Sunday, 27 April 2014

MOSI - a grand day out!

On Good Friday (which seems a long time ago now!) we went to Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, known as MOSI for short.

It was small daughter's choice; she's been bursting to go back there ever since she went on a school trip as there is so much to see and she didn't get to look at it all.  It's been quite some time since I last went, so I was looking forward to seeing what it was that had caught small daughter's imagination.

The Museum is at the end of Deansgate.  We travelled to Victoria station by train, caught the free city shuttle bus which travels between Victoria and Piccadilly stations and hopped off when the friendly driver told us we were close to the Museum.  There was plenty going on - all sorts of fun things lined up for the Easter weekend - and we arrived to a buzz of excitement and another friendly face which belonged to a man who pointed us in the direction of free maps and other helpful information.  

MOSI has changed a lot since I last went.  It's fun and vibrant and definitely very child-orientated with plenty to see and touch.  Our first port of call was the Experiment! section. It's a brilliant hands-on area for children to see how science can work in everyday life.  Small daughter's favourite bit is using a gear system to lift a Mini car simply by winding a handle. Big daughter had a go on everything too; it was a great opportunity for her to forget all about revision for a few hours (GCSEs are looming!) and have some fun.

We loved this exhibit too and spent ages playing with it.  Concave mirrors make it look as if your own hand is reaching out towards you - it was fascinating!

The theme of the weekend was "Power - from muscle to machine" and one of the shows was performed by this man, John Evans, who holds several world records for balancing things on his head.  Every time we passed, he seemed to be balancing yet another fantastic (and very heavy) object on his head - we spotted him with this car as we were going up the stairs to another floor of the museum. 

One of the things that I liked about the Museum was how much emphasis there is on technology and innovations from Manchester.  It's important for children to see that new inventions can come from their home city (or very close to) instead of from somewhere across the world.  Avro built the first all-British aeroplane, and just next to it is a replica of "Baby", the world's first stored-program computer. And that's not all - the Museum is full of things that we take for granted now that started their life in Manchester.

The layout is quite different to when I last visited, and facing the aeroplane in the above picture is a small stage area where MOSI's Explainers (Museum staff who encourage you to ask questions) do short child-focussed presentations at certain times of the day.  It's all about making science fun and capturing imaginations - because who knows what anyone can achieve once their imagination has been fired up?  All good inventions started out with a single thought ...

We moved on to the Air and Space Gallery, full of aeroplanes, cars, engines and motorbikes all with a local connection.   My husband had laughingly said that this was the "boys' section" but small daughter was keen to lead the way to show us a full-sized helicopter that she'd wanted to spend more time looking at on her school trip.  "Girls can like these things too," she said!

One of the exhibits that the school trip didn't have time for was the Underground Manchester section.  Located at the very end of the Museum site, we walked through an old-fashioned station booking hall and lots of interesting information boards about Manchester;s history to some stairs that led us underground.  This gallery tells the story of the water supply and sanitation developments from Roman times to the present day, and even takes you through a replica of a real sewer.  Small daughter walked through most of this exhibit holding her nose because it's not just what the sewer looks like that they show you ....!


Then it was time to make our way back to the main Museum building.  We passed through the Power Hall which has lots of locally-built steam engines which were an integral part of Manchester's industry.  This is my Dad's favourite part of the Museum - the last time we came was when his brother (my uncle) came to visit and we spent most of our time in here, examining the engines in great detail.  On this visit, though, we moved through much more quickly.

We had a great time at the Museum and loved the improvements that they had made.  We even managed to squeeze in time for a drink and a sandwich at their downstairs coffee bar which prides itself on using locally-sourced ingredients, and were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't extortionately expensive as sometimes Museum cafes are.

Big daughter, when she was small daughter's age, used to call it the "Museum of Science and Interesting" instead of Industry and even after many visits over the years, it still is.  It's free to get into the Museum but they do ask for a donation of £3 towards running costs.  It was worth every penny and small daughter is already planning to take several friends back for this year's birthday treat.  Perhaps we'd better warn MOSI in advance!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A view from Chester's walls

One of the best things about school holidays is the opportunity to catch up with friends that you don't get chance to see during term time.  We did just that on Wednesday when we went to Chester, one of our favourite cities.

Our friends hadn't been to Chester for many years so we started out by walking along the walls.  I love Chester's walls.  I love the way that they were first built by the Romans, repaired and extended in the medieaval period, damaged and rebuilt in the Civil War and are still a part of the city today. They're a tourist attraction, a short cut, a safe way to cross busy roads - two miles of living history.  Brilliant!

I'm always telling my girls to remember to look up because sometimes the best part of a building is up above ground level.  When we're on the walls, we're at eye-level with some of the most interesting parts - but you have to remember to look down as well!  If you look closely at the trees in this picture, one of them is actually a precarious stack of cups and saucers!

Chester's buildings are an interesting mix of historical and modern (although some of the modern is horrible 1970s concrete).  These builders were preparing to re-roof this house, and you can still see the original wooden slats underneath the tiles.   

It did seem a shame that they were just throwing the old tiles down into a skip, but perhaps they were beyond salvaging.  

A bit further on, we spotted these chimney pot covers - aren't they great?  

