We went down to London for Frankie's birthday (he is eleven, unbelievably). Curiosities noted during an afternoon marching through the museums of South Kensington (Natural History, V & A) until our feet hurt:
--One ancient Empress penguin egg, only slightly cracked, brought back from the Antartcic inside Captain Cook's mitten.
--One pebble-sized fragment of moon rock, brought back from outer space by an unnamed American astronaut (probably not inside his mitten, although the accompanying label was infuriatingly silent on this detail) and subsequently bequeathed to a grateful nation by Richard Nixon, the soon-to-be-comprehensively disgraced President of the United States of America.
--One rather fetching slimline tennis dress, creamy white with porcelain blue patterned details to the sleeving and skirt-hems, as worn by slimline summertime debutantes during the heyday of the Charleston era (now preserved in glasscase upon appropriately-proportioned headless tailor's dummy).
--One lifesize wind-up painted wooden tiger-organ, fang-laden jaws agape and perennially in the process of taking a lusty bite out of a prone lifesize wooden white-faced soldier who is pinned helplessly to the floor by the tiger's wooden claws (this is the sort of thing that adorned the living rooms of noblemen of the Raj, in the days before Ikea opened a branch in out-of-town Bombay and the trappings of chintz were outlawed by imperial decree).
-- One wallfull of tiny precious stones arranged in individual glass encasements, each of them labelled as to genre and provenance (Derbyshire, southern France, the Antipodes)
-- One aislefull of very,very bored French teenagers, draped in semi-comatose form across the walkway railings above the dinosaur section, affecting studied disinterest in all around them.
--One famous big dinosaur skeleton in famous big room
--Several much less famous but much more impressive real dinosaur skeletons, some of them up to sixty feet long, discovered on the beaches of Dorset by a busty 18th-century woman from Lyme Regis named Mary Anning who we thought was one of Frankie's invented characters due to her completely made-up sounding name, but who turns out to have more or less singlehandedly proved the existence of prehistoric life upon the Eurasian landmass while on her way to the shops for a basket of eggs one Tuesday morning- a female pioneering pre-industrial-revolution achievement which is only now being recognised by inclusion in the National Curriculum (hence Frankie's enlightenment and our ignorance/incredulity), and which makes the accomplishments of the likes of your Florence Nightingale and your Grace Darling and your Marie Curie (and for that matter your acutal Queen Victoria, Empress of India and vanquisher of Chintz) look, frankly, like those of dilettante amateurs.
On the way there (to that London, I mean) we were upgraded, quite unbidden, to first class by a taciturn but kindly bright-red-liveried employee of the Virgin Corporation attached to Stockport rail station and brandishing an early-morning tray of complementary Mother's Day chocolates- a gesture which left us at once charmed and flummoxed, occasioning the dropping of our carefully sorted wallet-full of second class tickets on the waiting-room floor and a last-second dash for the arriving Pendolino, followed by our temporary occupation of someone else's reserved seats in the rarefied and mostly deserted environs of the first class coach, meaning we had to gather ourselves and our belongings and make a slight exhibition of ourselves relocating to the next table along.
On the return journey (actually slightly to our relief) we were left absolutely to our own devices by the Euston platform crew, meaning that we were returned to our habitual social status among the standard-class travellers, where, accustomed as we had become to the finer side of life during our earlier complementary two-hour sabbatical among the elite, we affected distaste at the mores of the lower orders (brief summary of the mores of the lower orders, assorted specimens, London Euston to Stockport, Carriage H, Saturday 14 March 2015: Hungry consummation of double-deck mayo cheeseburgers ; engagement in marathon excitable conversation on subject of Premiership football in unidentified language, possibly Taiwanese); vomiting copiously in doorway; sleeping open-mouthed from Watford Junction onwards, awaking with a start at Stoke; reading the Daily Telegraph sports section while picking at a takeaway curry and drinking white wine straight from the bottle; watching Hollywood films on tiny mobile phone screens attached to headphones; gazing out of the window at rapid-changing panorama of the farmersfields and carpetwarehouses of mid-Staffordshire).
Also- Brick Lane, and the trendy nearby Spitalfields streetmarket, where we met for a fleeting hour an old acquaintance from Wolverhampton Polytechnic days and reminisced over tea about the backstreet tapas bars of 1980s Barcelona (I reminisced about my year living in Santander, before remembering I never lived in Santander at all, it was San Sebastian). Frankie meanwhile, ready to fall asleep after a long day gazing at curiosities, devoured a ham and cheese crepe and listened politely, speaking only when spoken to like a Victorian child preserved behind a glasscase, and generally adopting the demure persona he reserves for public encounters with unfamiliar adults of our ancient acquaintance.
All the above- and Frankie's highlight of the day (after not a moment's hesitation, when I asked him on the way to school this morning):
'The tube trains'.
He was also quite taken (he assures me) by the smallprint on the top-left corners of the streetsigns which identified the various boroughs of London traversed during the day (Camden, St Pancras, Holborn, Kensington and Chelsea, another one in the East End) and quizzed me for some minutes on the intricacies of metropolitan local government and the attendant challenges for the operational management of the transport infrastructure, before despairing of my ignorance and giving up. I think he noticed the museums and their fascinating educational curiosities as well, though. I think.
And now- it is Monday and I have a precious day off, the culmination of a four-day weekend using flexitime built up during two months of working ridiculous hours in the obscure service of the communities of Manchester's fashionable Westside. And the sun has come out, meaning there is no excuse to stay in this Wi-Fi enabled café (it is the one where they don't pay their taxes, at least not most of them, and they insist on finding out your name and writing it on the cups, you know the one) for a moment longer, and there is nothing for it but to venture to the allotment and, if today is like any other day that I venture to the allotment, receive several minutes' worth of unsolicited advice on potato husbandry from random, gnarled-handed, ruddy-faced retired railwaymen from County Mayo sporting patterned cardigans from British Home Stores. Person or persons of the internet, I bid you good day.