WAHM-BAM posted a review on Sea Life Centre in Birmingham, which she and her family got to by train. She asked if anyone else had been on trips over the holidays and given we did, I thought 'What the hell, let's review it!'
Last Friday was like the Battle of Arnheim - a bridge too far in terms of entertaining small over-excited boys in dire need of some school dicipline. We couldn't rustle up any friends to play with and another day of bouncing on the trampoline just wasn't something my pelvic floor could cope with. So I did a bit of internet searching for inspiration, and while I desperately wanted to take the boys to the Science Museum to see the Wallace & Gromit exhibition, I couldn't get tickets and the price of the non-obtainable tickets could have seen me buy myself a new pair of shoes instead.
So I opted for the London Transport Museum as an alternative. Firstly, it has trains and buses in it. Secondly it's right next to 'daddy's work', which meant we might get see my husband during office hours (what a novelty).
We opted to go in by train and tube (just to emphasise the whole transport theme). The train ride was probably more exciting to the boys than the propect of the museum. Well the first ten minutes of excitement were, before they started asking 'Are we there yet?' That mantra holds true regardless of your mode of transport.
After navigating our way through the bowels of London's tube system, during which my children were determined not to mind the gap or the yellow line preventing them from throwing themselves in front of an oncoming train, we finally got to the museum.
We were greeted to a long line of people standing in the rain. I should have bought tickets in advance but didn't, having bought things in advance too many times, only to have a child decide to slam their fingers in a car door or be beset by dysentry as we're leaving the house, cancelling the day out.
So we waited. In the rain. Children aren't particularly blessed with an ability to wait. Their concept of queuing is decidedly African in nature (if you've ever lived there you'll know what I mean) i.e. stand as close as possible to the person in front of you or simply ignore the queue altogether and saunter up to the front of the line with a 'and who's going to stop me' attitude.
We finally got in. It cost me a tenner (would have been £8 if I hadn't gift aided it) and kids under 16 go free. Hooray!
After checking raincoats (for free - another hooray!) we started following the arrows that lead you through the mazelike tour of trains, tubes and buses. It's all a bit loud and colourful, with huge maps of the world's underground systems painted on the walls. I felt like a tiny person who'd been shrunk and set loose in a giant A-Z. Perhaps this would seem less frenetic if you hadn't just had to use London transport to get there.
Anyway, we hopped in an elevator which cleverly acts as a time machine with a counter that rewinds time from the present to the 1800s, with matching sound effects changing from hooting cars to clip clopping horses.
You exit and face an array of old carriages, some of which the children are allowed to climb on, some they're not. When going to a museum with children, you don't get to read any of the explanatory signs about what you're looking at. You simply charge as fast as you can from one thing to the next, pushing as many interactive buttons as you can en route. I gather - from my speed reading efforts - that people used to get around London by horse and carriage and that the carriages turned into bus length carriages at some point. But the number of horses and subsequent poo issues meant a better solution was needed.
We interrupted our tour at this point as it was lunchtime and daddy could escape the confines of his office to meet us in the museum cafe. The cafe served many things in bread: beans on bread, fish finger sandwiches, paninis and burgers on buns. The food was ok, but the prices could have kept a Somalian family in food for about three months. Top tip: pack a picnic. There is a picnic area downstairs. Save your money for the toy shop because that's when the prices go from stupid to utterly ridiculous.
After shovelling food into our mouths (well the children ignored theirs but that's not an indictment on the food establishment), we went back to the start of the maze and rushed through the horse and carriages all over again, remembering to stamp our sticker sheet en route. There are stamping machines all over the place and the intention is to collect different stamps as you work your way around. The stamping machines are tricky to figure out and always have a queue of children around them as they battle to figure out which way to insert their maps. So much of our time was spent doing that.
We then headed downstairs and got to learn all about the early underground system (jolly clever chaps who made that) and learned that it initially ran on steam, which wasn't particularly good for people's health and made an underground trip even worse than an overcrowded tube on a hot summer's day when your face is wedged into someone's sweaty armpit.
So they managed to use electricity instead. I think. This part was glossed over as there were many buttons to push and trains to hop into and out of and stamps to collect.
Gradually we moved up to current day tubes, with the most interesting thing for me being the change in tube adverts over the years. The boys were more interested in whether they could squeeze themselves into the gap between the signs that said: DO NOT ENTER so that they could enter.
Having had our fill of tubes, we visited the buses and trams. Again, these went from old to new. Ordinarily my children would have loved these. Buses are even more lovely than trains in their eyes. But sadly for the buses, they were positioned next to the play area. This has a collection of trains, boats and cars made of mdf that children can clamber over and play in. There's also a big train track / road system with cars and trains for kids to play with. It is next to this play area that you can have your picnic or buy cold drinks and snacks. The boys had died and gone to heaven.
There really was no need for me to have travelled all the way to London. We could simply have gone to a soft play area down the road and they'd have been just as happy. Sigh. At least I could convince myself that it had been educational (they had at the very least mastered the use of the stamping machines).
We finally left, forced out via the museum shop. Instantly the nagging for tat started. The prices were eye-wateringly extortionate. I vetoed almost everything (it's amazing how badly children want a piece of bendy rubber with an underground logo on it) and said they could each have £2 to spend. It was very hard to find anything under £2 but we finally came across tiny bags of wine gums and jelly babies that cost £1.95 each for about 5 sweets in a bag. Weeping at the rip off, I handed over the money and frogmarched them out before they spotted the Underground Ernie sets.
We then got to visit daddy in his office and said ooh and aah about shiny desks and plush carpets. We had countless people say: 'Oh they're so cute' as the boys were paraded by (little do they know. Let them spend the day with them in a museum and they might change their minds).
And finally we got to complete our transport journey with another tube and train ride home, by which point the novelty had utterly worn off. Wine was needed by me and bed was needed by the boys.
All in all, I think the museum is great for children as there's lots for them to touch and try out. And I'm sure something educational does sink in, only to be unearthed months hence when you're least expecting it - like as you're wiping someone's bottom and you'll be asked why carriages are pulled by horses. But really, it's the play area kids are most keen on. And definitely take your own picnic and avoid the shop unless you actually enjoy burning money for shits and giggles.
Now to start saving for the Wallace & Gromit exhibition...