Off to London

Today we all booked a day off work and set off into London to visit the Science Museum.

Paddington Station looks really lovely and airy after two years’ of restoration work. I remember how gloomy the station used to be with its windows blackened with dirt. Quite spectacular now.

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Also undergoing extensive work is the Central and District Lines which have been closed between Edgware Road and High Street Kensington from Saturday 23rd July to Tuesday 23rd August. According to the TFL website, this is to “complete vital track replacement, drainage and power upgrade work – allowing us to prepare for the new, air-conditioned trains which will help to increase capacity on the line.” As the Underground network is so interconnected, this isn’t a major problem so we routed round the closure using the Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines.

Inside the museum, we bought some tickets for the iMax and had lunch in the Wellcome Wing before splitting up to explore the different areas we wanted to see.

Next to the Deep Blue Cafe on the ground floor was the Antenna display of “Science News Now” with some interesting displays of using and reducing waste.

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This design appealed – like a building toy for children using interlocking shapes, the points of the stars would slot into slits cut in their middles. Although this would lead to a vast range of possible configurations, I can imagine it being a chore to change on a whim. image

Back of skirt:

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Front of skirt:

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Leaving the Wellcome Wing, the next hall is the “Making The Modern World” which, according to the Museum’s website, “displays a series of exceptional objects which mark new departures in technology and science – the events that have framed our world.”

A few of my personal favourites are as follows:

A Cray

No, not a self-assembly seating system called Dator from IKEA, this used to be a computer running at the AWE. Back in 1979, it cost £8,000,000 (or, after taking inflation into account, £32 million in today’s money) and had 50 miles of wiring.

Cray

The Greenwich Time Service

The BBC Pips! Bip, bip, bip, bip, bip, beeeep.

Last saw use in 1990 and now the BBC generates its own pips based on signals from the GPS satellite network and from the 60kHz radio transmitter at Rugby

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Lockheed 10A Electra

Big, shiny all-metal plane from 1935. Nice touch to have the propeller blades line up.

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Avro 504K biplane

When I first saw this plane, my brain for some reason popped up with “Spad XIII D” and I spent the next ten minutes fruitlessly trying to find out what it actually was in case I was right. Maybe you’ve had one of those times in your life when you think of an answer immediately then decide it’s wrong and go for something else, only to find out your first impulse was correct. This was not one of those times. My brain had just randomly provided me with a random biplane, a French one at that.

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Vergeltungswaffe 2 (Retaliation Weapon 2) – the V2 rocket

It’s only when you stand right at the foot of the rocket that you get a real feel for how large it is – and there’s still 4-5 feet of nose cone that had to be removed to allow it to fit in the hall. No wonder it caused so much terror and destruction.

V2

Alongside the main hall there is a raised walkway with display cabinets of much smaller, although just as interesting, items.

Front sections of Lancashire boilers (1920s)

Obviously these 1/8th scale models have been positioned in this way to look like faces. Aren’t they cute?

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Victor B2 Bomber

My first impression was “why is that plane painted white?” Then I read the description and found it was anti-flash white to try and protect the crew by reflecting some of the thermal energy from a nuclear explosion. The Cold War – happy days…

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Apollo 11 Lunar Module

I can’t remember if I ever made one of these as a child – I do remember my dad making the giant AirFix Apollo rocket for me, though, and think I had the lovingly painted sections hanging from the ceiling of my bedroom.

What struck me most, though, was that this model was the property of Doug Millard, Senior Curator of Space Technology at the museum. I think it’s great when a childhood passion can build into a career that must bring him such satisfaction.

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Upstairs on the first floor was the “Measuring Time” gallery which, not surprisingly, had many examples of clocks and the like. I’m not really into the great craftsmanship required to make the clocks on display but I did find a few of interest.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre “Atmos II” self-winding clock
– this otherwise normal-looking clock had a bellows filled with ethyl chloride gas which expands and contracts with the surrounding temperature and atmospheric pressure. These movements wind a large spring by a ratchet mechanism so the clock never needs to be wound.
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Sir William Congreve’s rolling-ball clock – initially designed in 1808 as an attempt to  offer a more efficient option to the pendulum clock, the accumulation of dust on the surfaces made this a poor timekeeper; now it looks more like an IWantOneOfThose toys for executives.
The Speaking Clock – when looking at this machine, I had been wondering how the voice was stored and then I saw what looked like several glass LPs spinning round.

According to http://www.britishtelephones.com, “Of the four discs, two share the minutes, each having thirty sound tracks. The other two discs are used for the hours and seconds.

The hour disc has twelve tracks and the seconds disc six tracks. The various words of the sentences are also recorded on the various discs, so that when an announcement is made all the discs come into use.”

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Next to the hall of clocks was “Cosmos & Culture: how astronomy has shaped our world”.

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After a last-minute trip to the museum shop before closing time (a box of half-price Firefly Chinese flying lanterns), we walked past the Royal Albert Hall and sat in the park next to the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.

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The Memorial is a striking monument. By today’s standards, it is over-the-top in its design, covered as it is with gold leaf and the like. The restoration work of the 1990s has been exceptional and it all still looks new and fresh. Apparently the monument originally  cost the equivalent of £10 million in public donations, roughly the same amount as was spent to restore it – I wonder if it would have been cheaper to rebuild it from scratch? Probably not…

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