Full steam ahead

Before I write about the wonders of today, I just have to report the biggest news of the day. We actually saw the sun this morning. Okay, it was behind a rather milky sky but it was there. I could see shadows so it must have been there.

Today, being a Wednesday, saw me on the train to London for the usual date with Mirinda. I was accompanied on my train by a young chap who appeared to have all his worldly possessions stacked around him. How he was going to carry it all when we reached his station was anyone’s guess. As he travelled all the way to Waterloo, I was tempted to hang around and watch but the pull of my destination was too great so I headed down to the Northern Line for the short trip to Leicester Square.

Today I was finally going to visit the London Transport Museum. I’ve been putting it off because it’s one of the few London museums which charge an entrance fee. However, at the moment, in celebration of the underground’s 150th birthday, they are holding an exhibition of transport posters through the ages and, since it’s included in the ticket price, I figured it was a price worth paying.

I am so glad I did. It’s a fabulous museum (unless you’re bored to tears looking at omnibuses, trams and trains, of course). It’s at Covent Garden and is housed in the same space as the Theatre Museum was before it’s untimely demise.

My first surprise was at the ticket desk. I told the chap serving that I wanted one full priced ticket and a guide book. Rather than give me a ticket and take my money, he asked me if I’d like a yearly pass instead. Naturally, I said no thanks. He then told me it was the same cost of the normal entrance fee but meant I could visit as many times as I wanted for a year. Naturally, I said yes thanks, thinking I could go back if I was at a loose end or as shelter from the rain some time.

He then explained that I had to merely answer one question. I told him to go ahead.

HIM: What’s your first initial?
ME: G.
HIM: And what’s your surname?
ME: But that’s two questions.
HIM: (after a pause) Well, it’s really the second part of the same question.
ME: Fair enough. It’s Cook…no ‘e’.

He then printed off a ticket with my name on it and had me sign it in front of him. And that was it. Brilliant. All I have to do is hang onto the ticket and show it every time I return. As it turned out, I’m rather glad he sold it to me.

The museum starts on the top floor in the year 1800. London is full of horse drawn vehicles and young lads with brooms sweeping the manure off the streets. Apparently, a broom lasted them about two weeks before it needed replacing. And so we begin to travel forwards in time.

All the human models look like they’re having a great time

There are a lot of actual vehicles in the museum, most of them open to the public to sit in and try and experience the discomfort usually reserved for the 19th century traveller. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to sit in the original horse drawn omnibus because of the French school children who appeared to be trying to drive it back to the continent. This was to be a recurring theme during my visit.

The museum was quite busy. Along with the general public (which included a lot of strollers and their annoying passengers), and the aforementioned French kids, there was also a big group of German school children. This made it quite a test of my patience. A few times I conjectured how I could get the French and German kids to start fighting each other and, therefore get thrown out but I couldn’t think of anything workable. I put up with them.

The only respite from the mayhem that is a couple of European school excursions was the poster exhibition. Far too dull for kids I’m glad to say. I found it fantastic. Two whole floors of big posters dating back to the early 1800’s right up to the present day. Some of the art deco ones were fabulous. Although my favourite (and the one I voted for) was from 1911 and was promoting female travel on the trains. A beautiful piece of marketing to the popularity of the suffragette movement.

However, I couldn’t stay looking at posters all afternoon and once more emerged to join the throng of marauding teenagers.

One of the highlights for me (and there were lots) was the only surviving underground steam engine (the Metropolitan number 23) from 1823. It’s hard to imagine steam trains travelling along the tube lines and, to be fair, they were not used on the deep lines because it would have been impossible to vent them. The engine is beautiful and looks like it could still happily pull out of a station and chug across London.

Remarkably small and tireless

There was also one of the first electric engine carriages which I’m glad I never had to travel on. It had no windows and bench seats facing each other along the length of each side. These carriages were not popular. Not because they were stuffy or uncomfortable or claustrophobic but because the passengers couldn’t see what station they were at. Apparently, staff were employed at each station to run along the length of the train and shout out the name of the station so the passengers could jump off.

Before diving into the gift shop (yes Mum, I bought you a fridge magnet) I had a go at sitting in the cab of a modern bus. While the cab is accurate, the rest of the bus is missing and it looks somewhat peculiar. Still, you can’t see behind you when you’re driving a big red bus.

All in all, it was a great visit to an excellent museum. I thoroughly recommend it.

This bus was very popular with the little ones running up and down the stairs

Mirinda, on the other hand, was bored when I excitedly told her about it. Not one for her, then. Mind you, she did have rather a lot on her mind given the government’s ridiculous announcement today. So, I forgive her.

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1 Response to Full steam ahead

  1. Josephine Cook says:

    Dad and I would have loved that museum we missed so much when we lived there thank goodness we have you to tell us about our own country,thank you Gary Charles you read my mind all the time love you lots.
    Mum xx

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