially when a head by Rodin actually wobbled on its stand. Time stood still for Mama that day, I can tell you.

Actually, this is not entirely true. We often go to the there, except I am rarely aware of this because Mama sneaks in when I am asleep. She sneaks in and goes to the coffee shop. The coffee, Mama thinks, is vastly over-priced and so are their scones, but on the other hand you can choose between drinking it in the courtyard surrounded by the rather splendid buildings of the V&A or drinking it in the large rooms where the walls are beautiful old patterned tiles.

Art, or even design, doesn’t really stand a chance.

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Latest reply: Nov 3, 2012

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