Tag Archives: Natural History Museum

On skating in the magic of London….71/100

 

dsc_6118-2I have always loved ice-skating. I am not particularly good at it, but I have always loved it. Not the twirly, fussy stuff of Olympic awe, but the fast, playful, adventurous stuff of storytelling. My mother read me Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates when I was little. Oh how I loved that story. That was the kind of skating I wanted to do. Action packed. One of the very few regrets I have of my 5 years in Holland was that I didn’t learn to speed skate. The Dutch excel at this sport, and I should have taken it up. But instead I had a couple of babies, neither of whom I would trade for all the ability on ice a person could have. Yet the dream is still there. And my beloved London makes sure I get a little taste each winter-time. London has a surprising number of permanent, indoor, ice rinks. A hold over from the GIs. There dsc_6111-2are even plenty of local hockey teams, most named for American Football teams, for the same reason. And while I have spent many a birthday party grabbing small, wet children out of the way of older, aggressive packs of teens, it isn’t quite that same flying along canals experience I had dreamed about. For that I must wait til Christmas time. When London landmarks flood and freeze themselves and offer glorious, beautiful, magical moments on ice. We have gone every year, to many locations including Marble Arch and the Tower of London. But the two best, year in year out, remain the Natural History Museum and Somerset House.

dsc_0068_6Somerset House skating used to be sponsored by Tiffany & Co., and a great tree stood in the courtyard festooned with ribbons of the trademark light blue. A luxurious tent alongside offered appropriately elegant coffees and cakes and a perfect view of the skating excitement. More recently Fortnum & Mason has taken over the sponsorship and has continued the glamour. In the evenings the tent turns into a bit of a warm disco, mimicking the on-ice action. A friend and I wandered in one night after a gallery party. We were much too old for the “scene,” unfortunately and didn’t stay long. Years ago, still in the Tiffany years, I took a group of young girls to skate in the afternoon at Somerset House and continued on into the Courtald Gallery afterwards. We ignored the priceless Impressionist paintings to gaze out at the skaters below in the now-enveloping dusk. They all seemed to be couples. Young, very much in love couples. “It is the romance hour,” one of the girls said with a sigh. She was right.

dsc_0001_50We once witnessed a proposal of marriage on the ice at the Natural History Museum. At sunset. In front of the tree. She said yes. We on-lookers went crazy. So romantic. Of course, most of the skates aren’t romantic so much as stoic. Whizzing round and  round surrounded by the inexperienced and the seriously wobbly. Dodging crashes and whining girlfriends and frustrated children and the idiotic selfie addicts. It is a popular last-day-of-term treat and I took my youngest and her friends to the NHM last week. It was pre-teen on ice heaven, complete with photo booth. But the landmarks. Oh the landmarks.dsc_0004_41 Skating under the skyline of London, well, what can I say. It is more beautiful than I can properly express.  London never looks more regal than from the vantage point of a skating boots.

So this is how I have come to be spending very early Christmas Eve morning skating. At Somerset House. It is still early enough for frosty mist. Romantic and magical. 2016 has been a grim year. No one seems to be sorry it is almost over. The world seems to be rushing ever faster into madness. We need to grab happiness where we can. And here I am, flying through the London landscape, like Hans Brinker in pursuit of the life-changing skates….and just for a few moments, the world is perfect.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On The Natural History Museum, a wonder of wonders 10/100

IMG_3913Inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of sources sometimes. Spent the last few days typing away on a variety of worthy topics but all with dull result. So took the kids to see the Paddington movie. What a delightful, charming film, full of gorgeous locations (I want to live in that house…the mural in the stairwell alone….) in London. And the best part was that the last many moments of the story take place in the Natural History Museum, not as an unrecognizable film set with a few outside shots of the building, but the real thing, in all its fabulousness. And as one who has spent hours and hours and hours and hours there, I am well equipped to recognize the beauty that is Alfred Waterhouse’s masterpiece. What a dream it would be to run through that building late at night…wearing those incredible shoes Nicole Kidman gets to wear (of course I noticed them, I adore improbable shoes). That wide staircase, those elaborately carved CNV00017columns, and the reliefs that surprise at every turn. The monkeys, the fish, the birds, the plants, the mythical beasts; and this is all before you get to any of the fossils and dinosaurs and taxidermied creatures and minerals and jewels and bits of planets and oversized creepy crawlies you normally can’t (thankfully) see…and oooh, it is an embarrassment of riches.

The reason I know it so well is that for the first two years of living in London I took my boys every Tuesday. Every single Tuesday.

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Tuesdays with Joseph and Stephen

We would visit the dinosaurs, no long line for us, and the creepy crawly exhibit; who doesn’t like moving a fly from the poop to the picnic over and over and over again. We would take long looks at the enormous fossils, especially the one found by teenager Mary Anning.

fabulous fossils
fabulous fossils

Sometimes we would look at the mammals; whales on the telephone is a draw. We always looked at the big tree; the cases in the minerals were a bit high, and the escalator in the earth science was too long and steep for comfort. But a satisfying day for everyone. Every time.

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little explorers

When grandparents came to visit we would hire the “Explorer Backpack,” a scavenger hunt of sorts with the added bonus of a borrowed helmet and binoculars. The fact that the questions remained the same meant that the children looked like geniuses, always a nice treat for the relatives.

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the half-term queue

But then school started and we couldn’t visit every week. But we kept visiting. Once we went on a Saturday and we were horrified, horrified, to see that the queue snaked all down the front and round the building….who were all these people at our museum? Even if the queue outside wasn’t long, the one inside for the dinosaurs was endless! I tried to take my older son, Joseph, on a rainy day during the recent Autumn half-term. Yikes! The queue to get in double backed on itself. All those exhausted looking parents! We felt smug remembering all those line-free Tuesdays!

We’ve skated on their gorgeous rink set up during the Christmas season many times. Even saw a proposal of marriage one particularly beautiful evening there, and yes, she said yes.

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ice skating

DSCN0071We try never to miss the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit, even if we never, ever agree with the winners. And the gift shop is a must for Christmas presents.

Professor Richard Owen, the controversial character who campaigned tirelessly to have the museum built, wanted to create a place where scientists, the uninformed and the middle class hobbyist could all benefit. A place to cater to the professional, the enthusiast and the curious simultaneously. Architect Alfred Waterhouse, using designs from a variety of sources and influenced by the demands of politicians and financiers, was able to fashion a cathedral to science uniquely his own, a pleasing compromise of Italian Renaissance, Gothic Revival and German Romanesque. In other words, a blend of styles that work both physically and aesthetically.

And yet, and yet…none of that is what I love most about the Natural History Museum. It is the feeling I get when I step into all that history. Not of centuries but of millenniums and more. I think what it must have been like for those earlier fossil finders and paleontologists when they discovered things that literally changed the way people thought about the world. The excitement of researching and studying things that must have seemed magical or otherworldly or just plain amazing. Because they still are. It is a gorgeous building filled with wonderScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 2.16.43 PMs. Just as it should be…and now imagine me with those shoes on those stairs….perfection!