So! Part 2! You get two posts today, for being so kind as to wait for me for more than a week. To continue the ramble of life…
The other birthday last week, was Son Number One. He was 21. He is an unusual person, in that he doesn’t really care at all for birthdays, and he doesn’t think it was at all lame to come and spend his birthday with me, his mum. I kept what we were doing as a surprise. I actually had some more money for this birthday. Stanley had been astonishingly selfless in contributing money toward it at the expense of his own birthday. (I’m not being sarky: I love birthdays, and Stanley thinks he doesn’t, but seems to really – he likes having a fuss made of him and going somewhere.) We agreed it was an important birthday, and we should do something – even if it was only proving to Son Number One that birthdays aren’t all boring once you’re older than twelve. (Where he picked up this singularly unfun idea I have no clue.)
So he came down on the Saturday and when we woke up on Sunday he was actually a bit excited and eventually, after feeding Fluffhead and leaving him with Stanley for the day, we set off to the secret and much fun venue. I don’t think birthdays should be about grown up stuff, myself. So I took him to the London Dungeons. This was actually a complete misstep, as he had always said he enjoyed it at school, and would love to go back. I enjoyed it once too and thought the same. But he stood in front of it and did that thing only your own kids can get away with doing, of saying: ‘Is this it? Is this the surprise? Oh.’ Its all in the ‘oh’. (I was a bit relieved to tell the truth, as I was still Womanflu-ing – I cannot get across to you how heroic I’ve been all week going out and doing stuff with my Dreadful Ailment dogging me every step of the way. I was relieved to not have to be pleasantly frightened or have loud noises in my ear when I was feeling all dizzy and spacey anyway.) It did leave a bit of a hole in the day though. I hadn’t been sensible and accrued a Plan B.
So we wandered up and down the river and South Bank for an hour and a half, building up a hearty appetite for something or other. (Noticeable lack of Odd People down here in this area of wealth and prosperity, by the way. Marked noticing of ruddy faced well-dressed people and happy looking tourists.) Son Number One loves good old Pizza Express. So we sat there and had a very extravagant meal (we spent the meal money plus the London Dungeon money; we had drinks and siders, and starters and desserts and every good thing.) (Meanwhile Stanley texts and tells me he is finally exhibiting the cold and feeling ‘poorly’. I have always liked this wan little word. I text him that he needs tea – since he refuses most medicine of any description, which really offends my inner hypochondriac as I have LOTS of medicine to hand. He accepts the suggestion of tea, and is not heard from for a further while.)
After the meal, Son Number One is suddenly full of beans and thinks the London Dungeon isn’t such a bad idea after all. I then have to inform him we just ate any possibility of doing it. To which he asks what else is in the surrounding area that is any good. And I have a fit of nostalgia and tell him we aren’t far from the Museum of London. This has always been my favourite museum over all others. He loved it when small too. We both have a near obsession with the Fire of London room. Showing what an amazing person he can be sometimes he thinks the Museum would be a fine idea and we trot off to it after calling poorly Stanley for directions. (I have no sense of direction, and Son can get back from anywhere having been there once, but we needed to get there for him to memorise the route.)
We have a great walk through the City getting there. (I say to him that this will be the birthday he remembers as the Spectacular one, where I gave him Fresh Air and Exercise and Education, to go with the customary feed. He looks both humourous and exasperated by this; I love a good incorrect spin as an irritant.) On the way there, right near London Wall, there are suddenly Morris Dancers everywhere, who I hear first rather than see. I hear the knee bells. They go past hither and thither, no one direction only; different costumes and all happy looking. Sadly, I have worn the wrong shoes today (I wasn’t expecting to have to do so much walking) so I don’t have the energy to chase them as I usually would to ask why they are so incongruously here, in the near deserted City back streets on a Sunday. Their bells fade away after a while. We pass a sign for the Museum of Banking. I suggest we go there instead. We both laugh heartily and settle for not vandalising it. (See, I am not entirely without reasonable enlightenment despite the occasional strong view.)
