Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Child of the museums

I was twelve years old when I was put on a plane and flew across the world on my own to the UK. It was a strike for freedom for me even though I was heading into the unknown with relatives I didn't know. School took a month or so to get sorted and as the adults in my life were out working I was left to my own devices.

Living in south London I think it was the number 74 bus I could get that would take me all the way into town for a mere 4 pence. One of those old red double decker buses with a conductor who would still break off a ticket from the block strung around their waist. Even then, 4 pence was very little and was exceptional value. I'd delight in planning my days which almost always centred around visiting the museums. Little tiny me and I had the delicious freedom of London.

Day after day I'd visit the museums and spend hours peering into glass cases, walking in wonderment around exhibits drenched in gold and jewels, or in awe of the tremendous age of some of the exhibits. In the V & A I'd stare at the intricate religious icons with their macabre bloody scenes and adore the jewelled goblets. In the Science Museum I'd explore the rockets; play on the magnificent 1970s computer that churned away to produce simple binary; and use the telephone exchange and watch all the gears clicking into action. (Years later that telephone exchange is still there with its old fashioned dial telephones which my own kids did not recognise as phones!)

The Geological museum was fabulous for the earthquake simulator which, in those days, was a simple metal platform which I'd often stand on. I am really not sure but I think it used to be a separate museum but is now part of the Natural History museum which never really appealed to me back then. Goodness knows why not because I'd have loved those dinosaurs!

And then there was the British Museum. There was only ever one reason for a kid to visit and that was for all the Egyptian mummies. Room after room of mummies. You could even see the wrinkled bodies and broken bones through the wraps. Mummified cats and other creatures all held fascination. I'd try and work out the patterns of the bandaging and admired the perfection of the handiwork. I was also taken with the library and its illuminated manuscripts.

Each of these museums are in wonderful Victorian buildings with great stone edifices and steps that I'd imagined many an excited researcher had climbed over the decades. Each time I'd approach and enter these buildings I'd be filled with a rush of excitement and anticipation. A feeling that is still with me now when I visit.

I ended up knowing my way round each of the museums. I'd know the back stairs and how to dart from here to there and where each of the rooms were. That was back in the days when they didn't make museums child friendly. They were special, elusive and desirable.

And then there were the canteens. In those days they were not Restaurants or Cafeterias but rather more basic canteens where you could get a cup of tea and nice fresh ham or cheese roll for an extremely modest amount. For me they were as much an attraction as the exhibits and I knew which were the best value items in each as I was always on a budget.

Those were a glorious few months when I had my freedom and the London museums were free to enter. They are free again now but I fear they may have lost a generation or two in the interim decades when high entry charges were made.

Jo at Inner Girl inspired me with her post about a recent visit to the British Museum. She raised some important feelings about how these artefacts came to be in our museums in the UK.

Original Posts:

Britmum said...
That was a great post and such great memories for you.

I started to take the boys to a couple before we left the U.K. but it was the cost of the train up there that put us off. It was great that it was free to get in. I loved the Science museum.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006 9:08:00 PM
Cheryl said...
You make me feel like I was such a chicken at that age.
I am in awe

Wednesday, May 31, 2006 10:58:00 PM
doris said...
Britmum They are great museums and it was great that you managed to take your boys there. I do think though that the museums need more than a few visits to begin to feel familiar and less of a stranger. Life is just so much busier now. And being across the world is a bit of a stumbling block!

Cheryl But you were probably in with the "In" crowd and one of the girls I'd have admired. I was a bit nerdy and just because I did manage to get out and about for a little while I would never have done anything outrageous or naughty! What was really scary was coping with a London Secondary school with over 2,000 students which was about the population figure for the town I had come from. On reflection I didn't cope with that very well. Travelling round London was a piece of cake in comparison.
Thursday, June 01, 2006 2:38:00 AM
Pookie65 said...
As a child I had the opportunity to visit many museums and travel to many historic places. Thank God I have my memories of them because at the time I was far too interested in getting out of there as fast as I could than absorbing the wonders right in front of my face.

At some point I'd love to retrace my steps and visit many of the places I'd visited as a silly child. This time I'll promise to fully embrace all of the history and the honor of being allowed to glimpse into the past.

I really was a foolish child.

What a wonderful post!


Thursday, June 01, 2006 1:29:00 PM
Milt Bogs said...
"Those glorious 1970s didn't come along until I was in my mid twenties," he sobbed.
Saturday, June 03, 2006 8:18:00 PM
Jo said...
Ah nostalgia....School trips, bagsing the back seat on the coach, having to complete that ruddy 'question sheet' as you went round the museum so teacher could tell you were paying attention.

The Earthquake simulator in the Geological museum is still a crowd puller and my kids love it. Though as it's all dressed up to 'simulate' the Kobe earthquake, I'm not quite sure whether it's in very good taste or not?

The dullest museum I ever visted at this stage of my life was the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock in Wiltshire, charting the very beginnings of photography. Wrist slittingly boring for a pile of adolescent boys who had been crammed onto a smelly old bus for hours. We did have a rather entertaining hard boiled egg fight in the coach park using the contents of our packed lunches I seem to recall though...

Oh yes, and Slimbridge wildfowl sanctuary, from which my school got banned after a bit of an 'incident' in one of the Observation towers, but that's another story :-)
Sunday, June 04, 2006 12:00:00 AM
Rain said...
aw, great memories you have described, I love museums too.
Sunday, June 04, 2006 4:35:00 AM
Anji said...
You were so lucky! I wonder how many other 12 year olds would have used their time so well. I was taken to a museum in Birmingham at about the same age. We were whizzed round by an adult who wasn't really interested. The only thing I remember about that visit was that she was asked to take off her high heeled shoes because the floor was wooden and it would dent!
Sunday, June 04, 2006 8:35:00 AM
Badaunt said...
I love this post. I wish there had been decent museums near where I grew up.

When I was in London last year I visited the British Museum three times, and I was only there for a few days. Partly this was because it was around the corner from where I was staying, but also because... well, one visit was not enough.

I wish I'd known about the earthquake simulator at the Geological Museum when I was there. I could have tested it for verisimilitude! If it was well done, they would have been able to tell because of the woman curled up in a fetal ball, whimpering.
Sunday, June 04, 2006 1:04:00 PM
Ally said...
I love the British Museum; both for itself and because of E Nesbitt's 'Five Children and It' and the 'Phoenix and the Carpet' when they always seem to be visiting.
Sunday, June 04, 2006 2:33:00 PM
Annie said...
Oh gosh, that sounds like absolute bliss (except the mummies). I adore museums. My parents took me and my brother to London for our first stay there in 1981 when I was 16. I remember going to a museum which had some of the cells of Newgate prison as part of it, but have never been able to remember which one it was.
Thursday, June 08, 2006 8:48:00 AM

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