So, last week, Kit and I ventured down to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington for our first 'After Hours' event!
I had been so excited about this, it's actually a little embarrassing! For those who don't know, on the last friday of every month, the NHM stays open after normal closing hours and lays on a series of events and entertainments. Visitors can attend quizzes, visit special exhibits without having to push through hordes of kids (and their exasperated parents) or simply wander around enjoying the atmos.
Kit and I arrived at 7pm with a view to simply meandering for a couple of hours before we had to make our way to the 'Age of Dinosaurs' Exhibit (Kit had long since resigned himself to the fact that if we were going to the NHM, then we were going to see the Dinosaurs!). As we entered the hall of the Waterhouse building we found it almost empty save for a harpist serenading the Diplodocus Carnegii with a haunting tune. Kit remarked how the Diplodocus seems to look a little smaller every time you see her. It's true, she does.
From there we followed the signs to the new Darwin centre, which I have not yet been able to explore fully (this was my first time there). The sound of the harp in the Victorian hall faded behind us as the cheerful sound of a jazz quartet flowed up from the modern extension. I hope this effect was intentional...
I wish I could say I sampled one of the tasty-looking picnic baskets that were on offer and the champagne too, but cash was tight on this occasion, so we bought some cheese straws and affordable drinks from the bar and went outside to enjoy what remained of the warmer part of the evening. Although this was late july, we noticed as the next couple of hours rolled by that some in the courtyard had started using their blankets (all provided by the museum) as shawls, but the chill did nothing to spoil the atmosphere, which was very pleasant and festive.
We did think it a shame that there was no entertainment or diversion in the centre of the courtyard (it's basically a oval clearing with small steps all around, almost like an amphitheatre, so would be perfect for theatre, comedy or live music.
After getting pleasantly squiffy in the gardens, we headed inside and came across a brilliant display of pickled specimens in jars! A selection have been presented on display for visitors and you can see through the glass into the storeroom where the hundreds of other jarred specimens are kept. Both having a keen love of creepy things in jars, we spent a good half an hour or so wandering along the exhibit, marveling at lots of guey, grey things with tentacles!
Then, our time was up, we had to make our way to the 'Age of Dinosaurs' exhibit for our allotted 9pm slot (I've promised we'll go see 'Sexual Nature' next time...).
Now, to the important bit! The 'Age of Dinosaurs is informative and interactive, but, it has to be said, not particularly 'spectacular'. The whole thrust of the event is to illustrate relationships between species and provide context. One of the best things I thought was the enormous wall-chart as you go in, which has a timeline showing key species from the earliest life-forms to the latest, all presented pretty much to scale with one another.
Many more exhibits were along these lines, with interactive 'touch-screens' (no doubt trying to woo the iPad generation) that are really large animated screens projected onto black surfaces you can touch to manipulate the display. Another nice touch was the series of fossil replicas displayed without cases, so that visitors can feel parts of the animal (serrated teeth etc) and think about how the animal used its adaptations in life. I don't want to spoil all the surprises, as I thoroughly recommend going, but I will urge you to look out for the amusing stickers on the wall whenever you enter a zone with animatronics in (because I would have missed them if Kit hadn't pointed them out!).
Speaking of the animatronics, I should say a word about them, as they're obviously the star of any show of this kind. Although they were mostly all models I'd seen before, there were a couple of new ones and all in all I felt they were pretty good. I love Kokoro's work and when you consider how complicated animatronics are, some of the works on display are amazing. If you do go, just watch the Tarbosaurus' tiny hands - you'll see what I mean.
I could easily have spent another 30 mins in what is essentially a pretty small display. There's so much information on offer, I'd recommend getting an earlier slot if you can so you've got time to let it all soak in (and don't get squiffy on pink fizzy wine beforehand...*hic!*).
Whilst 'Age of Dinosaurs' doesn't stick out in my mind as one of the best displays I've ever seen (if only because the animatronic displays were mostly things I'd seen before), it is one of the most info-saturated and whilst I may not go again, it was well worth the entry fee and I'm glad I didn't miss out.
I'm loving the whole 'After Hours' thing and can't wait to go again! Maybe I'll leave it until the new refurbished dinosaur section is completed, which I'm hoping will be sometime soon. If you'd like to visit yourself, you can find out more at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/after-hours/index.html
My love goes out to the NHM and all that work there - here's a nice little Iguanodon Bernissartensis, just for you! xxx