Sunday, 13 September 2009

In Which there are Curiosities of Many Kinds

Having enjoyed a wonderful evening seeing Amanda Palmer, and with my train back not due to leave til almost 4 p.m. I decided to visit some museums. You will all, no doubt, be relieved to hear that I fortified myself with an excellent breakfast, first.

I walked back towards St Pauls - I love the Millennium Bridge, and the contrast between its modern, industrial lines, and the giant wedding cake which is St Paul's. It's a very nice wedding cake, don't get me wrong....

As I came up to the cathedral, I started seeing lots of Fire Fighters in full dress uniform. There is a National Monument to Fire Fighters just down from the Cathedral, and so I presume that there was to be a memorial service - I believe the monument was originally put up in memory of those in the fire service who died in WW2, but more recently was put on to a plinth which is used to display the names of firefighters from all over the country, who are killed in service. It's one of those places you tend to wander past without really noticing most of the time. . .

I headed to the Victoria & Albert Museum; I'd seen that there was an exhibition named 'Telling Tales' featuring pieces inspired by faerie tales. It was interesting, although not exactly what I had been expecting - included 'cinderella' and 'witch' chairs, a wardrobe made of fig-leaves, a stuffed fox with gold-plated maggots and some stuffed mushroom-clouds, (to cuddle, in order to embrace ones fears...)

The V&A is a big museum: last time I went I seem to remember seeing Queen Victoria's bloomers, and some amazing, if rather sad hatpins (sad because so many of them made from dead hummingbirds, and feathers from birds of paradise). There's lots of bits I've never seen. After seeing the exhibition, I took a wrong turning on my way to look at Beatrix Potter's original sketches, and ended up in the textiles galleries. It's fascinating. There are racks and racks containing samples of textiles, all painstakingly marked up with typewritten labels. You can simply pull out a rack from your chosen centuary and weaving and embroidery laid out before you.

Whether what you happen to want to see is 4th Century Mespotomanian weaving (pic. to left) or Roman, or 14th Century Italian (pic to right), or Victorian lace, or anything in between.
Another cabinet is filled with samples of different stiches, all carefully embroidered in different colours to show how the stiches are formed, by a member of staff in 1913.

There was no-one but me in the room. Perhaps samples of ancient fabric are generally considered interesting than Elton John's old clothes, which are a few corridors along.

I wandered through the India exhibit, to see the famous 'Tippoo's Tiger', a giant automaton from around 1790. You have to admire a wooden mannikin who can wave cheerfully and smile while being eaten alive by a tiger with a pipe-organ in it's belly.

And the tiger seemed to lead naturally to my moving on from the V&A, across the street to the Natural History Museum.

I wasn't able to visit the new Darwin Centre, because I was 2 days too early, so I wandered past the petrified wood and, having taken a wrong turning somewhere in human biology, and started looking not at the exhibits, but the architecture.

The musueum was custom built, and the style is Victorian Gothick, but the decoration is themed around Natural History - in the main hall (Where the Brontosaurus Skeleton lives) for example, the ceiling panels feature paintings of botanical specimens, and the pillars, archways etc are decorated with different animals, plants and insects, all as accurate as possible, like a cathedral to science. apparently Sir Richard Owen (The first director, and moving spirit in the building), insisted that extinct and living species were kept to different sections of the building, although of course they were caught out by the Coeleocanth

I particularly liked the Octopi and other sealife, in what is currently the dinosaur hall.

I also enjoyed wandering around the museum alone, which allowed me to look only at the parts which happened to catch my fancy, without worrying about what any companion might want to see.
All in all, I enjoyed my day wandering around in museums, and having done so, also enjoyed my smooth rail journey back home.


Arwenn said...

Wonderful! I like wandering through museums and zoos on my own too, especially ones with interesting architecture.

Anonymous said...

The man who types up my stories has fond memories of the Natural History Museum.

Interestingly, he opened a fortune cookie this morning that read "You will soon be reminded of a fond memory."

Pretty spooky...

Billy Bones

EmilyLady said...

That sounds really lovely, Marjorie. Thanks for sharing!

EmilyLady said...

And I remember being in Stillwater when you all went off on the cruise - I looked around when you were all gone and said to myself, "Dude, I have Stillwater all to myself." Not that I didn't miss you.

Marjorie said...

Spooky indeed, Billy. Has TMWTUYS read 'Dry Store Room No1' by Richard Fortey?

It's very interesting.

spacedlaw said...

Love the V&A and it looks like I would enjoy the Natural history Museum a great deal too.

rashbre said...

interesting account and you certainly managed to get about! I assume you were staying along the South Bank; there's several hotels a hop skip and jump from the main tourist areas there.