The weekend just gone saw Open House London 2013. I didn’t really get involved with it, partly because I spent Friday night completing the Maggie’s Culture Crawl (a night-time charity walk around London) and didn’t get to bed until 9 am. This didn’t leave me with much time or inclination to stand in queues to enter buildings for hours. However, when I went to Denmark Hill station (in pursuit of my London Underground project) I saw that the Salvation Army’s William Booth College was right across the street and open to visitors. I thought, since I was there, I might as well pop in, though my only knowledge of the Salvation Army comes from two rather dubious sources: one, the ‘Sally Army’ weapon employed by the little wriggly soldiers in the computer game Worms, and two, Harold Bishop in Neighbours.
The College was founded in order to train cadets, both men and women, for service as officers. Built as a memorial to, and named after, the founder of the SA (statues of him and his wife Catherine are present outside), it was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Liverpool Cathedral, opening in 1929.
I attended a short talk on the history of the Salvation Army, and then there was an opportunity to climb the tower, but since I’d just done a 15-mile walk and subsequently had only two hours’ sleep, I decided not to take this.
I managed to catch the King’s College exhibition about Byron just in time – it closes on Wednesday. The exhibition is displayed in the beautiful Weston Room, part of the Maughan Library, and was curated by the Foyle Special Collections Library of King’s College London and the John Murray Archive of the National Library of Scotland, for the 39th International Byron Conference in July (there’s an International Byron Conference! How awesome!).
I wanted to see the exhibition for two main reasons. One: it is full of manuscripts and rare books, which are always interesting. Two: it’s Byron! I have a bit of an obsession with the man, so there was no way I was going to miss this.
‘Byron and politics’ takes a slightly different look at the “mad, bad and dangerous to know” poet’s life, focusing on his political life and bringing together manuscripts, letters, printed editions and several of Byron’s personal possessions. The exhibition explores the contradictions in the poet’s thought and life: he hated the ruling Tory party but also disliked their opponents the Whigs; he was an aristocrat with a seat in the House of Lords, yet he spoke up for the poor and needy, notably in his Parliamentary speech in which he championed the cause of the Nottinghamshire Luddites; he was in love with the idea of democracy yet refused to admit the poor he knew to be capable of taking part in it. Byron greatly admired Napoleon and was overwhelmingly disappointed when he chose exile over a ‘noble death’. He himself met his end in Missolonghi, Greece, fighting for the cause of Greek independence.
For someone whose reputation is of a wild, wicked, immoral and frivolous poet, Byron’s deep engagement with the political issues of the day are something of a revelation. This aspect of his life shows, perhaps, a deeper side to his character and a more serious one. He also seems to have had a strong sympathetic understanding of the less fortunate, though ultimately he refused to side with any one party or way of thinking, preferring to form his own views. I took a copy of the exhibition guide, so that I can revisit this aspect of Byron’s life in the future.
A few weeks ago, I decided to visit London Zoo. I don’t know why I hadn’t got round to doing this sooner, since the Penguin Beach opened a couple of years ago, and I absolutely adore penguins, so you might have thought I’d be dying to go. But it’s so expensive! My ticket was £25, although I did go for the fast track entry, as I can’t be bothered to wait in queues. The best thing about the fast track entry is that it takes you in through the exit, which just happens to be right next to Penguin Beach. So you can guess where I went first.
The penguins at Penguin Beach are Humbolt penguins from Chile. There is one exception and that is Rocky, the Rockhopper penguin. The Humbolts are black and white but Rocky has a jazzy yellow tuft on his head – a punk penguin. I was just in time for the penguins’ lunchtime feed, so I sat down with all the other spectators and watched them swim spectacularly towards the pool. Penguins are so elegant in the water but so funny on land, and I was highly amused by one of them who kept waddling after the keeper demanding fish.
After spending time with the penguins I popped into the Butterfly Paradise. This tropical house was similar to the one I recently visited at the Natural History Museum but with the addition of Atlas Moth caterpillars which were absolutely huge. Next I decided to use the subway and get to the other side of the road to look at the other animals there. I loved the owls and the other birds at this side, and was impressed by the Into Africa section. I couldn’t see any sign of the hunting dogs but the warthogs were having a nap in the sun, and there was a pretty okapi eating some leaves (though I was annoyed at one parent I overheard telling their child that it was a ‘little giraffe’ – WRONG!). Inside the house there was an adorable baby okapi. I wanted to get a picture but it was standing with its back to me and wouldn’t turn round! There were a couple of giraffes too, one of which was being fed. I knew giraffes were big, but I think I’d forgotten just how big.
I was super excited at the next thing, which was – meerkats! And even better, BABY MEERKATS! They were just adorable. They all – adults and babies – seemed quite unafraid and happy to pose for photographs.
This end of the zoo is also where the rainforest and nocturnal creatures live. The Rainforest Life area is home to a sloth as well as several monkeys – who looked like little old men – various birds and an armadillo. The nocturnal area had a chinchilla as well as other night-time animals – a colony of fruit bats were particularly impressive.
Realising that a good couple of hours had passed, and I’d still only seen a small number of the animals on display, I decided that it was time to get a move on. I went back up the subway and made a very brief detour into the Bugs building. My favourite thing about this area was the leaf cutter ants – I’ve seen them before but I never get tired of watching them carry their huge pieces of leaf back to the nest. I moved rather quickly through the bit with the spiders – I just don’t like them, they make me shudder, especially the black widow!
One of the things I like about this zoo is that they let you get as close to the animals as possible, while taking into consideration the health and safety of both you and the animals. The Meet the Monkeys enclosure is a case in point: you can wander around inside and see the little monkeys leaping about in the trees above your head.
My next stop was the Blackburn Pavilion, where the tropical birds live. This is a lovely ornate Victorian building, and it has a pretty impressive clock outside it.
I walked past the Animal Adventure section at first, as I thought it was some kind of children’s play area. However I realized my mistake and went back in. It was certainly aimed at children – and designed by them too, apparently – but the animals here, such as camels, alpacas and aardvarks, can be appreciated by adults too. There is also a petting zoo where you can say hello to some sheep and goats – I witnessed a hilarious scene here watching a father try in vain to rescue a map of the zoo the goat had stolen from his child.
Some of the more exciting animals in any zoo are the big cats, such as lions and tigers. The lions were in a rather old-fashioned enclosure, but the tigers are in a shiny new Tiger Territory: you go on a trail around the enclosure and learn about tiger conservation on the way. I thought this was really well done and informative.
Passing the tapirs, bearded pigs and Galapagos tortoises – which were awesome – I headed into the Reptile House. One of the most exciting parts was actually seeing the place where the first Harry Potter was filmed – the scene where Harry speaks to a snake. I quite like snakes, so I enjoyed looking around here – don’t go in if you’re not a fan! On the way out I saw the Komodo dragons, which were awesome.
Next I popped into the Gorilla Kingdom. This was great especially when I got to see the gorillas enjoying their lunch. They are so amazing and intelligent. On the way out I passed the various kinds of monkeys who live nearby.
I was running out of time by then, so I quickly headed to the Outback area to check out the kangaroos, wallabies and emus. I then popped into the Aquarium, but didn’t have time for more than a cursory glance. I headed towards the exit – but not, of course, before paying a last visit to the penguins.
I was completely exhausted after visiting London Zoo, but I’m so glad I went. There was loads to see – I’d definitely go again.