Friday, 28 March 2014

Weird creatures

The Armadillo in my last blog post,
you can read it here,
has surely captured my imagination.

The more I think about it:
...the nose, like a rat?
...the ears, cute?
...the shell, comfortable?
...having hard shell down the front of your face, odd?
...the claws, huge?
...the tummy, hairy?
...rolling into a ball, very clever?

Well I found another... the Grant Museum.
Here's what the Armadillo looks like underneath the shell, the skeleton.
This one has a much longer tail.
The colour of the shell could have faded with the light over time.
Sorry not a great quality photo.

Just to keep the weird creature theme going...

...I present the Elephant Shrew,

related to both the elephant and the mole.

This photo, with its reflection, of a table full of books alongside the labels,
makes me think he looks like he works in a bank.

Do you know of any weird creatures?
Please leave a comment and where to find them.

These two are to be found at the Grant Museum, an amazing zoological museum,
open afternoons, not Sundays.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Armadillo

In museums some things just grab your attention.

Like the Three-Banded Armadillo

Like the hedgehog, in a previous post here, they too roll themselves into a ball when scared.
Into an armoured ball. Look how amazingly the pieces of shell fit together.
"Like a puzzle."

It impressed us.
"That's so cool! It's all fits together so perfectly."

"Looks like my Bakugan Battle Brawler."
I think you need to be ten years old to get this connection.
They're creatures from a Japanese TV series, characters called Baku-Gan,
which when translated means 'exploding-ball'.
Could the Armadillo have been the inspiration behind this?

See these armadillos from Brasil (not Japan) at the Natural history Museum.
Opening times on their website here.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Visitor Responses

When looking at objects with visitors you get such varied responses... 

'I don't want to wee on it!' What did that five year old make of our discussion about foxes wee-ing on hedgehogs to make them uncurl from a ball when trying to attack them?
'Has that hedgehog ever been wee'd on by a fox?' asked his big sister after she'd touched it.
I know a little about the animals in the Hands-On Base at the Horniman Museum, however not the answer to that question.
 'Cute but full of fleas', said his mother.

'It doesn't move anymore!', said a perplexed two and a half year old about this squirrel. Understanding the difference between dead and alive in taxidermy is a difficult concept when you're two and a half.

One kid asked me about a stuffed fox...
'Is it dead?'
'yes', I replied
'but is it dead alive?'
I reassured him that it really was 'dead alive'.
Stuffed foxes can make little children very nervous.

A stuffed fox can be a deal breaker. I've seen little children refuse to come into a gallery because of a curled up taxidermy fox. Or, as is more usual, rush over to it, stroke it and occasionally try and sit on it.  

Perhaps I stressed the importance of safe object handling too much...
'I heard the sea... and I didn't break it', said a really keen visitor age three.

These objects are in the Hands-On Base in the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, London. Visit the Discovery For All session on Sunday afternoons. You can touch them and see what you make of them, over 3,000 of them.
You can read more about the handling session here.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Elizabethan Bling?

The Cheapside Hoard, nearly 500 pieces of Elizabethan and early Stuart jewellery.
Expensive? yes. Elaborate? yes. Ostentatious? yes (particularly when you sew pieces on your clothes). Bling???

Jewellery from the 16th and 17th centuries made to be seen in. Worn as symbols of money, power and sometimes of who you knew.
If Queen Elizabeth 1 gave you a cameo with her portrait, surely you'd make sure you were seen wearing it.
To up the ante, you could also wear jewellery on your clothes. Rings and other jewellery were sewn onto sleeves, hats, bodices, girdles and ruffs. There are paintings to prove this, portraits of the rich and influential, including Queen Elizabeth 1 herself with bejeweled necklaces hanging from her ruff.

If you weren't into bling, you may have worn jewellery for the believed properties and benefits that gemstones brought you.
My birthstone, amethyst, was believed to have a sobering effect on violent passions and drunkeness, plus the power to sharpen intelligence and business accumen. I'll go with the intelligence sharpening!
Most pertinent to Londoners in the 17th century, emeralds worn on the skin were believed to protect the wearer from the plague.

Whether it was the emeralds or the Great Fire of London, the bubonic plague of 1665-66 was the the last major plague epidemic in England. It was around this time that the Cheapside Hoard was believed to have been stashed under a cellar floor in Cheapside, the City of London, never to have been reclaimed.

300 years later it was found by builders in 1912, who did what most people with any 'business accumen' would do. They took it to 'Stony Jack' the pawnbroker in Wandsworth.

Today this priceless collection of  Elizabethan and early Stuart jewellery is on show at the Museum of London, nearly 500 pieces of exquisite necklaces, earrings, brooches, hairpins, rings, buttons, time-pieces and scent bottles.
With such intricate details that you need a magnifying glass to see them properly (they are provided).


Outside the museum a 10 metre long model of a salamander brooch adorns the wall. This beautiful gold brooch, set with emeralds and diamonds in reality is only about 4 cm long.

