Thursday 28 June 2012

There's no place like home

Yesterday we went to Manchester Museum with CultureGrandad. I've mentioned in a previous post that one of my enduring memories of my childhood was my love affair with this museum. Though quite a bit has changed, and at times I felt the sort of disorientation one feels when a much loved house is redecorated, the place still feels like home, and I wandered around (coincidentally wearing my ruby slippers), bombarded by a flurry of wonderful memories. One of the things I adore about this fabulous collection is that it is a melting pot of so many types of museum under one roof. It has natural and ancient history, dinosaurs and minerals, anthropology and live animals. As a child this provided hours and hours of interest on a regular basis, and (for better or worse) it is completely responsible for my ongoing obsession with Egypt.

So it was not a surprise to me that this fantastic museum provided one of Culturebaby's most exciting experiences to date. We went to visit the vivarium. This was one of my favourite areas as a child and once contained an alligator and some large snakes. These are no longer living there, but there is an excellent and colourful collection of frogs and lizards. I think it was a bit tricky for Culturebaby to spot some of the more camouflaged or still creatures but she found other tanks extremely exciting. She waggled her legs and stroked the glass of the flooded Amazonian rain forest. This was fascinating with water vapour recreating damp rain and lush green foliage with lizards and frogs. She also seemed to be trying to splash the water in the tank with the tadpoles. However, we couldn't have imagined what was waiting for us round the corner. The Museum has recently acquired a vibrant young Panther Chameleon. This little chap is apparently the exact same age as Culturebaby, a little over 8 months, and perhaps it recognised a peer or potential playmate as she looked into the glass. It saw her, moved down the tank onto the glass next to her hand, peered back at her and reached out its own hand under hers. This was such an amazing moment that it gathered rather a crowd and I think will remain a rather magical memory for us!

We were then really pleasantly surprised to find that we had stumbled across the time that the public are able to meet and touch some of the animals. Apparently the museum tries to do this between 3 and 4pm in quiet times during the week (not school holidays). There were a number of children present and they each (along with Culturebaby) were able to stroke the very tolerant and friendly lizards who are available for handling. Again this was an unexpected and thrilling sensory experience for her.

I'm not going to talk about the rest of the museum in this post, but bear with me a moment as I go slightly off brief to rave about a wonderful and highly original exhibition the museum has at present for slightly older children. As a child I wanted to be an Egyptologist and, unlike most children perhaps, I never grew out of this. I could only have in my wildest dreams imagined at the age of 7 that such an exhibition as Unearthed would be available. While the mummies section of the Museum is being revamped (due to reopen in the Autumn), the curators have thoughtfully provided a quality temporary exhibition on Egypt aimed at Key Stage 2. However, with some parental support I think the intelligent 3 or 4 year old would also get something really valuable from the experience. You enter the exhibition to a video of Dr Digby (played on film by Terry Deary, author of Horrible Histories) introducing his dig. For a taster see here. To your right is also a professor's study (an installation by American artist Mark Dion, ‘Bureau of the Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacy.’) While an artwork in its own right, it does a marvellous job in setting the scene and creating an atmosphere for the exhibition. Dr Digby explains to visitors that he has collected so much from his years of exploration and discovery in Egypt, that he hasn't had enough time to investigate and record it all. The visitor enters an emotive store room with artefacts in display cases, topped by packing cases and luggage, and surrounded by archaeologists' tents. They are invited to select a worksheet for a topic (such as belief, language, the home etc...), complete unfinished tasks and claim a certificate. The exhibition really gets the visitor of whatever age to focus on the parallels between ancient and modern items, and take the time to observe, measure and draw them. Descriptions of the objects from visitors are displayed as part of the exhibition, building on the idea that it is all a work in progress. Other highlights include a creative video produced with local primary kids showing the process of mummification and the discipline of archaeology (think Morph being disembowled and mummified!) and a dressing-up box with the opportunity for a photograph in front of the pyramids. And even Culturebaby got something out of the experience - she selected a mirror from the modern artefacts and had a whale of a time carrying it round the exhibition, while she looked at the eye-catching decoration, videos and artefacts on display and sported an explorer's hat.

Sometimes in a museum there is so much to see that you don't really take anything in. This exhibition ensures that you really look and think about what is in front of you. I thought it was wonderful, and created that warm fuzzy feeling where you feel like a part of the excitement of your childhood, long forgotten, has itself been unearthed. In that respect there's something for all of us there. Please keep it Manchester.


  1. Have you read the book "Baby Brains'? It's a picture book with a beautiful story about a baby who is raised listening to classical music and experiencing cultural educational opportunities. If you haven't heard of it you really should check it out - here it is at Amazon: (

    I just came across your blog through Tots 100 as I am a new blogger - if you had a chance to stop by it would be much appreciated!

    Little Miss Soapbox

    1. I haven't come across Baby Brains yet, it looks lovely. I see you are from Bolton or surrounding area? Manchester Museum is at the forefront of planning cool events for babies. Have you tried any of their sessions?


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