Visiting the Science Museum

Saturday, January 5th 2019

The three museums, Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, conveniently gathered together in the same area, form one of London’s more famous landmarks. Today we chose to visit the Science Museum.

Cabmen's Shelter
Cabmen’s Shelter

In Thurloe Place, in front of the Victoria and Albert Museum, on an island in the middle of the road, stands this cabmen’s shelter. These shelters, of which 13 still survive in various parts of London, were built in the late Victorian era by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund to enable Hansom cab drivers, who were not allowed by law to leave their cabs and horses unattended, to obtain hot meals and refreshments and, no doubt, to provide an alternative to the pub and its temptations. Some of the shelters have nicknames and this one is known as the Bell and Horns, probably after a local pub. The date of its establishment is not known but is thought to be sometime after 1904 as it was installed to replace an earlier shelter further along the road near Harrod’s Department Store. The shelters now also serve the general public with take-away coffee and snacks. See also The secret green shelters that feed London’s cabbies and Wikipedia’s Cabmen’s Shelter Fund for a list of the 13 survivors.

The Natural History Museum Ice Rink
The Natural History Museum Ice Rink

As we approached th entrance to the Science Museum in Exhibition Road, we spied the Natural History Museum Ice Rink and beyond it, a traditional fairground carousel. The rink is open from October 25th to January 20th and no doubt brings in welcome revenue. In the background you can see part of the Natural History Museum building which was designed in a mixture of Gothic Revival and Romanesque styles by Alfred Waterhouse and opened in 1881. It is Grade I listed.

It is an unfortunate sign of the times that the entrance to the Science Museum, like those of other busy public buildings, is guarded by security staff who may require you to show the contents of any bags you are carrying. Today, though the control barriers were in place, we were waved through without a bag search.

Visiting the Science Museum is no light undertaking. It is so large that it would be impossible to make sense of it all in a single visit. The best thing is to choose a number of sections to look at in detail or, as we did, wander at random, examining anything that caught our fancy. The photos below show a selection of objects that interested me.

Automaton and Monstrance Clock
Automaton and Monstrance Clock
Johann Schneider, c.1325

We started in the Clockmakers Museum where there was an impressive collection of clocks and time-keeping machines almost bewildering in the sheer variety of devices and the different functions that they perform. Enchanting also is the beauty of design, particularly in the earlier clocks but also manifested to some later models. There is of course an intimate relationship between timekeeping, astronomy and navigation. Many clocks, as well as telling the time, include a changing astronomical display as part of  their function, as does the clock shown above.

Tavern Clock
Tavern Clock
Vulliamy, 1740

Timepieces come in all sizes from wristwatches to tower clocks. Medium size clocks, suitable for placing on a shelf or attaching to the wall in a private or public room include the so called ‘Tavern Clocks’, such as the one shown above, made in the 18th century and signed with the prestigious name of Vulliamy. When clocks are marked out in Roman numerals, the number 4 is traditionally rendered as IIII rather than IV, which is commoner in other contexts.

Orrery Clock Orrery Clock
Orrery Clock
Unsigned, 18th cetury

Another example of the connection between timekeeping and astronomy though this is for domestic interest only. Supported by three male figures by Vulliamy, is a glass sphere on whose surface is engraved a view of the constellations. Inside, a moving model shows the changing positions of the planets corresponding to the current date and time. Such devices would take pride of place in the affluent 18th-century home and serve as useful conversation pieces with one’s guests.

Marine Chronometer
Marine Chronometer
Joseph Crouncher & J.G. Ulrich, c.1830

From domestic novelty to working tool. Sea travel was revolutionized – and trade enhanced thereby – with the invention of the chronometer, a clock guaranteed to keep rigidly correct time throughout a voyage. Knowing the exact time was necessary in order to fix a ship’s position from observations of the stars and planets in the night sky. No matter how accurate the timepiece might be when running on the clockmaker’s bench, various influences could affect the mechanism and make is run false, including variations in temperature, atmospheric pressure and the motion of the ship. Various ingenious solutions were found to combat these problems.

The evolutionary road from the Mediaeval weight-driven tower clock showing only the hours to the highly accurate Omega watches taken by American astronauts to the moon is a long and fascinating one.

Transparent Human Body
Transparent Human Body

This figure, no doubt deliberately reminiscent of Leonardo’s ‘man-in-a-circle’ drawings, was part of a display wherein is discussed what materials can be used in the human body to repair it without causing damage on their own account.

