I love a niche museum. The high point for me had to be the Paris Sewers Museum, just down the road from the Musee de L’Orangerie – yes I recommend it, and no I would not have gone if Dad had not taken me there on the false pretence of getting coffee. Anyway, talking niche museums, the Postal Museum opened in Clerkenwell mid last year and it has been on my list to visit since I saw an ad for it on the tube. What caught my eye, what made me choose this museum to fantasise about above all others, was its newly refurbished postal train.

You read that right. London used to have a tube network running beneath the streets just for the post. It was created when the streets began to fill up with traffic back in the day and keeping to a regular timed route became impossible. To solve the problem they created mini-tube carriages (like ¼ the size of the normal tube) that had sacks of letters hauled onto them, the trains travelled around this fair city making sure the words found their homes.

The reason I took quite so long to get to the Postal Museum is because that darling Postal Train had sold out for bloody months. I had to wait for a spontaneous bright and freezing Thursday in January to be able to secure a coveted seat.

The museum space proper is across the road from the train part, it is unbelievably cute and kids (or you know, millennials with a child’s heart) will love it. It’s interactive and full of fun facts about how the postal service shaped the nation. And it has some working pneumatic tubes that you can use to send anonymous notes to the other side of museum – I will let you guess what I wrote on mine (a risky move since I was the youngest in the museum by about 50 years).

When you head to across the road to THE TRAIN you get some more fun interactive post games, including my favourite where you have to maintain your balance on a moving train carriage simulator and put letters in the right slots. It’s a cool museum.

But ONTO THE POST TRAIN. I had an unfortunate wait when it came to my timeslot (all rides have a specific time, you can’t just hop on), one of the two trains had broken down and there was a delay of half an hour. No, not ironic at all. I eventually managed to hop on the TINY TRAIN (they are not designed for passengers, only mail was meant to travel on them) and begin my 15 minute journey.

It is amazing to see the real life tubes that the mail travelled down for so many years, and hear the history of the men that worked the mail train. They have some interactive displays that are a nice touch and then before you can blink you are back to the start.

I really enjoyed my time at the museum and the mail train ride (excluding the 30 minute delay which was a Royal pain), however it is the price that I quibble with. I don’t doubt that it costs a pretty penny to restore and maintain the train, and the museum is world class – however we are in a city of free museums. I think £17 is a lot for the train ride, and for the price I don’t think I would do it again (or have done it in the first place). Check out the website and make your own mind up, it is a really interesting way of looking at history in any case. And besides, stamps are cool.

Imperial War Museum

When you first arrive in London there is a mental tick list of famous museums that you are vaguely aware of. The V&A, the Natural History Museum & the Tate are all on there, and given the right rainy day and lack of hangover there is a chance you might even visit. The one that isn’t often on the vague list (but should be in the top 5) is the Imperial War Museum.

I know, why go to a museum all about war? I was first introduced to the IWM about seven years ago (man that makes me feel old) when they had a special propaganda art exhibition. It was amazing, a collection of World War 2 propaganda posters from all competing sides; America, Russia, Germany, France, Japan and the UK all in one room. What was crazy about it is that all the posters had pretty much the same messages; don’t tell secrets, together we will win, look how strong we are, scrimp and save for the boys on the front. So what you actually saw was the design differences between the cultures. The Soviet posters were minimalist and focussed more on grand declarations showing military might, the UK were all about calmly sticking together and tried to go for gentle humour to get the message across, and America…well their propaganda hasn’t changed in the last 70 years.

That is what the Imperial War Museum does so well. They use war as a way to show human creativity and endurance. If you think about it, many of the big human achievements grew out of the pressure of war. Not just weapons or tactics but anything that was created in the pressure cooker of reduced resources (both people and goods). War also clarified national identities; I think the UK would be a vastly different place if those six years of WW2 had not happened.

Maybe thats why I find this museum so important. When you arrive in the UK in part you try to understand what makes this country tick, the Imperial War Museum cuts to the heart of it.

Every time I walk in I feel like I am walking into a church, huge ceilings filled with Spitfires and other classic designs. Its once you have walked into the smaller galleries that you get to see the stories behind the wars. Ok this is going to sound a bit oxymoronic, but they have one of the best Holocaust exhibitions I have ever seen. The lights are kept dark and the text small which means you have to get really up close to the exhibits in order to read them. There are obstacles in your way and dark corners to find, you leave feeling sad and upset.

