You may recall me mentioning the wonders of London’s Natural History Museum on this blog before – many times, in fact, because I go there a lot. After all, it looks like this:
Which makes it, in my book, the prettiest building in London. And then you go inside and find this:
Which tells you that it’s not just pretty, it’s COOL. You turn left and there are dinosaurs coming out of your ears – including a T-rex that roars at you and has a motion sensor, so he’ll turn and look you right in the eye – and then you round a corner and there are hundreds of animals to stare at, plus an entire hall filled with whales and elephants and antelope*, and then you cross the hall and you’re looking at thousands of birds and then taking an escalator through the planet Earth and experiencing an earthquake in Japan via the museum’s earthquake room and…
Well, you get the gist. The Natural History Museum is pretty bloody good.
Yesterday I had the chance to take a child to the museum for the first time ever, as my friend Roger and his nine-year-old son were in London with his girlfriend. I was looking forward to it for weeks: at last, an opportunity to walk around this magnificent place and impart my substantial knowledge of the natural world to a youngster! I could dazzle Jay with my trivia, tell him about the endangered kakapo and the difference between an Asiatic and African elephant, how an angler fish catches its prey and how the first platypus that arrived on our shores was thought to be a hoax. It was going to be me and Jay having fun, with me as the woman he could look up to and say to his dad afterwards, “Jayne knew everything!”
Yeah, right. We walked into the dinosaur exhibit. I pointed at an iguanodon and said, “Ooh, I wouldn’t like to find him nibbling on my leg!”
Jay replied disdainfully, “Actually, iguanodons were plant-eaters.”
“Oh,” I said. And the wind left my sails, never to return.
I swear, that kid knew everything. I don’t think I got a chance to show off once. When I was nine years old I’m sure I knew a lot about the natural world (if you read Willard Price’s wildlife adventure series as many times as I did, you picked up a few things), but Jay could recite facts like a miniature Google-monster. It was amazing. I managed to tell him about the kakapo, true, but it was a drop in the ocean compared to the stuff he already knew.
What a cool kid.
They’re not all like Jay, though, as I was to discover. We were staring at the blue whale and he told me cheerfully, “Their heart is the size of a car, you know! And look – they have some baleen plates hanging up there. Whales use those to strain their food!”
“Great,” I said, feeling put-out that I hadn’t explained that to him first. Jay moved on and another boy, who looked at least a year older, came and stood in his place.
“What’s that thing?” he asked his mum, pointing at the bones of a whale hanging from the ceiling.
“It’s a skeleton,” said his mum, sounding bored.
“What’s a skeleton?” asked the kid… who, may I remind you, was older than the child who’d just been telling me the function of baleen plates.
His mum told him that skeletons are the bones inside your body and the boy looked bored and walked on, leaving me pondering the disparity between children who spend their early lives soaking up information like little sponges and kids who just don’t give a rat’s ass and will, no doubt, be too dumb to achieve anything once they’ve grown up.
It’s sad, but I guess that’s life.
Honestly, though: when you were ten, you knew what skeletons were, didn’t you? How the HELL did that boy miss out on information like that?
There are no words to describe the immensity of my bafflement.
_ _ _
* In a totally unrelated incident, which I may have recounted elsewhere on this blog but is worth repeating, a few years ago I was standing in front of a case of antelope which had been stuffed with impressive attention to detail. Struck by a sudden observation, I said rather loudly to my companion, “Hey, look at the massive ballsac on this gazelle!”
And turned round to find a man staring at me in horror as his small child followed my pointing finger with his eyes and stared at the testes in question.
I have never apologised so much for anything in my entire life.