Yesterday was Darwin Day, and I headed down to London for an evolution-themed afternoon. I met up with a coruscating someone just before lunch, and we headed across town through at-times-heavy rain. We tried to see Darwin’s grave in Westminster Abbey but balked at the £10 entrance fee – maybe we’d have paid that between us, but each is extortionate1. Sheltering from the rain prevented us quite making it to Crockatt and Powell as we had an appointment at the Natural History Museum.
We’d booked tickets for the Explore Tour, which takes groups of seven behind the scenes of their huge and newly-built Darwin Centre to see some of the 22 million specimens on 27 kilometres of shelves. It was excellent. We saw Archie the Giant Squid, who lives in a £25,000 glass tank built with the help of Damien Hirst – apparently the source of expertise in glass cases – and has possibly the largest eye in the animal kingdom as well as suckers ringed by spikes. There was also a coelacanth, a section of the Thames whale – all the UK’s dead whales and dolphins are sent to the NHM for post mortems – and, possibly most exciting of all, type specimens collected by Darwin during the Beagle voyage. Our knowledgeable tour guide got drenched by the rain while showing us in and out, but was cheerful and friendly throughout. It’s a free tour that can only be booked on the day, and I highly recommend it if you get the chance.
I’d forgotten how grand the NHM is – it reminded us both of Hogwarts, although sadly the stairs remained stationary. We walked around various exhibits while avoiding scurrying children, and had a great time. Plus, of course, there was the foyer dinosaur, who never fails to impress.
The rain held off for the rest of the day, happily, and all too soon it was time to head back. We had a little trouble finding the platform at King’s Cross, mind:
Children were running into it as we left. Ouch.
Cephalopods, evolution, grandeur with an air of magic, and great company – what more could you ask for from a day?