Updated: Apr 6, 2019
In our previous home it was almost impossible to get my children out of the house at weekends. They wanted to hibernate and if they were forced out there was a guarantee of tears and the outing would often be a disaster. It could take days, weeks, or even months to prepare for the smallest event. Spontaneity was impossible. My son would always choose the safety of his self-imposed routine. My daughter still panics every time we leave the house and, to this day, quickly packs a bag with a few cherished belongings in it, even to go to the supermarket. Just in case. It was stifling.
This change has done them good, tough though it has been. There is so much to explore here and my boy’s passion for maps and navigation ensures that we rarely get lost. He studies the roads on his i-pad before we leave, finding sneaky country lanes that we can travel alone. Every outing is now an adventure that he has invested in and, as long as we make room in the car for a few extra bags, his sister is game.
This particular weekend, his local research had thrown up a tiny natural history museum, close to the beach. It was windy and starting to get dark when we pulled up outside and the lure of ‘free entry’ had ensured that this option was top of the list.
We were a motley crew – two exhausted parents, our son hooded and looking anxious but keen and our daughter, inexplicably dressed only in school tights, a coat, a t-shirt and trainers on the wrong feet.
‘We are here to explore your museum!’ shouted my son to the startled attendant. ‘Where do we start?’ ‘You can choose’, she replied and with that, both children thundered up the stairs. It’s always a mercy when we are the only visitors.
It was excellent. A series of rooms filled with incongruous displays sitting uncomfortably next to each other and yet linked somehow by hopeful signage and ancient technology. It was as if someone had inherited a Victorian gentleman’s collection and then raided ebay over the following years, grabbing anything that might possibly be of interest to someone, somewhere. The first room at the top of the stairs showcased a number of dioramas: foxes, birds and a mock-up of a twitcher’s hide. An old tape-recorder played birdsong on a loop but no one had thought to label the less common birds so their identities remained a mystery. Conservation appeared to be the theme, along with some positive PR for urban foxes looking uncomfortably stuffed next to an overflowing rubbish bin.
The adjacent room housed an observational beehive, although as it was a cold day there was little to actually observe. Fortunately, someone had erected a screen which showed what we might have seen on a different day and it was good enough. Up more stairs to the ‘Education Room’ which was sparsely furnished with a few child-sized tables and chairs to accommodate the bottoms of the young and challenge the bottoms of the old. A few partially completed colouring pages were scattered about the room – not enough to hold the interest of my children so we headed back downstairs.
The displays in one room had been built around a model of a dinosaur. It was unclear what species it represented as it had been originally used as a carnival float. I rather admired the gall of the person who had managed to make it the main attraction. We climbed onto a bridge across which were displayed fossils and posters of the solar system.
Without question, we had saved the best till last. The final room was a delight and was stacked with intriguing exhibits: things in cases, things in drawers and, best of all, THINGS IN JARS. There was almost too much to take in: fossils, skeletons, a flamingo, a shark and weasels alongside impeccably arranged beatles and butterflies, many with their original handwritten labels, the wobbly script of an old fountain pen scratched onto slips of paper.
It was time to go. Our son took his list of questions to the custodian of the collections whilst I took a sneaky photograph of my favourite item, a collection of creatures pickled in a disgusting yellow liquid and unenthusiastically labelled, ‘Various Arthropods’. Every single question was answered and, completely satisfied, my son declared it ‘The Best Museum Ever’ and promised to research another exciting expedition for the following weekend. I cannot wait.