Often our excursions with the children are unsuccessful (see, for example, our trip to Leinster House recently) but last week we went to the Dead Zoo at large and it was excellent. The Natural History Museum has been shut for a number of years following the spectacular collapse of its staircase (nobody injured but a number of attendants and tourists were shocked). It’s a great museum. It has cabinets filled with excitingly posed stuffed animals; things in bottles; insects on pins. It’s all very 19th century. Pending its re-opening (works clearly approved before the economy fell over a cliff), a part of the collection is being housed in another museum. We went to visit. It was wholly successful. The factors were as follows:
1. What we wanted to see was right inside the door. How many times have I been to places where the children have used up all their energies on the wrong thing and I have had to drag them away from the amphora at the entrance to see the enchanting puppet show. They have then spent the remainder of the time whinging that they want to go back to playing hide and seek with the amphora.
2. The (large) space was enclosed with only one exit.
3. The attendants were pleasant, chatty, helpful and tolerant of running children.
4. The exhibition was fantastic. Nothing like an enormous crystallised slug with spikes to appeal to the under 7s.
On a very wet Sunday, in a brief interval between showers we took ourselves to Play Day in Merrion Square. It was billed as a chance for children to play with normal, cheap, easily available things. The children absolutely loved it. The rain continued with enthusiasm all afternoon. They couldn’t have cared less. There were army tents filled with clothes for dressing up, puppet theatres, tea sets, drums made from saucepans and chopsticks to bang them. There was a large piece of cloth which the children could run under (remember running under sheets when they were being folded – like that only on a grander scale); there were bubble blowers the size of sieves (apparently glycerine in the water makes for superior bubbles); there were footballs and large inflatable yokes you could roll down the hill on; there was plasticene (made gooier and better by the driving rain), there was a cornflour/water/food colouring mix which had a bizarre and deeply satisfying consistency; there were pillow fights; there was a microphone where Michael sang several verses of “London Bridge is falling down” with great confidence and verve. There were no sweets on sale anywhere but they were giving out free fruit. I found it an enormous relief not to have to spend my afternoon fending off requests for ice cream, sweets and crisps. I spoke to one of the organisers and he told me that the previous year, it had been standing room only. The advantage of the rain was, I suppose, that our children had unimpeded access to the blue goo.