And then we got a good view into the city with modern buildings and old buildings facing each other across the road.  In the distance is the clock tower of the town hall.  There are only three faces to the clock; the fourth, which faces west into Wales, is blank as local legend has it that the English wouldn't give the Welsh the time of day!  (We have to remember that this building dates from the late 1800s - the Welsh are more welcome in Chester these days!)

It would have been easy to miss this beautiful bank of forget-me-nots and daffodils if we hadn't been looking down.

Small daughter insisted on looking up to see the inscription on this tower which says that "King Charles stood on this tower Sept 24, 1646, and saw his army defeated at Rowton Moor".  It seems incredible to think that you'd be able to see that far when you look around at the buildings in the city now!

If you look closely at this picture, you can see a blue tit sitting amongst the branches.  He was almost close enough to touch, not in the least bit bothered by the people walking past.

This dovecote is actually in a car park, so the birds are obviously used to existing alongside people.

It's not surprising that there's wildlife in the city centre; there are lots of green spaces like this one not far from the cathedral.

I like the way that the cathedral itself is surrounded by other buildings, a part of the city's daily life and not stuck out on a limb somewhere.  

The cathedral is a beautiful building made of warm, red sandstone.  It's free to get in, although they do ask for a donation towards the building's upkeep, and it's well worth a visit.

This notice outside the cathedral's separate bell tower made us laugh - we wondered if any husbands had not been collected!

As we approached the clock tower, one of Chester's most famous sights, there were grumblings from children about needing lunch.  

Usually the views of this clock tower are taken from the other end of the street, but I liked looking through the railings onto the people below.  The children pointed out all the places we could get something to eat, but we chose to go to a small deli/cafe that we've been to before called Tudor House on Lower Bridge Street.  It's a bespoke sandwich shop which also offers other meals on a larger-than-you'd-expect menu.  We've always found it to be good value for money with great food and service.

As we headed off to the cafe, we came down off the walls by the Roman amphitheatre.  Only half of it is visible, the other half is still buried beneath the tall building on the right.  We came to a Roman festival here one year which was fantastic - Roman re-enactment societies marched through the city centre; there were legionaries, centurions, officers on horses and Celtic tribes - you could imagine how the local people would have felt seeing the Roman army sweep into their vicinity.  There were gladiator fights in the amphitheatre itself, displays of Roman army training skills and Grosvenor Park which is behind the amphitheatre became a vicus or civilian encampment where you could buy replica equipment, talk to people who were involved in the re-enactment societies, listen to storytellers and generally get the feel of what it would be like to live outside a Roman fort.  The same year, the amphitheatre was home to a film festival which included a showing of Gladiator.  Even more brilliant!

Just past the amphitheatre to the right is the Roman gardens with the remains of a hypocaust heating system, and we also stood to watch a children on a school trip who were being instructed by a centurion how to form a testudo or tortoise formation with shields.  School trips in Chester always seem to be good fun, especially the ones booked with one of the museums - it's quite usual to see a line of children marching along behind a centurion banging their shields and shouting responses to his orders!

Chester is always such a lovely day out and we are always sorry to leave, but by the time we'd had lunch, visited a few shops and shown our friends the Chester Rows, a unique second-level row of shops above street level dating from the Middle Ages, it was time to go home - but we will be back!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Monthly Musing - April 2014 - New starts

Listening to Canon June’s talk in Church a few weeks ago about Lent being an opportunity to start something new, to stop something that we don’t like about ourselves and to re-examine our faith, it struck me just how many opportunities there are in the year for a new start.

There’s New Year, of course, in January when resolutions are made and often broken within days.  There’s Lent, when traditionally we give something up but could also start something new; Easter, which is a time of new life and celebration; the growing season for gardeners when all of last year’s successes and disasters become lessons and benchmarks for this year; September, when the children go back to school and parents can start new routines; Christmas, when we vow each year to be more organised, to spend less but give more; and countless other times during the year when have an opportunity to do something new.

“The diet starts tomorrow” or so the joke goes.  It’s not just the diet, though, is it?  Anything new can start tomorrow.  A new course, a new friendship, a new job – life is a continuous run of new starts and yet we don’t often stop to think about what this offers us.  If every day has the possibility of being a new start, then we can never be trapped in a life without hope of change.  We need never worry about being in a rut, of never leaving an unwanted situation or that life is passing us by and all we do is watch from the sidelines.  If every day has the possibility of being a new start, then all we have to do is jump in, do something that takes that first step to a new life, make that phone call, smile that smile or say hello. 

Easter is just around the corner, the biggest symbol of a new start in the Church’s calendar.  Within a few days, Jesus died and rose again to start a new life.  If, as Canon June said in her Lent talk, we try to be more like Jesus then that gives us permission to start our own new lives, although hopefully in not such a drastic manner!  My own life changes and re-starts regularly throughout the year as the gardening season starts and ends, as my girls break up from school and go back again, as we vow to stay in touch better with friends and relatives who are part of our lives to a greater or lesser extent.  It doesn’t have to be huge steps that we take, but just doing something different opens us up to the possibilities of something new.  It can be scary, of course it can as so many of us dislike change, but it can exciting, exhilarating and fun as well.  You’re never too old and it’s never too late for a new start.
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