Replica of the Moon Lander

Replica of the Moon Lander
Replica of the Moon Lander

And so to the sections on astronomy and space travel. Prominent among the displays is this full-sized replica of the craft that landed on the moon. It looks rather like a device that has been half-removed from its packaging and is still partly enveloped in foil. This foil was of course put in place in the real lander to help reflect away the heat of the sun. In the second picture we see the access ladder down which Neil Armstrong climbed to utter his famous one-liner ‘That’s a small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind’. The size of the drop from the last step to the ground adds piquancy to the  remark – it’s more a ‘jump’ than a ‘small step’.

(There is argument over what Armstrong actually said and whether he muffed the speech by omitting the indefinite article which I therefore enclose in parenthesis. In the end, though, we know what he meant, so there’s no need to get in a pother about it.)


This display, which I think is called simply ‘Globe’, consists of a white sphere suspended in mid air a little above head height close to some conveniently placed seats. Ingeniously, onto it are projected images taken of planets and planetary satellites by passing spacecraft. Some are stills and some are short moving sequences. I have combined five of my photos into this slide show. The individual bodies are labelled.

Bust of Yuri Gagarin
Bust of Yuri Gagarin
Alexei Leonov, 2017

This – I think slightly idealized – bust represents Yuri Gargarin (1934-68), the Russian pilot who was the first man is space. Although he never ‘walked’ in space nor set foot on the moon, his place in the history of space exploration is assured (at least, among humankind).

Apollo 10 Command Module;
Apollo 10 Command Module

The Apollo 10 Command Module was the vehicle that, having detached itself from the mighty rockets that brought it to the vicinity of our satellite went into orbit around it in 1969, carrying astronauts Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan, in what was a dress rehearsal for the moon landing of Apollo 11.

Grand Junction Railway Locomotive Columbine
Grand Junction Railway Locomotive Columbine

Returning to earth (without a bump, I hope!) and going back in time, here are some classic vehicles for land travel. The Columbine locomotive was made for the Grand Junction Railway in 1845, in the heady period a steam power. Some of us remember when steam engines pulled the trains of which we travelled and perhaps regret their passing. We are not alone in our fondness, though, to judge by the popularity of those steam railways that have been restored.

Aveling and Porter Traction Engine
Aveling and Porter Traction Engine

What do you use these days to push or pull heavy weights across the ground? I have no idea but in 1871 it would have been this traction engine or another very much like it. Sleek modern lines it does not have (nor does it miss them) but it is beautiful in its own way, I think (or is that my inner Steampunk talking? Smile )

Model T Ford
Model T Ford (1916)

Henry Ford famously said that you could order his soon-to-be legendary Model T Ford in any colour as long as it was black. He also revolutionized not only the manufacture of cars but manufacturing as a whole with his invention of the assembly line.

Avro 504K Biplane
Avro 504K Biplane (1918)

In the first three decades of the 20th century, many of those ‘daring young men in their flying machines’ would have been performing in Avro 504K biplanes, including sorties over the carnage of the First World War killing fields and nearer home in attacking Zeppelins. It was an extremely popular aircraft, reliable and easy to fly. When superseded for war duty it enjoyed a second life in flying circuses and joyriding into the 1920s.

Having gorged ourselves on the marvels of science and technology in the Science Museum, we thought about taking a tour of the Natural History Museum.

Sophie, the Most Complete Stegosaurus
Sophie, the Most Complete Stegosaurus

We reached as far as the entrance hall (again no bag search) where I took a photo of this beautiful creature known popularly as Sophie. Discovered in 2003 at Red Canyon Ranch in Wyoming, USA, Sophie turned out to be the most complete skeleton of the Stegosaurus ever found. Just a few bones are missing. The Stegosaurus was a slow-moving plant-eater and I therefore think I would quite like to have met Sophie alive, just to see. Unfortunately, that can never be.

As I say, we made it as far as the entrance hall but were by now quite tired and somewhat ‘museumed-out’. Add to this the crowds, which by now were even more dense than when we first arrived next door, and we decided to call it a day. Waving bye-bye to Sophie, we made for the door, the street and the bus stop.

But we shall return. Count on it!

Copyright 2019 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

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A Happy New Year


to All!


SilverTiger and Tigger

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All I want for Christmas is… a router!