This museum is brilliant at displaying humanity at its best and worst. Do yourself a favour and put it on your must visit list.

Change your life

 

MOTAT

I am a self confessed train dork, but turns out I am a plane dork as well (as long as I don’t actually have to fly in the bastards I find them really interesting). So I was amped to hear about MOTATs new aviation display hall. Last time I visited it was just an old hanger full of some rusting planes, but now…it’s beautiful. And I mean that with no sarcasm at all, the architecture is simply stunning. Then when you put some very cool old planes in this beautiful building it just gets better.

Highlight had to be learning about our national hero Jean Batten, the first person to make a solo flight from England to New Zealand. By all accounts she sounded like a bit of a nightmare. An ambitious and driven woman who managed to accomplish her dream when she was 27. Then she spent the next 50 years trying to live off that solo flight, fighting to keep herself relevant. She died in absolute isolation of an infected dog bite of all things, after she took herself to Majorca telling friends not to try and contact her (she did this type of thing a few times over the years). But when she died an administrative error by the Spanish government meant that no one in NZ was told. It was years before her family knew Jean had died, she had been buried in a paupers grave in the mean time. I sure as hell didn’t learn that part in school.

But horrific deaths aside, the other cool thing about my MOTAT visit was seeing the planes being restored right on site. This could be endless hours of entertainment for a small child (or runawaykiwi).

The day was summed up by a super dorky fun ride on the tram. Swoon.

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I think what people my age are meant to do when they take a day off work is:

A) exist in a hungover malaise
B) fly to/from some fabulous destination
C) attend an annoyingly weekday wedding

The answer is not D) take the tube to West Ham to go to the Doctor Who museum. Never being one to go with the crowd, I chose D.

What you are really looking for when you brave the wilds of West Ham is The Who Shop run by couple of die hard Whovians. They have everything a fan could ever want to purchase – I myself walked home with my own tame adipose.

After walking round the shop, it wasn’t entirely obvious where the museum was. But after purchasing my ticket at the counter I was given the key to the TARDIS. I don’t mean that figuratively, I was given an actual key to the actual TARDIS in the corner. Excitement was pretty much at regeneration levels as I put the key in the lock and opened that big blue box only to find…

It’s much bigger on the inside.

Big enough in fact to hold an entire Doctor Who museum. They have props, costumes, replicas and a very well versed assistant (who was actually a Darlek in another life). It was brilliant fun as I tried on a UNIT gun for size and posed next to Cassandra from the first Who episode I ever watched.

The Doctor Who Museum is everything good about the Sci fi world; inclusive, friendly, passionate and with reasonably priced merchandise.

Highly recommended for all Who nerds.

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The centrepiece exhibitions at the British Museum tend to be the hottest ticket in town. True to form Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum was sold out months before the first patron had even walked through the door. Hence why it took me till August to take a look for myself, but as soon as I walked through the door I got what all the hype was about.

I studied Pompeii at school (first in History and later in Classics), I’ve read the books, I’ve been to the exhibition at Te Papa and hell, I’ve actually been to Pompeii itself. So, I know my shit*. So I wasn’t actually looking for the historical facts, I was more curious about how the British Museum was going to do something different.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum was neatly divided into two parts – life and death. Surprise surprise life was my favourite. They had recreated the layout of a typical Roman villa in the exhibition, that way they could display all the preserved food in the dining room and so on. It gave it a completely natural and logical flow as well as bringing all those boring villa layouts I learned in school to life.

Death was a somber affair, going into more details about specific people/assumptions about their situations. Being the magpie that I am, the jewellery section really grabbed my attention. The rings, necklaces and bracelets were grouped based on who they were found next to. It was incredible to be able to see the things that were so important/meaningful/valuable that they were grabbed when the world was turning to hell.

My only gripe was pretty much the same I have at all London exhibitions, the crowds. The amount of people just made me want to speed through and get out of there, but I guess with a popular exhibition there is not really much they can do.

*Just don’t ask me to actually recall any information…I may have confused a lot of it with that Doctor Who episode where the Titans almost take over the world.