Day 85. Achievement 22: visit the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace park

I’ve left you hanging for ages.  Sorry about that.  Have been a little but busy with work and also with a pub quiz I decided to take on.  It’s at the Tabard, next to Turnham Green station.  Wednesday, 8.30pm, with 2-for-1 on curries.

It was a very pleasant day on Sunday, so Man In Shorts and I decided we’d storm up Crystal Palace museum and park.  The visit to the museum was brief.  After hiking up a steep hill to get to its front, which my calves are yet to forgive me for, a locked door (and signs) suggested we went back into the park and used the actual entrance on the other side.

Having complied with the request, and nearly accidentally stumbling into a child-infested fun fair, you can probably imagine the utter delight when a sign on the actual entrance apologised for the museum being closed.  Dodgy central heating, apparently.  If only they had a website on which they could put such information, saving people an hour-long journey across London…

Crystal Palace museum


After a moment of quiet reflection on the museum’s steps, it was time for a gentlemanly saunter around the park.  I was able to point out anoraky things (like the purpose of the sloping wire hanging from the side of the transmitter mast*) and Man In Shorts was able to pretend to care.  Not that he did, you understand.

The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre provided an interesting diversion. On an Astroturf pitch, swathes of foreign gentlemen were engaging in some sort of ball game.  I’m no sports expert, but it seemed to be the same as football — with the crucial difference that handling the ball seemed to be permitted.  If any learned readers know what they might have been playing, do let me know.

Adjacent to the foot-and-handballers, a small racing track was populated by a couple of enterprising young chaps with radio controlled cars.  These were no Tomy efforts; they whipped around the track, engines going like agitated two-stroke garden strimmers.  And either the chaps were smashed or these things are difficult to control.  Motoring expert Man In Shorts couldn’t credit either driver with having a ‘consistent racing line’, nor with keeping the cars under control.  All I know is that the cars were noisy and weaved about the track a lot.  Maybe they were just warming up the tyres, like on F1.

Radio Control

Two stroke

Another diversion came courtesy of an ice cream van.  £1.50 for a 99, in London, in mid-October, was too much for me to resist.  Shorts was quick to note my wandering accent.  He says I got all ‘working man’ when talking to the ice cream man.  But I was the one with the ice cream, not him, so accepted both moral and actual victories.  In my head.

The ‘Dinosaur Park’ opened in 1854, some years before Origin of Species was published, and its theory of evolution shocked and outraged the simple Victorian folk.  Renowned scientist Richard Owen and sculptor Benjamin waterhouse Hawkins headed up team that took visitors on a journey through prehistoric time.



Bromley Council and the National Lottery have funded the restoration of the park and an Audio Trail.  At each of ten points around the dinosaurs, there’s a different bit of audio to listen to.  Shorts assures me it’s good fun.  It’s free to download at

Shorts with sound

Shorts enjoys the Audio Trail

Despite being able to see south-of-the-river from my window, it’s not a place I usually visit.  It’s probably thanks to the apocryphal tales of taxi drivers (…’south of the river? at this time of night? you’re having a giraffe…’) and also that there are very few reasons to actually go there.  Similarities with Leeds increase once you spot petty misbehaviour (some young chaps had jumped the fence and were gayly romping around with the dinosaurs) and the after-effects of a joy-ride.  Quite how one drives an Escort van into the middle of a wooden bridge, in the middle of a public park, is quite beyond me.  Considering the intense heat caused by a vehicle fire, I reckon the bridge is doing well to remain standing:

Burnt van

Ahh, south London.

More photos, as always, on Flickr.

(* it radiates Radio 4 on 720kHz and Spectrum 558kHz.)

Day 64: Achievement 37. Ride on London’s only steam railway

The capital’s only steam railway is situated at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum.  Standing in an old waterworks, the museum is independently operated, staffed by eager and enthusiastic volunteers.  The Waterworks Railway, as it’s called, is only one aspect of the museum.  They’re also gifted with working steam engines of every size from matchbox to massive, functional (if smelly) early diesels, a water tower and Thames Water propaganda gallery examining the history London’s water supply.

