Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to divert and amuse two little girls on a day out in London.
Very well; we accept the challenge.
Subject One: Secret Agent Code November, aged 10. Strengths: sophisticated, gourmand, snappy dresser. Weakness: aversion to exercise.
Subject Two: Special Agent Code Sierra, aged 9. Strengths: analytical, fearless, optimistic. Weakness: prone to get over-tired.
Mission One – morning at the Science Museum.
Rendezvous 10.45am, single yellow lines by Royal Albert Hall. Met with Agents’ female parent, M. Arrival Science Museum, 10.55am. Reconnoitre toilets. Estimated time at Science Museum: 1hr 30mins; aim: to see it all.
Failed on aim completely, as 2 hrs 5 mins later we had still only visited level 3. But it’s an amazing place. Firstly we saw the “Flight” area, which has examples of old aircraft, a cut-through segment of a jumbo jet, a cockpit of an old plane, simulation of Air Traffic Control and much more. Even if you’re not overly interested in aeroplanes it’s still very interesting and kept us all amused and astounded.
Then we went on to “In Future” and had to grapple with difficult subjects like should men be allowed to have babies, and should cars be able to drive themselves. Your answers get fed into a big database and you can see how many people have answered yes or no to a number of modern dilemmas. Fun and interactive, but it didn’t take up too much of our time.
Next was Health Matters, a subject of considerable interest to Special Agent Code Sierra who recently announced she was going to become a “Baby Doctor”. This display area was full of interesting facts about the growth and development of antibiotics, vaccinations and even the contraceptive pill. Didn’t take too long, but very absorbing.
Finally we ended up in Launchpad, a highly interactive area full of experiments and displays, with which everyone is positively encouraged to play. Mrs Chrisparkle and I peered at each other through two telescopes separated by a brick wall. How did that work? “Have you realised how it works yet?” asked a charming young lady dressed in a red t-shirt with the word “Explainer” on it. “Is it a question of hidden lenses?” asked Mrs C tentatively. “Yes, that’s right” beamed the explainer. “I thought it was Paul Daniels’ magic” I offered lamely. She smiled politely as she is paid to.
Actually the explainers are great. There are loads of them and they are tireless in taking the kids through the experiments and encouraging them to understand the basics of science that the displays reveal. Plastic bottles full of water zooming around the room; electrical circuits being connected and dismantled; positioning building blocks so you could construct a bridge solid enough to walk over; we did all these and more and it was a real wrench to cut short our visit as we had run out of time. Highly recommended, and the Agents made M promise that they would return to the Science Museum another day.
Mission Two – afternoon Thames Rib Experience river speed ride.
Rendezvous: meant to be on easy parking near Embankment Pier in good time for 1.45 pm check in and decking out in fleeces and sou’westers; in effect we couldn’t find any parking until 1.35pm almost a mile away, so we had to walk ultra-fast and indeed run to get there on time. I ran ahead to make sure they didn’t go without us. Got there about five minutes behind schedule and panted “Thames Rib experience, five people, late, gasp, pant” and I was shown where to check in. The lady there didn’t seem too concerned. Anyway I was panting like a dog in a hot car for at least the next 40 minutes. Thought I was fitter than that, dammit.
The good news is we all got on board. The boats take a maximum of twelve passengers and there were eleven of us on ours. The guide tells you about the notable things you see between the Houses of Parliament and The Thames Flood Barrier, which is where you turn around and come back. The difference from your ordinary boat trip is that once you get past Tower Bridge, they open up the speed and it becomes a really exciting fast dash across the waves with some exhilarating tossing and turning, like a scene out of The Persuaders or The Saint, showing my age. I know for a fact I had a fixed smile on my lips the entire 80 minutes, as did Mrs C, M and Secret Agent Code N. Special Agent Code S spent most of the time with her eyes shut. Additional amusement is provided by the guide’s patter which is chock full of jokes, some really funny; and sometimes you pierce the waves to appropriate musical accompaniment, I’ll say no more.
Unfortunately one of the other passengers wasn’t up for the speed and complained he couldn’t breathe properly so our return journey was a little more stately than we had hoped. Not a lot you can do about that – and it’s of course right that they put their clients’ health and safety first. Wuss -ruining it for the rest of us! The Thames Rib Experience is something I would definitely recommend, and we will certainly go again, maybe even quite soon. It hadn’t occurred to me how little of the river-scape east of Tower Bridge I knew. Greenwich, O2, Thames Barrier, Canary Wharf – all new to me, and the views are astonishing.
Mission Three – picnic in Trafalgar Square.
Couldn’t park anywhere near Trafalgar Square, so we went on to Westminster and found some quite easy parking and picnicked instead in the park adjacent to the Houses of Parliament watched over by the good Burghers of Calais. Another superb river view; late afternoon sunshine; cheese and ham rolls; crisps and cakes. Code November and Code Sierra both voted it a successful day out. Transferred responsibility of young charges over to M, got in the car, drove home, and slept. Woke up just in time to go out for some pub grub. Great day out!