Then around the corner, is what I think is a little horse. Then another. People are tending small brown horses – are they ponies? – and feeding them hay, by the side of vans. I am very excited as only a Nature Loving Born Townie can be, at the idea of Sudden Unusual Strokeable Animals in London. I do actually rush up to the first of these people and ask if I can touch their horse. The woman smiles at me kindly and underlines my Towny Ignorance by informing me it’s a donkey. Of course it is, now I look at it. I am so ignorant of so many things, its annoying. I’m sure I rode on donkeys at the seaside when I was little? I just don’t quite remember. The donkey is very friendly and utterly peaceful. It looks up at me without ceasing to munch at all, and flicks its lovely brown ears. I don’t think hay looks very good to eat, but the donkey seems most pleased. Its name is Jezebel, which seems completely silly and therefore a very good name. Son laughs at me for a while as I am so excited to stroke it, and then its friends that appear close by. In my excitement, I completely neglect to ask these people why there are donkeys and Morris Dancers in London on a Sunday where there aren’t any people. We forge on, and get to the Museum.
I forgot it had been refurbished. It has not been as mangled as the Natural History Museum, which I remembered as a marvellously elegant building filled with tall soaring skeletons of the long gone beasts (and that excellent Human Biology section where the woman screams as she falls in the canal in the film that demonstrates heart rate and stress). It’s now a loud, neon, completely overcrowded theme park for children. Stanley and I vowed to not go there again, the disappointment in the change being too great.
I don’t know what it is about museums refurbishing not only what needs to be redone, but also what is perfectly fine, and has a cult following. They ruined the Fire of London room. It used to be a darkened room, separated from the rest of the museum by a heavy black curtain. The lights would go down, and the wind sound effects would start. A voice would say, ‘Its 3 in the morning, and all’s well….’, the town cryer, words to that effect. It would tell of the Fire, beginning in that small house in Pudding Lane, and going on, progressively lighting up the brilliant model of London before it with tinny little orange lights, showing the progression of the fire. The wind would howl, the voices of the narrator would tell of the attempts to outrun the fire and failing; how eventually they took to blowing up houses before the fire could get to them, which was the only thing that stopped it in some areas. There would be sound effects of explosions, woody and old, and projections of orange and yellow flames would rise up all about the room. It was slightly amateurish and completely mesmeric and wonderful. I don’t know anybody who didn’t like it. Now, it’s a semi lit room (no curtain). They have kept the model and the rising flame effects, but only within the area of the model – so you aren’t involved in a surround way, anymore. They have lost the narrator, and instead have several different voices telling you about the fire. The annoying thing is – it’s more of less the same accounts, Pepys, Evelyn etc – but the atmosphere is completely lost. No wind, no explosion; the model is barely lit up, only sections. There are inane projections of some fire eating a manuscript and shadowy old houses from a documentary programme referenced at the end shown on the back wall of the room. It’s all clinical, and informative…and has no feeling of time travel or ambience whatsoever. (I really hope someone kept the original audio of that Fire Room, so that if something they will listen to complains and asks for the old one back it’s still possible to have it. I hate that feeling – that something good is irretrievably lost.)
They did the same to the Victorian Walk downstairs. There still is a good set of Victorian mocked up shops, showing the goods laid out. But there used to be street sounds pumped through the whole section. As you progressed through, you felt as though you were in a crowded Victorian street, hearing people calling their wares, hearing coaches clatter past, complete with snorts of horses…now there are only sounds for the pub room, and they are oddly muted. I was sorry the Diseases section was gone. How else will the world know about Glanders? Such a scary Victorian disease.
We enjoyed the Museum in other ways. We enjoyed playing the daft computer games there; we enjoyed the new Black Death room (oddly atmospheric in its bitty presentation). We enjoyed the Roman section (though again, it had been rendered oddly slick and antiseptic by the renovation).
