I am a big fan of museums. Travelling the country as much as I do I get to visit collections of old junk in some of the most far-flung corners of our nation.
My favourites are:
Pencil Museum in Keswick in which I saw the world’s largest functioning pencil
–which at seven feet long I would argue
is impractically big and learned that the pencil was invented in around 1500 by
John Ladyman. I bet he got teased at school. Not for inventing the pencil as I
doubt he’d done that yet, but for his unusual surname. I wonder if he sat in
lessons thinking “One day I’ll show them. I am going
to invent the pencil. It’ll be a bit like a pen, but not quite as good.” The
person we should be celebrating is the man who invented the eraser. He gave the
pencil a purpose.
But there was no mention of him in the Pencil Museum. Of course not. The eraser is the nemesis of the pencil so they ignored him. It was as if he’d been rubbed out of history.
2) Barometer World – if you’re ever in Okehampton in Devon then you must visit this collection of antique barometers, though you’re only allowed in between 10am and 4pm on Tuesday to Friday (and occasionally Saturday) and only if you’re made an appointment in advance. I have never dared go to this museum for fear it can’t live up to the one I am imagining in my head. The leaflet boasts that there is parking for up to two cars and the website has a list of frequently asked questions such as “Can I screw the adjuster at the base of my stick barometer to make it read correctly? I wonder how frequently that, or any of the questions are asked.
3) The British Lawnmower Museum – have you ever wanted to see a lawnmower once owned by Brian May from Queen? Or one that mowed the lawn of Albert Pierrepoint the hangman? Then get on a train to Southport and both of your lawnmower dreams will come true.
It’s not fair to pick out the best three. All museums are great. So imagine my delight when I was asked to take part on one of the Science Museum’s late night openings, where you can see if the exhibits really do come to life after hours, plus there’s entertainment laid on and stalls selling food and booze. You should be encouraged to be drunk in more museums.
I was performing food-based comedy in the Imax theatre, alongside an expert on fridges and the brilliant George Egg who cooks meals using items that you can find in a hotel room (he made pancakes using two irons and a Gideon’s Bible).
The crowd of twenty and thirty-somethings were in a frisky mood. I only slightly resented their care-free, nappy-free delirium. Back in my day, dating was difficult and embarrassing and you couldn’t just use an app or chat up a tipsy stranger next to Stephenson’s Rocket. You’re meant to go home frustrated and alone, not satisfied, with a new friend, educated about the invention of steam engines.
I saw several smooching couples, so it seems that science is an aphrodisiac. If you’re single (or pretending to be) this is a great place to hook up with smart people. Or stupid people who are there in the hope of hooking up with smart people. Imagine if two stupid ones hook up with each other by mistake.
Science Museum Lates are monthly. The next one, perhaps fittingly, is themed around contagion.
If you want to laugh and cry then track down the footage of Monty Python's Terry Jones accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Welsh Baftas. The Pythons were my heroes growing up and I've been lucky enough to meet Jones twice, and I've told him how much he meant to me. But seeing him struggling with dementia is beyond sad. Though what a career and life he has had. And imagine Michael Palin being your best friend. You lucky, lucky (and brilliant) bastard.