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.
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.
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.
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.
I had put off going to the Museum of London Docklands for quite some time because of the terrible terrible time I had the its sister site, the Museum of London, where they tried to cover too much and couldn’t capture my interest with anything. But since I had a couple of hours to kill and happened to be in the area, I thought I would give it a go.
The Museum just covers the history of the London docklands area – from Roman settlements through WWII and right up to todays fancy apartment redevelopments. I think because it was limited to just one area it could cover this considerable timespan without spreading itself too thin.
It also helped that it is a new museum. The entire thing is in one of the old warehouses and is very on theme with wooden floors and exposed beams. Starting on the top floor you walk through the museum in chronological order, by doing this they manage to cram in all the major historical themes and keep it interesting. They also had a couple of sections that were set up like historical streets- the kids went nuts for them!
My first highlight had to be learning about the sea fortresses designed during world war two which I think were based on the 1995 critically acclaimed film Water World. And the final highlight was the rum bar next door – its not alcoholism, its history.