The Natural History Museum in South Kensington (U.K) is quite a treat for children. They have exhibits of everything from spiders and snakes to whales and dinosaurs. The big guy in the central hall of the museum, is a ‘vegiesaur’.
As an aside, the concept of herbivore is quite lost on children when talking about dinosaurs because, let’s face it, they’re pretty grim looking creatures for the most part and are on a scale that is particularly intimidating for humans under one meter tall.
In order for my eldest boy to pose for a photograph with the ‘vegiesaur’, a Diplodocus (that’s him in the picture), I had to convince him that he was in no immediate danger. First and foremost, I said, the dinosaur is not in fact alive and has not been for quite some time. In point of fact the skeleton on display is a man made replica and not an actual fossil. Second, real fossils chipped out of the rock are also not dinosaur bones, they are in fact rock created in a process called permineralisation where minerals in the skeleton of the creature being fossilized are replaced with minerals from the surrounding sediment and are then, you know, compressed for sixty five million years or so…I’m pretty sure he switched his ears off somewhere around ‘First’…
You see, it’s all only marginally interesting to a child staring up at a reconstructed dinosaur that is eleventy one times his own height while he teeters on the fence between terror and fascination.
My boys were four and two at the time and the little guy spent the first half of the visit crying in the stroller because he was tired and then spent the second half sleeping like a professional for the same reason. Actually he slept during many of the outings we went on, always being fatigued on the journey to an attraction (not used to all the walking and hopping on and off the underground) and then promptly falling asleep when we arrived at the attraction. Effectively he only saw half of everything the rest of us saw while we were there but he had some really good power naps.
Back to the museum; my eldest eventually submitted to a touristy snapshot under the exhibit and throughout the rest of the visit became more and more fascinated by all the big bones and menacing smiles. By the time we got to the animatronic T-Rex, complete with moving jaws and growls, he had decided that he wanted to work with dinosaurs when he was ‘all growed up’.
Actually I think he might have started out wanting to be a dinosaur.
I had to break it to him that there simply weren’t any dinosaurs around anymore, all of them having had the house lights switched off abruptly on them quite some time ago. I remember him being somewhat deflated by this bit of news before asking me if there was ‘a kind of job where people could work with dinosaur bones’ and he beamed like a lighthouse when I told him that yes, there was a job like that and that those scientists actually got to spend all their time doing that very thing. What a happy coincidence.
Since then he’s told anyone that will listen about his plans to become a paleontologist, a word by the way that he has only recently started to get his tongue around properly.
Now I know the guy with the whip and the hat is not a paleontologist, but can you imagine how enamoured my boy will be when I introduce him to Indiana Jones…I dig it.