Last week I was lucky enough to get free tickets to a Priceless Mastercard Event for a Winter Wonderland evening at the Natural History Museum in London! I had never been to the museum before, having grown up in Paris, and this was the perfect opportunity to go.
The museum is absolutely breathtaking, especially with all the Christmas lights on and the ice rink outside, it was particularly magical. My boyfriend and I even daydreamed of being able to get married in it! It’s perfect no? Grand and beautiful and full of science!
I have to admit this event was probably the highlight of my year. There were only around 150 guests which was great (I am told you normally cannot breath on a day visit to the museum) and the inside hall had been done up all white and Chrismassy. Champagne and gin cocktails were served with nibbles and a string duet played classic and Christmas songs. Basically the ideal event for me: geek and chic!
Once we were suitably champagned up, we were divided into groups and taking to visit five scientists who worked in different areas of the museum. This was really great – getting to see some of the hidden gems of the museum and chat to their friendly and knowledgeable staff was brilliant. The theme being Winter Wonderland, each person had to present us something with a link to Christmas and Winter.
We first spoke to one of the curators who dealt with the taxidermy and fur collection of animals. She selected three animals who live in the freezing weather and explained to us how the arctic fox, the wolverine and the reindeer, in different ways, deal with the extreme cold of their habitats. A cool anecdote about the Christmas idea of reindeer flying Santa’s slight: it is thought to originate from native of the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere who used to feed reindeer a powerful psychoactive plant called the fly agaric and proceed to drink the reindeer urine thereafter. They could not consume the plant themselves as it is poisonous to humans. When under the influence of this drug, they are thought t have hallucinated reindeer flying and created the stories from there!
The second person we spoke to was a final year PhD student from the mineralogy department. We were taken to the Vault, a small room in the museum which holds some incredibly beautiful and expensive precious stones. But we were there to see something a little more special than coloured diamonds (if that is conceivable!) – meteorites! The link to Christmas was the shooting stars in the winter night as these are actually falling meteors. After an explanation about how the meteorites come to fall on our planet and how the team analyse them, a small piece of the Moon and Mars were passed around us! Probably the highlight of the evening for me!
We then ventured to the Botany side of the museum where some beautifully old books were displayed holding countless pressed flowers and plants. Here the botanist told us of the origins of some of the Christmas plants – holly and mistletoe – as well as those we put on our plates – parsnips, carrots and potatoes (you can’t forget the potatoes!). A sample of myrrh was also showed around which smelt lovely and reminded me very much of going to church with my grandparents when I was little – obviously the Armenians like myrrh!
After a well-earned break consisting of wine, food and more musical entertainment, we went off again to see the last two scientists of the evening. But not before a good old gaze at the Diplodocus fossil dominating the room!
Over in the palaeontology department, we were shown to a special selection of fossils: fossils found in London from creatures who lived in the last ice age! brrrr! Mammoth teeth, a mammoth tusk and a bison skull were among some pretty incredible fossil to be found in our very capital. Fun fact about the mammoth teeth (which are HUGE): as mammoth would wear their teeth down regularly from grinding on grass, they possesses a large stock of spare! And unlike us, their teeth are replaced not from under one another but from behind.
Last but more certainly not least we were taken to the dinosaurs! And for added mood, the whole exhibit was kept dark and we were armed only with flash lights! The museum’s head dinosaur specialist proceeded to tell us about the link between dinosaurs and birds (birds being eaten at Christmas dinner being the Winter Wonderland link here). We now know that birds are essentially just very small dinosaurs. As the specialist liked to quote “People often compare someone or something to a dinosaur when it is out of date and out of touch – with the idea that dinosaurs are extinct and didn’t last very well on this planet. I believe this is a compliment – there are now 10,000 different bird species, proving once and for all how well dinosaurs have evolved and adapted to our changing world.”