Monumental science

It’s not commonly known that the Monument in London was constructed not only to commemorate the great fire, but also as a scientific laboratory. Two of the great scientists of the day, Hooke and Newton performed experiments in basic physics and materials science.
Yesterday evening, some physicists, myself included from Queen Mary University visited with the intention of performing the first experiment at the monument in several hundred years.

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We were successful!
The real science will start once we’ve made the equipment modifications needed for easier operation in the basement lab of the monument.
More to follow as it happens.

Amsterdam.

The flight from Southend Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol is surprisingly quick. Barely have you got comfortable in the seat with your book open, and easyjet have given up trying to sell you bacon rolls, and you’re about to land again.

We stayed in an Airbnb place in the Emmastraat area of Amsterdam, a 4th floor single room flat alongside a canal and a couple of very nice bars, the city centre being a 20 min tram ride, or a 45 min stroll though Vondlepark, away.

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The Rijksmuseum was still closed when we visited, and the Van Gogh Museum had relocated the paintings to the Hermitage instead. There is a 2-4h queue for tickets at the Hermitage in the day time, but you can buy tickets at the at the Van Gogh Museum with next to no queue and walk right in to the exhibition at the Hermitage. It’s well worth the 15 euros or so for entry.
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The flower market is a bit subdued at the moment because of the cold. Blubs and seeds are available to buy, but there were very few fresh flowers.

The public library is excellent, really really excellent. It has a very nice restaurant on the top floor too. Good freshly cooked food and wonderful cakes. They can make a half-decent cup of Tea too.
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Also worth seeing at the botanic gardens, a well welcome warm stop on a cold snowy day and the Van Loon canal house museum – the coach house in the garden makes for a very impressive shed.

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Three days wasn’t enough time to really see as much as we wanted, will definitely go back when the weather improves and the other museums are open again.

The Shard

At 309.6 meters high, The Shard dwarfs other London high-rises, and seems to curiously move around the London sky-line – never quite being where you expect it when viewed from afar.

The Shard

When it’s officially open to the public on Feb 1st, access to the viewing platforms on the 69th and 72nd floors will cost £25 per person, but for a short soft-opening / shakedown / preview time, free tickets were available to residents of Southwark. I got to visit today with one of said residents.

The entrance for the viewing platform is located on Joiner Street, away from the main entrances to the shops and offices sections of the building. The displays and ticket scanners in the reception area were misbehaving when we arrived, but look promising for the public opening. There is airport-style metal detectors and x-rays to negotiate before you get access to the lifts to the top.

The journey to the top is by two lifts, each rising 30+ floors in a little over 20 seconds, a peak speed of 6 m/s. There is no sudden lurch of acceleration either going up or down, these are very well engineered machines. From the second lift there is a small flight of stairs to climb to the enclosed viewing platform (the disabled lift was out of action), and a further set of stairs takes you to the open air platform.
The view from The Shard - The open viewing platform

Everything is below you. Even the tall buildings are below you. Helicopters are below you. Airplanes and several more floors of the building are the only things above you. Tower-42 and the Gherkin on the north side of the Thames are the only building that even look high from The Shard, but you can quite clearly see the tops of their roofs.

The view from The Shard - everything is below us.

The glass windows will take a lot of cleaning, everywhere you look people are reaching out to touch the glass before stepping closer to the edge – to reassure themselves there is something between them and oblivion. Even with filters and some careful positioning it’s hard to avoid window reflections on photographs.

The view from The Shard

The gift shops are well stocked with fridge magnets, tea-towels and stuffed foxes. Prices are not low, £3 for a small magnet, £8 for a box of Tea and £15+ for a fox, considering you’ve already spent £25 to get here.

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The views really are amazing, but not £25 of amazing. If the price included a drink, or snack or something else then I’d feel the price was justified, I think perhaps £10 would be a more visitor-friendly admission charge.

Worth a visit – see if you can get a cheap deal. Here’s the rest of my Shard photos.

Valance House Museum

Yesterday I visited Valance House Museum for the fist time since it reopened in June 2010 following an extensive 2 year refurbishment. I’d been a frequent visitor before the closure, especially when I was trying to track down the whereabouts of the whale bones that give Whalebone Lane its name.
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The museum is greatly improved since I was last there, the displays are more cohesive and themed, it is no longer a rather disparate collection of rooms. It’s a shame the Fanshawe family portraits are no longer displayed on the main staircase, and the Chemists’ Shop is now just a small collection of bottles and pill packets.

The gains definite out weigh the losses, The Dagenham Idol has returned to its proper home, the fishing history of Barking is explored and the early history of the Dagenham is investigated in separate galleries.

The whale bones now have a permanent home, in a glass case on the ground floor, bringing to an end my sporadic search for them. They look rather worse of wear, and could be pretty easily mistaken for some well worm-eaten wood.

A new annex building houses the gift-shop and cafe (two Teas and a slice of Cake for £2.60 – not bad at all) and the local history archives.

I spent an interesting couple of hours, it was well worth a visit. I’ll be going back soon.

Diamond Geezer visited last year. He enjoyed it too.