Making the most of museums and graduations. Loafing in London.
I have a couple of hours to while away in South Kensington, London so I make my way to the Natural History Museum, home to over 70 million life and earth science specimens that cover areas from botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. Besides it is scorching hot in this city so I really need to get inside and cool down. I am soon to find out that a couple of hours is certainly not enough to absorb the wonders of this amazing museum.
At the atrium of the main hall, also called the Red Zone where exhibits show the beginnings of time and the impact humans have on our planet, my journey starts at Visions of Earths Beginnings and a sign informs me that ‘Appreciating its age is central to understanding the Earth’s processes. We now know that our planet is almost inconceivably old. By comparison, people have arrived very late on the scene’.
I am reminded of the forces of planet Earth by a sign that reads, ‘The Earth is a restless planet. Powerful forces shape and reshape its surface in continuous cycles of change’. How small we humans are compared to the immensity of the planet and all the other microorganisms around us. The entire floor is covered by a glowing wall, displaying unbelievably beautiful minerals, rocks and fossils of varying shapes and sizes like the Cavansite, the largest piece of the rare blue mineral ever found, or the Blue John, a beautiful semi-banded precious stone that is almost close to exhaustion, the Moon rock from the Apollo 16 mission in 1972 and the amazing Mastodon skull with a hole in the centre of its head. There are sculptures of Medusa, an astronaut, a scientist all depicting key figures in Earth’s history and mythology. The walls around depict a celestial map, which figures our planet in its heavenly context.
I get on a towering escalator that carries me up into the red-hot core of the Earth. On the first floor I spot a giant alabaster bowl and pedestal which was presented to the Museum by the Duke of Devonshire in 1851. This glistening piece of sculpture stands as a symbol of detail and dimensional mastery by a leading stonemason of that time.
I step into the Gallery showcasing Gems and Jewellery. Two collections stand out in my mind: the Frederick Noel Ashcroft and the Sir Arthur Russell. Ashcroft, a Liverpool born chemist had a mineral collection of over 7000 items that he meticulously tagged by location and supported with photographic evidence whilst the Russell collection was inspired by his mother’s love for minerals and upon his death bequeathed more than 12,500 items to the Museum.
From here I wander into the Blue Zone to explore the diversity of life on our planet. I feel tiny compared to the enormous exhibits of the giant blue whale to coming face to face with the terrifying T.rex. There is a fascinating narration about the myths and facts of the Dinosaur era that enthralls young children who gaze up in wonder at these massive skeletons. The mystery of the depths of the ocean and the sad fate of pollution and destruction of the coral and the seabed is a twisted folly of humankind.
I then walk across to the Victoria and Albert Museum, considered the world’s greatest museum of art and design, representing over 3000 years of human creativity, decorative arts and design and a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects.
In the foyer are amazing sculptures by French sculptor Auguste Rodin who gave 18 of his works of art to the Museum in honor of the French and British soldiers killed in the war. The Crouching Woman (1891) by Rodin is his studies for Iris, Messenger of the Gods, which was intended to be an uncompleted version of the monument to Victor Hugo commissioned in 1891. Another great beauty is St. John Baptist (1879-1880) standing slightly larger than life and perfect in symmetry.
I ascend the Ceramic Staircase, totally out of place but representing the visionary intentions of the founders of the Museum. Considered one of the most controversial decorations in this complex, it was designed by Frank Moody and is totally encased in mosaic, whilst the ceilings, domes and panels are decorated with vitrified ceramic paintings.
I step into the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, one of the finest private collections comprising silver and mosaics and enameled miniatures and over 200 gold boxes including one that belonged to Frederick the Great of Prussia. These exquisite pieces portray the intricacies and detail of amazing craftsmanship. It is hard to imagine the opulence that was evident during this period and I am transported to the era when courtesans and queens played intense roles in the making of history.
Back in the 20th Century is a paradox of the machine age that reduced drudgery and stifled individual self-expression. But this, in comparison to the history that I have just walked through does not hold my interest and I step back outside.
I have to board a train to Stoke-on-Trent as I have an important event to attend and I am soon on my way to watch a very special young man graduate!