Christmas in London: The Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum carousel

It’s strange the things that remind us that Christmas is coming. For me, it’s the arrival of the skating rink at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, because that also means the arrival of the old-fashioned fairground-style merry-go-round (or carousel to our American cousins) that appears every year.

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Wintery Festivities

December has only just arrived, and London is already decked out in all her finery for Christmas. The famous and gaudy Christmas lights of Oxford Street and Regent’s Street have been on for a couple of weeks now (personally, I wasn’t impressed), and the shops have been full of Christmassy stuff since the middle of October at least.

Of course, that’s assuming you can wade your way through the stressed-out throngs of Christmas shoppers who are already filling the shopping streets and malls of the city.

But there are some things about Christmas time in London that I do like. I’m grumpy about Christmas, but I’m also a bit sentimental when it comes to certain seasonal things. I like walking through the cold streets after dark, all wrapped up warm, and looking at Christmas trees lit up and twinkling in people’s windows as I pass.

I like carol services, despite not being religious in the slightest. I like the Christmas lights on the South Bank, and driving down the Great West Road to look at the numerous Christmas trees along its length. I like walking in Richmond Park on a frosty morning.

And I like the idea of the outdoor skating rinks that seem to sprout like mushrooms at historical sites all over the city. These days, you can go skating at Kew Gardens, or Hampton Court Palace, or even at the Natural History Museum, where this photo was taken.

I love the contrast between the wintery sky and both the imposing bulk of the museum and the gaily-lit merry-go-round, it neatly defines the duel nature of the season. Winter is a cold and dark time which hangs heavy on us all, but that is offset by the light and warmth of whichever midwinter festival you celebrate, because they all serve that same purpose.

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Architects on acid?

These amazing columns are part of the main entrance to London’s famous Natural History Museum. I visited today, for the first time since childhood, and found that it was much as I remembered inside. The dinosaurs are still as cool as they were when I was little and the mighty blue whale is still one enormous creature (although it didn’t seem quite as big as it did when I was small…).

However, I had not remembered how intricate, highly textured and downright trippy some of the museum’s external architecture is, and found myself staring in fascination at these columns while school kids and tourists milled around me on the steps.

I doubt the architect was on anything stronger than a cup of tea when he designed these candy-canes in stone, although the end results would suggest that it might be reasonable to suppose that he was somewhat away with the fairies. Whatever he was trying to achieve, he certainly let his imagination fly free, and the architecture of London is all the more fun for his efforts.

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