The only available grown-ups ticket is an annual pass costing £9.50.  With different engines working on different weekends, visitors might need to make multiple trips to see everything — particularly the seldom-operated, 90 inch, ‘Cornish Giant’.

Arriving not long after midday, I set a course for the Waterworks Railway.  With the track running to around over a hundred meters, and the train traveling at little more than a brisk walking pace, it’s not really comparable with the more functional steam railways found outside the capital.  It is, however, quite cute.  Throngs of children possessed an infectious and palpable excitement about the experience.  At one point, an inquisitive young tyke asked his custodian whether the grey substance being emitted from the train’s chimney was steam.  Answering confidently and assertively, as do all dads when posed questions by their offspring, everyone aboard was informed it was, indeed, steam.

Thomas and passengers

Until the driver, who’d overheard, swiftly decided to issue a correction.  “It’s steam if it’s white,” he began, “and any other colour is smoke”.  He continued with some fascinating technical nomenclature: “When the regulator is engaged [or possibly released — I can’t remember], then it’ll turn white — that’s steam!”  Three lessons there, then: one for cocky dads; one for me about note-taking; and a steam train factoid for everybody else.

Thomas Wicksteed

Two locomotives, Thomas Wicksteed and Alister, provide traction on the Waterworks Railway.  Alister, a three-cylinder diesel, pulls the train along on the outward journey.  Thomas, a 2009 steam engine, works light around the track to pick the train up for its return journey.  He is a narrow gauge ‘Wren’ class locomotive, a model originally built by Kerr Stuart of Stoke-on-Trent (and, later, the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds).  Wrens were the company’s smallest engine, yet biggest seller, and were often to be found in waterworks and similar yards.

He likes a drink

The museum’s yard is in the shadow of a water tower.  A telephone, affixed to a wall, plays a short history of the tower and recounts the experiences of two chaps who were employed by the water board in the olden days.  From the top, views of St. Paul’s and Crystal Palace were possible — but London wasn’t quite so built-up back then.  The tower is opens for adventurous climbers twice a year; nobody at the museum seemed to know when the next occasion might be, though.  Which is a bit of a shame.

Hanging on the telephone

Back inside the museum, a giant swam of miniature model makers had set themselves up on almost every square inch of floorspace.  An assortment of picnic and artist’s tables were covered by impractically small boats, steam trains, villages and more besides.  It would have all been fairly harmless if it wasn’t for the small matter of them getting in the bloody way of every single one of the museum’s actual exhibits.  There was a bring and buy sale on, too.  People had mostly brought and very few were buying.  If you want old videos and books about trains, you now know where to go.

Miniature man

On the subject of non-core exhibits, the Musical Museum is just down the road from KBSM.  For reasons better known to someone else, an unattended stall with some vintage gramophones had been shoved in a corner — along with a sign inviting any budding retro-obsessed, steam-freak, DJs to have a go.  I slammed some Gracie Fields on.  It was proper weapon.


A gallery examining the history of London’s water supply takes up a fair amount of space in the museum. It felt, to me, like little more than a puff-piece for Thames Water — although I couldn’t find mention that they’d sponsored or produced the exhibition (not that I’d looked very hard).  There’s some retro domestic appliances on the wall, though:

Water feature

In the grounds, but outside the museum itself, is The Forge.  It’s home to a couple of blacksmiths, one of whom is local artist Shelley Thomas.  I was stood photographing the giant Angel Estilo when Shelley, his creator,  came out for a chat.  She told me Estilo had been commissioned for the millennium, to soar by the side of the Thames in Feltham.  He’s had his wings clipped, though, and now loiters in the corner of the museum’s car park.  Shelley’s trying to buy him back from the council so he can be elevated to somewhere more suitable.

Angel Estilo

I’ll probably use my ticket twice more: once to go up the water tower, a second time to see the giant Cornish engine in operation.  Fingers crossed the bring and buy crowd will have packed up and moved on by then.

More photos on flickr.