Monday, 2 September 2013

The Natural History Museum: Top Tips

Me and Mr Jamie (we left Beth, caged, at nursery) have been to the Natural History Museum today. Oh my goodness me, we have had the BEST TIME EVER. I was expecting that I was going to love watching him loving it; I didn't realise I was going to absolutely love it as well. (Well, apart from the yak. OBVIOUSLY the yak is a highlight in anyone's book, in fact, to my shame, I realised that it and the blue whale are the only bits I've bothered to go and see any time I've visited the Natural History Museum in the last 20 years or so. I hang my head.)

Prior to our visit I, unusually for me, attempted to plan what we were going to do. The NHM website is excellent, but what I really wanted was a blog post, from a parent who had actually been there, giving me a load of top tips. Alas, I couldn't find one, so here I am to do you all a service and provide you with what I actually wanted before I set out today. (I know, it's a bit off topic for me, but rest assured there is still an excellent genital moment and a Beth related highlight at the end to get you through.)

So then. Top tips for a day at the Natural History Museum, most specifically one which fell during the school holidays, which becomes a little more relevant later on.

1) Plan to spend the day there. It is absolutely bloody massive; we had five hours there and still probably only saw two thirds of the galleries.

2) Skip the queues and sneak round to the side entrance (to the right of the museum as you look at it). You enter through the Red Zone, which means you get to start by going up the awesomely cool escalator into the model of the Earth, but, more importantly, it meant no queuing AT ALL versus what was clearly at least a half hour/forty minute queue out the front.

3) Prioritise. Mr Jamie's absolute 'Must See Or I Will DIE' was the blue whale model. So that's what we did first. And then worked backwards.

4) Video your child at key moments. The video of Mr Jamie's face as he takes in the entire of the blue whale for the first time is a moment of absolute brilliance:

5) A controversial one this... unless you've got the world's biggest fan with you, I'd be inclined to skip the dinosaurs. The robotic T Rex IS pretty cool, but the queues (even with pre booking) are long and the exhibition is less interactive and of interest certainly to younger children than a lot of the others.

6) Plan to eat there. If you take a picnic with you there's a picnic area in the basement which was virtually empty when we were there - absolutely brilliant - alternatively the standard of food in the cafe was excellent. It wasn't cheap - about £16 for two of us - but my 'superfoods' salad was outstanding and there's a really good choice of healthy, well made food.

7) Take a water bottle with you. Mr Jamie left his in the car. Words were had.

8) Try and aim for the less popular parts of the museum, which are inevitably substantially less crowded. I have to say that, other than the dinosaurs, there was nowhere which seemed excessively full up, but going over to the Green Zone and the Red Zone and we found galleries which were virtually empty, and gave us some welcome breathing space.

9) Top gallery tips: the blue whale/yak (Blue) (obviously); the snakes (Blue) (Mr Jamie had a ghoulish fascination in them) (don't forget to lean your head back to see the turtle on the ceiling. Which, because you're not me, you obviously won't try to photograph and then fall flat on your head whilst doing so... aaaaaaaaaaaanyway...); the human body (Blue) (more on which shortly); the giant sequoia tree (Green); the minerals/The Vault (lots of beautiful sparkly stones in fabulous old cabinets) (Green); Earth's treasury (Red).

Annnnnnd... my biggest top tip of all...

There is an INCREDIBLE part of the Natural History Museum I'd only found by scouring the website closely. It's called Investigate, and it's right down on the lower ground floor of the Green Zone. Now, I do think we struck lucky here. I think we somehow managed to find the time between the main school holidays and term starting, when it's overrun by school groups. However, for whatever reason, we got down there to find we were able to go almost straight in into a part of the museum which is totally and absolutely interactive. It's a huge room, full of exhibits, all of which are real, accessible and can be picked up, touched, prodded and studied by small children. They only let about ten kids in at a time so there's no fighting for space and you're basically left to get on with it. Absolutely fucking brilliant. Here are some of the things Mr Jamie got up to:

Encouraging human skulls to talk to each other about how many teeth they had left. He may have issues.

Grossed out by lizard legs. As opposed to human skulls...

Measuring snake skins

Operating the technology his mother had failed so miserably with

Up close and personal with taxidermy

Kindred spirits

Would be my very very top recommendation for the whole museum. My mind is still a little bit blown by it.

10) Last but not least... and as promised... the human body section. Those of you who are familiar with the NHM probably know what is coming. As you walk in, absolutely no getting away with it, you are immediately confronted with a large, graphic and very full on diagram of what is essentially the close up on the genitals of two people shagging. (I think they might have worded it slightly differently.) Which Mr Jamie, like a homing pigeon, threw himself in the direction of.

'Mummy? What's that?'

Clearly, this is the point where other parents would have hurried their offspring past. Having, however, previously given the memorable Sex Talk to both children in the bath, I took this opportunity to simply back up my description with pictures. Mr Jamie looked briefly green. And then collapsed to the floor, howling with laughter.

As did I. Sex is pretty funny. Giant willies and front bottoms even more so. Good times, Natural History Museum. Good times.

We left about 3pm and therefore missed any kind of overcrowding at the tube station, travelled quickly across London and were back home on the South Coast by 5.30pm. Perfect.

I honestly cannot recommend it enough as a trip out, particularly if you're able to make the most of the Investigate section as per Point 9. As we were walking back down the main stairwell Mr Jamie asked me how much it had cost to come here.

'It was free, love.'

'Free? We didn't have to pay any money at all?'

'Nope. It's amazing, isn't it?'

'Mummy, can you go and find the people who work here for me please? I want to say thank you to them.'

Bloody love him.

So, hope the above has helped for anyone planning a trip there soon. It was certainly what I was hoping for prior to going, so will look forward to happening upon this in about 12 months' time when I'm planning our next trip and have forgotten all about what we did last time...

Lastly, as promised, Beth's Moment of the Day. We're having some building work done currently (more on this in a blog post to come), and arrived home tonight to find a rather drastic change to the back garden, which had basically been stripped bare. (Don't panic. This is what was meant to happen.) Beth stomped over to the back door and stared outside with a mixture of shock and anger on her face.

'Oh NO. Where my grass gone? They taken all my grass. Those naughty men. We tell them off. BRING MY GRASS BACK NOOOOOOOOOW.'

PS Any other NHM aficionados, please add your own Top Tips in the comments section below. Like I say, they'll be enormously handy when I come back to search for my own post this time next year...

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