(Mme Tussaud's French touch!)
It was mainly Grandma who was responsible for outings, while we stayed at 9DR. When we were smaller, she came with us of course, and then later when we were older, she organized things, and we could go on our own. We usually took the day out, with a picnic, and rode by bus to the tube station, commonly Arnos Grove or Wood Green. The destinations were few: the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum; then there was Madame Tussaud's and the Planetarium. In 1971 I was taken with Nicky to the Tower of London (where an annex of Madame Tussaud's established itself later). And perhaps once I went to the British Museum, but I'm not sure. Mark was often part of the group although I couldn't say for sure which times it was.
Even though they were the main destinations, the Natural History and Science Museums were definitely the best. I must have gone three or four times over the years. But it was each time a rediscovery, and the quality of the exhibits, the variety of what was to be seen and done there was so great that we loved the places absolutely. When I say we, I mean Paco and myself, or with Hélène, - but I think it was more a boys' thing, wasn't it, Tini? - and then the cousins I've mentioned. I even went back with my own children, and had as great a time myself showing them around!
Some of my best memories of both museums revolve around a few things which struck me then, the huge whale at the NHM:
the very old section of a tree which saw Nebuchadnezzar (perhaps, well at least Jesus-Christ):
and of course the dinosaurs and all the other mammals. I've always been a sucker for stuffed beasties, because somehow their life is still there, vibrant, and offered to you who come to see them. At the SM there was the engines model sections which we loved to operate thanks to a little switch or knob you had to press, and this started the pistons, the chains and wheels, and it was so magically smooth. I've tried to find pictures on the net but had very little success. I wonder whether you can still see what we used to admire. The very nature of science means that the Science Museum should change its exhibits fast. Here's one though, which doesn't really represent what I remember!
Some of the artifacts, such as the boat models, had fascinating details I could spend hours plunging into, imagining the work needed to build them and dreaming about the little everyday tasks on board such ships.
These are the model wheels of the Great Eastern, which I certainly would have admired, having read Jules Verne's Une ville flottante at the time. I believe there was also a minerals section, but I don't remember it specifically, perhaps because I've been to too many museums around the world where such sections exist. I'm not sure in fact that such a section wouldn't have been held at the NHM (this does look like the NHM architecture)?
From the Science Museum, I would always bring back some scientific toy; one year it was a gyroscope, which, like Pr Gregory at Bristol University, (check his "Exploratory") I found mesmerizing. One year I bought the plan for a harmonograph:
and back home I spent glorious hours building the instrument, using wooden structures and metallic parts which had to be carefully sharpened in the right shape, and I finally managed to come out with brightly coloured "harmonograms", some samples of which I might still have kept somewhere, but I don't know where. So here are two postcards which I had bought at the SM:
Back in those days I had developed a strange interest for chemistry and natural sciences, for example mosses, ferns, and lichens. So going to these museums increased my passion tenfold. When I was 14 or 15, I bought a book at the SM called "New advances in science" or something like that, which was a collection of university-level essays on chemistry, nuclear physics, and soil mechanics (among others), and I read through them even I couldn't understand a thing! But all this fascinated me, and I tried as best I could to absorb as much science as possible.
The other places of visit were more touristic and interesting as far as I was concerned. Mme Tussaud's was fun of course, but that was it. I enjoyed the Planetarium though, scientist that I was! I think I had tried to takes pictures of the show inside, but the result was dismal.
I have a few photos of an outing to London which dates back to 1973, and where you can see Grandma at the Tower of London, posing next to a cannon (of all things!), Nicky and myself outside the NHM:
I wonder if I am not wearing a "jacket" which Mummy wanted me to have to look smart, but which I never actually wore much, it being not my style to go around with jackets. Perhaps it was in connection with Grandpa's funeral too, since it took place that year in June. But below I can be seen with the French "duffle-coat"!
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