Bling or not, there are more burning questions to be answered. Who buried it? Why was it hidden? Whose was it?
All these questions are up for debate.
See the Cheapside Hoard with its many unsolved mysteries at the Museum of London until 27th April 2014 to draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Museums don't keep everybody happy. At the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, also written about in a previous blog post here, five of us were happy and one of us wasn't. That one is ten years old and boy did he let us know that he was bored!

Trying to distract him from continually asking to "go now", I had a bright idea. I gave him my notebook, down which I had written the beginings of an acrostic. The letters of his and his sister's name. I then asked him to go round the exhibition and find things in the photos beginning with each letter. 

He went off, I felt slightly (if a little prematurely) pleased with myself. We now had more time to enjoy the exhibition in peace.

This is what he gave back to me. Not my acrostic, but one he had devised himself.


I laughed! Genius, I had succeeded in getting him to look at the photos.

You might be wondering about Oosten. That's Marsel Van Oosten who waited years for the right conditions to take a photo of an Acacia tree in the Namibian Desert, taken in rolling fog as the sun was rising. Wonder if he got bored waiting? You can see his picture here.

My son, despite proclaiming to be bored, he did describe the photos as Incredible!

You can see the 'incredible' photos in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum until 23rd March 2014.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Prefab Museum

The Prefab Museum is a pop-up exhibition in South East London, in a real prefab, one of 186 soon to be demolished on the Excalibur Estate, Catford.

These council houses were built after Second World War to help overcome the housing shortage, built for returning troops and those who had lost their homes in the bombing.

 They were built to last 10 years but ended up providing family homes for nearly 70 years.

These modern, new 2 bedroom houses had... 

built-in cupboards,

 immersion heaters, indoor bathrooms,


and spacious gardens.

 "An unheard of luxury for many!"

Before the estate is demolished you can visit the Prefab Museum, a pop-up exhibition curated by Elizabeth Blanchet, bringing different artists together who all share her fascination with prefabs and the communities who live in them. The exhibition includes photographs, drawings, installations, film, and memorabilia, all celebrating life in a prefab.

These photos show work by Jo Cooper, Harriet Mcdougall, Sarah Gregory & Jane Hearn.
I have to thank Wendy for sharing her i-phone photos of Jo Cooper's work. My camera just wasn't up to it, taking photos through the tiny viewing holes in her installation.

Visitors are asked to get involved too, pinning prefabs you know of. Red for those no longer standing, blue where there were some, and green where there are still some standing. Looks like red is winning, the prefabs are losing their battle. All the more reason to have events like this, to celebrate them and their communities. 
In the Excalibur Estate, Catford, six prefabs have had a reprieve from demolition, they have been awarded a grade 2 listing and are set to stay.   

You can see this exhibition at number 17 Meliot Road, Catford, SE6 1RY. Open until 1st April 2014. Tuesdays & Thursdays, 10.00-16.00. Saturdays, 10.00-18,00.

More information is on their Facebook page here.

NB- *The exhibition has now been extended until end of Septmeber 2014*

Friday, 7 March 2014

Digging up London

Have you ever wanted to discover something when digging? On the beach? Or in the garden? Buried treasure? Anything? I once found a farthing when digging in our back garden. And corrugated iron, the remains of an Anderson shelter. 
Crossrail have been doing a huge amount of digging across London as they connect the East and the West by rail. And they did find something! Objects that tell an amazing story about London's past.
"Evidence of deeply buried landscapes"

Human skulls from Roman times, nearly 2,000 years old, found near Liverpool Street.
They reckon this is probably male.

 16th Century pottery found at Farringdon, around 400 years old.

 Evidence of industry from the 16th Century in Farringdon. Bones used in pin making.

Crossrail tell these stories, uncovered through their archaeology programme, in the exhibition, Portals to the Past, in their Visitor Information Centre.

You can read stories of London's past.

 I liked reading about the remains of the Crosse & Blackwell factory in Tottenham Court Road where they uncovered vaults containing around 8,000 ceramic jars.

 Beneath Liverpool Street they uncovered the burial ground of Bethlem Hospital. They're still digging and expecting to find up to 4,000 skeletons which will be used to find out how people used to live, to understand more about their lifestyle and diet.

There were animal processing industries on the River Lea in the 19th Century, producing stenches that "cannot be described or even imagined". Having had a dead rat under our floorboards at home, I can begin to imagine that smell. Nothing compares! 

There are more than fifty archaeological objects on display. Displayed in a manner slightly reminiscent of shelves in children's bedrooms, when they display their own prize finds.

Of course Crossrail also want to tell you about their shiny new plans, a new railway, twin tunnels under London, due to open in 2018.

Portals to the Past is on at the Crossrail Exhibition Centre. For opening times look here. It ends March 15th.
I don't think that there is enough there to warrant a special trip. However, if you're in the area, do drop in.

NB: apparently this exhibition will open somewhere else in the future.
Keep your eyes peeled.

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