I love the Natural History Museum. I can easily lose a day there looking at dead stuff. It helps that it’s my brother’s office. If he’s there I might end up round the back, in the roof eaves, looking at Darwin’s beetles from the voyage of The Beagle, or at a giant squid pickled in formaldehyde, or at the gargoyles up close. He wasn’t there today – he’s in Russia with his family. But I went there with Oliah and we looked at stuff. We gradually worked our way through rocks, children, quakes and icthyosaurs to the huge main hall. I had an agenda. I wanted to see the blue whale.
When I was a kid we had a video of the Disney film “One of our dinosaurs is missing.” It was a relative flop for Disney so it sold cheaply. As far as I remember it involved a martial arts nanny, a Chinese Peter Ustinov and, front and centre, the iconic diplodocus skeleton from the museum entrance, which gets stolen and driven past London landmarks accompanied by hilarious music and fog. For hours.
I was skeptical when the diplodocus, or “dippy” as some trite committee had decided, was taken down. Giving the whale pride of place is, perhaps, important considering we are poisoning the oceans with plastic and toxic waste. That’s the sort of argument you can’t win. “I don’t think they should’ve taken the diplodocus out.” “Don’t you care about the whales?” “Oh sod off.”
The whale is cool. But I liked the diplodocus. An example of quite how BIG creatures can get. It took up a lot of space. As I kid, with its long tail trailing down behind it, I’d frequently try to work out how many people it would take pulling that tail to move the fucker. But when I was a teenager the tail was raised from the ground. There was a scientific paper written that argued that the creature would have a raised tail to balance its neck. It’s notable how quickly they acted on the evidence of this single thesis.
“Dippy” (*gak*) stayed there with her weird raised tail, like she was taking a shit, until earlier this year. Now she’s been replaced by the blue whale skeleton that was already on display elsewhere in the museum. The whole business smells of shenanigans to me. The Hintze Hall now seats 1,200 people for corporate functions, charity galas, prize givings and so forth, out of hours. That’s a huge amount of covers, and the museum will be funding itself largely from these parties. And well it should, as the NHM is doing great work, it’s a terrifically important collection, and valuable in many ways, and it’s free entry. When that paper was published about the tail, though, I can’t help wondering if it was commissioned by the museum precisely so they could raise the tail and fit more tables under it, raising the number of covers and thus profits.
But the problem with her is that, as I said at the start, she’s BIG. If you can organise an ironclad reason to get her off the floor entirely, then you can get a good 200 extra covers in. Rather than paying a scientist to write a paper arguing that diplodocus could fly, they brought in the wale. What’s wrong with that? Don’t you care about wales?
On the flip side, the diplodocus is currently touring, so loads more kids can imagine dragging it by its tail. Hopefully the van isn’t being driven by an aging character actor in ridiculous moustaches doing suspect mildly insulting Chinesey-acting. Because if it is, why didn’t I get the call?