I spent Friday on a day trip to London with the cousins. My crazy plan of meeting on a train (I was coming from Cambridge and they joined the same train at Shelford) actually worked, even though it was way too early in the morning. The cousins have not turned into monsters in the couple of years since I visited them in Australia, even though the older two have become teenagers in that time. Little cousin S is as lovely as ever, friendly, intelligent, mature (and adolescence hasn't made her any less beautiful, either). Little cousin J is still a little reserved and awkward, but very likeable once he feels comfortable around new people. And littlest cousin B is still a great kid. I find my uncle and his partner easy to get on with too, so all in all it was great to tag along with their family outing.
We spent most of the day at the Natural history musuem (unfortunately doseybat wasn't able to join us). The museum is of course wonderful, and contains plenty of material to appeal to a ten-year-old wannabe naturalist, an exceptionally bright teenager, a SEN teenager and some adults. Possibly the museum could do with a little more information about which part is which, but I am not sure of that; suggested age ranges generally end up being annoying. I do love the way that some galleries are almost unchanged since the nineteenth century, while others are very modern and full of whizz bang special effects. I had forgotten how literally awesome it is to see life-sized skeletons and stuffed specimens and accurate reconstructions of a whole range of animals, alongside the information about them.
The gallery that was my favourite when I was a kid, the human biology section, hasn't been updated since then, and it really shows. What was state of the art computing in the 80s (I think it was the first time I used a touch screen interface) is now just drab and tatty, and the references to things that were topical 20 years ago don't help either. OTOH, some of the most recent galleries felt excessively noisy, with lots of loud sounds and flashing screen displays and the level of information rather dumbed down, even when you could actually concentrate on it with so much distracting background. I may just be too old to be their target audience, but for me the great the thing about the museum as a kid was that you could just explore and learn stuff at your own pace, rather than passively looking at an exhibit as if it were a TV programme.
They appear to have tried to make the exhibits more "accessible" by using a narrator with a horrible Dick Van Dyke Mockney accent (as opposed to the BBC English of the older exhibits). I mean, ok, I am completely in favour of making it clear that museums (and science in general) aren't just for posh people, but I don't think that's a good way to achieve that goal. It would have been more use to include at least some pictures of non-white people in some of the displays, especially considering the demographic profile of the various school classes we saw in the museum.
The afternoon ended up with one of those family things; we had planned to walk across Hyde Park to Baker Street to see Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, but some of the kids were too tired to walk, and by the time we'd had a long argument about this, eventually resolved by splitting the party, we'd used up most of the time available. And the taxi half of the group thought they were supposed to wait for the walkers to go into the museum, whereas the walkers thought we were just going to meet up at the Tube station, so there was angst. But it was sorted out remarkably amicably considering all the quagmire of family holiday miscommunications. And even when the underground was messed up so that we missed our intended train and had to spend nearly an hour at Bishop's Stortford and people were getting visibly tired and cranky, they continued to be basically polite to eachother, which I found impressive. We had a lovely evening with supper and conversation and I taught the kids to play Fluxx, which they got on very well with.
Saturday I headed into town to spend the morning with pseudomonas and hatam_soferet (while she's temporarily in the right country) drinking tea and arguing about geometry. cartesiandaemon joined us and contributed some actual mathematical knowledge and it was generally lovely. Then sonicdrift and mobbsy turned up to give J and me a lift to atreic's party, and made an extremely competent job of navigating to Coventry. Much gratitude to you guys; it would really have been too hard to get there by public transport.
The party was just fantastic, exactly my idea of what a party should be. I started out being a bit surprised that I hadn't previously met atreic, since she knows all kinds of people from all over my social circle. But I think she just knows absolutely everybody. There was Pimms, and board games, and lots and lots of excellent conversation, and enough food to keep everybody going, and croquet (though I didn't indulge). And a really fantastic crowd of people, including many I'd come across through LJ and peripheral bits of my social circle, so there was plenty of "oh, so that's who you are!" atreic herself is as wonderful as her reputation, she's a charming hostess (and I'd say that even without the fact that she was giving away books). And I met naath in person and she was vehement but we turned out to agree, and mirabehn explained her glorious purple hair to me as I was working out who she was, and wildeabandon was being all dapper and manly, and alextfish brought interesting board games (I joined in with a cute track connecting game called Metro) and woodpijn. Thanks also to simont who very kindly gave us a lift home; again, it wouldn't really have been possible to attend the party without that, and made a detour to south Cambridge so that I could get back to Shelford.
By Sunday the cousins (who had been to the London Eye and Greenwich as the culmination of a busy week) were fairly exhausted, so decided to have a fairly quiet day at home. We had a roast Sunday lunch, my uncle having provided tasty roast aubergines as a vegetarian alternative, and then I went into town for the LJ picnic meme. The LJ picnic was similarly full of cool people, including a really good number of people I know slightly and wanted to spend more time with (kaberett, bugshaw and probably someone I'm going to kick myself for forgetting), as well as more that it was about time I met (such as rmc28 and her family). deborah_c introduced me to her three children, and then very endearingly fell asleep in my lap.
In the evening I dragged cartesiandaemon (but unfortunately not hatam_soferet and pseudomonas) to the Pembury. By this time I was absolutely hyper on extrovert energy, and of course the Pembury contained yet more lovely people, including fluffymark whom I hadn't seen for ages. We had a really great game of Carcassonne (in spite of my spilling cider on it due to too much excited gesticulating), with him, abigailb and purplecthulu and another person who filled in a gap among people I ought to have met: feanelwa. And I briefly spoke to and hugged timeplease, blue_mai and doseybat, and ate tasty PIE and ginger flavoured icecream and it was wonderful.
Unfortunately, geography was bitter because I managed to see so many good people this weekend, and took revenge in the form of horribly messed up trains. I had made a plan to get the last possible train home, but the Kings Cross line was out of action and with the usual weekend engineering works, this meant that the last reasonable train was at 10 o'clock. Mentioning transport problems in the Pembury meant being nearly buried under a pile-on of helpful geeks who used the internet to try to find ways to get us back to Cambridge and were eager with all kinds of details about how the rail system works. But there was no real way round it, we had to go. The worst part of it was that I had agreed to meet lethargic_man in the pub, and he made considerable effort to get there, and he was also affected by train problems, and he ended up arriving just at the last possible minute I could afford to be there if I was going to make that last train. I'm really, really upset about that, though he was very nice about it in fact. At least one nice thing to make up for the fact that we ended up spending nearly five hours travelling for the sake of just over two in the Pembury was that feanelwa joined us for the journey back, and she turns out to have a real way with analogies.
It's probably bad manners to write about the other reason why the weekend was wonderful, so I shall resist the temptation, and just generally bounce about with people happiness.