Friday, December 28th 2018

The Internet is these days such an integral part of our lives that we don’t often give it a second thought, much less wonder what would happen if it were suddenly not available. This, however, is what just happened to us and on Christmas Day of all days!

It all began when Tigger announced that she couldn’t connect to a Website on her iPad. I checked on my iPhone (both our computers were turned off at the time) and at first everything seemed normal but then, I too was finding that the phone was failing to connect to the Internet via the router. This did not strike us as particularly serious as we had been experiencing dropped lines quite often recently. So we did what we always do when the connection fails: switched the router off and on again. In the past this has always worked, if not the first time then on the second or third go. Today, however, no amount of switching off and on again produced the desired result.

I had suspected that the dropped line events we had suffered may have been an indication that the router was reaching the end of its life but as it had always responded to the trick of turning it off and on again, I had not thought to do anything about it. Now, however, it seemed that the router had finally given up the ghost, leaving us disconnected.

As it was Christmas, there was nothing we could do to rectify the problem. Our ISP’s helpline was not answering, a recorded voice advising us to try again on the morrow, but that didn’t matter too much as I was sure that they couldn’t do anything to help: their status page showed no failures in our area.

(We weren’t entirely Internetless, as the previous sentence implies, because we could go online with our iPhones – a fact that was useful when it came to prospecting for a new router.)

So, we stopped worrying about it and got on with enjoying Christmas, a ‘traditional Christmas’, during which we read books, listened to the radio, ate Christmas food, unwrapped presents and spent an enjoyable and relaxed day.

It was obvious that we would need to buy a new router, but from where and how soon could this be done? Also, there was the business of setting up the new router. I remembered setting up the old one. That was quite a process, needing me to connect my computer to the router with a cable and then work my way through a long and involved menu of settings, often not at all sure which options to choose. I was not looking forward to repeating the experience.

Next morning, Boxing Day, we used our iPhones to check on the world of shopping. It turned out that quite a few stores would be opening and, moreover, offering ‘Boxing Day Bargains’. One of the stores that would be open later in the day was the catalogue store, Argos, which, conveniently, had a branch in the nearby Angel Centre.

We looked through their online catalogue at the routers they had on sale. We decided to go cheap, the idea being that if the cheap router did a good job, so well and good, and if not, we could at least keep it as a backup against future failures and buy a more expensive router that did perform well. We chose a TP-Link N300 VDSL/ADSL selling at £39.99. This was certainly cheap but the reviews were mostly very good, so we thought it worth trying. But did they have one in stock? To verify this, we tried their reservation service. This allows you to reserve an item to be collected from the store. Yes, they had one and we now just needed to be patient and wait for the shop to open.

The TP-Link N300 VDSL/ADSL Router
The TP-Link N300 VDSL/ADSL Router

While waiting, we went for breakfast at Pret A Manger which also has a branch in the Angel Centre. By the time we had enjoyed a relaxed breakfast, Argos was open. There was already a queue but, happily, it was a small one. We gave the clerk our order number, paid and waited for the item to be fetched, then carried it home in triumph.

Back home we took the device out of its wrapping and connected it up. It almost immediately appeared on the list of available servers on our phones and on our computers but, of course, we could not connect to it yet: before we could do that we had to deal with the dreaded setting up process.

This turned out to be simple. No cable was required. All I had to do was log onto the router through my Web browser using the address, enter the default username and password (both were ‘admin’) and work my way through the ‘Quick Setup’. This was extremely simple: all it needed was my ISP’s name and our access username and password. Most of the other settings could be left at their default values. I clicked ‘Save’ and… we were connected!

There was only one thing left to do. The default router username and password (both ‘admin’) obviously had to be changed as they were so simple that an intruder would have little difficulty guessing them. Finding where in the settings menu were the fields for changing the username and password was less than obvious. The pamphlet that came with the router was no help. So… we tried looking online! I searched for “changing the default password on a TP-Link router”. I  found two sets of instructions, but neither of them corresponded to our router! In end end, I systematically explored the settings menu until I found the section I needed. There I replaced the two default values with nice long new ones. Job done!

That was was Wednesday and I am writing this on Friday. The router has so far performed faultlessly. We have surfed the Web, watched films and performed all the usual online activities, all without the least difficulty. It looks as though we can go back to taking Internet connectivity for granted!

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

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