But all in all, even though he waited for his cake for a further day and a half, Son seems to have had a good birthday; or an ok birthday…which is better than the no birthday at all he would have done for himself if left to it. He had such a good time he’s still here. I just had him busy in the garden, while I’m doing this.
Then it was the time for Fluffhead to get back in the spotlight of Life. Saint Mum came to take him to the park yesterday, and astonishingly, I was still snotty. (Twelve days and counting. Humpf.) I watched some Buffy with Son, always good for a veg, and then decided to take my spacey self off for a Good Lie Down. This was of course a doomed idea, as Saint Mum immediately reappeared with a bleeding headed Fluffhead. Despite having stood up under a metal slide in the park (far away), and having created a great gouting wound, he was miraculously not turning into Tetchyhead. It took Saint Mum an hour and a half to get back from the park on the bus, to ask me what to do about the wound. (I told her in future to go straight to hospital and not come back for me.) By then it was a bit all over the place and there were lots of bloody tissues here and there. Fluffhead seemed completely unpeturbed, so I walked him round to the doctor which is 5 minutes away. As they did last time he had a head bump, they helpfully refused to see him and insisted I go to the hospital. (Because of this, and so I would be prepared in future, I had an emergency £50 for a taxi to get there in a hurry…the hospital is an hour and half away by bus, again, in rush hour. I do love doctors, can you tell?) Luckily, Son was still here and had his car. He has a very slacker attitude to life in general and is very unimpressed with his brother altogether, but leapt to action and drove us there very quickly. Saint Mum, who was still guilting (though he would just as easily have stood up under that slide with me as her, so just one of those things), was still fretting, so was very impressed with his speed and readiness in crisis.
Stanley had been diverted on the way home, and met us there with his excellent customary calm and togetherness. I was actually too snotty to panic, which was a good thing as I do a really good panic when moved. Fluffhead had fallen asleep in the car which led Saint Mum to further worries of possible concussion, but you know how lulling cars are for tinies. As soon as we got to the Children’s Waiting Room, he caused havoc and tore up and down the room, and wanted to play with all the dirty old hospital toys, and the other wounded children. I pursued him with antibacterial handwash; Stanley pursued him with our toys; my mother pursued him with her calculator, which did the trick, as he loves Grown Up Things He Shouldn’t Be Playing With. We were seen amazingly quickly by the world’s perkiest nurse (in my experience NHS nurses are relatively surly; children’s wards are the definite exception). She gained his eternal love with a clicky pen torch while she examined his head. Apparently nowadays they glue children's damaged heads instead of stitching them. We had a very fun time holding poor Fluffhead like a battering ram sideways while I rinsed his hair to get the blood out (what a sad little sight, all the blood running into the bowl; how clean his hair was after). He complained and yelled and generally showed great good health, and continued as the perky nurse dried him and the perky doctor agreed the glue was ok and he wasn’t cut as deeply as it looked, scalp wounds bleed muchly etc etc. He was finally pacified by the Freemasons.
Yes, the Freemasons. Instead of conducting some shadowy international political intrigue involving costumes and blindfolding (and possibly Jack the Ripper and definitely Mozart), they were visiting the hospital and handing out teddy bears to sick children. We got one with a red suit on. The woman looked completely normal and not the slightest bit in a Secret Society famed the world over for…well, how many books have you read on it? How many dodgy documentaries have you seen? What do we really actually know? We don’t really, do we, as its secret…(Did you click on the link? Fascinating! Are you convinced?!)
All I can tell you is, we left the hospital that evening, having named the teddy the Emperor Octavius Wolfgang, the Horned One. (I named him, obviously.) Fluffhead fell asleep, apparently unconcussed, in the car, on the way home, his hair drying in the breeze from the open window. Clutching the small Freemason Teddy.