Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Leicester - Day One

I got an 'E' in GCSE Science. Probably not the 'E' for effort that is often joked about, but more for Enormous apathy. I didn't care. I didn't like my science teacher, nor the school they made me go to in order to have science lessons. To me a bunson burner is a cricket pitch conducive to spin bowling, and there is nothing I care less about in this world than how to tell the difference between Earth and Live and whatever else it is.

And yet my decision to visit Leicester this past weekend contradicts all of that. It came about though idly googling cities that Emma and I haven't been to and the attractions they might offer. That's how I stumbled upon the National Space Centre. Who even knew we had a National Space Centre? I have been to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, details of which can be found somewhere in the bowels of these pages. Do pages have bowels? Especially pages that aren't pages at all but are electronic screens? Anyway, I remember what a fascinating and awe inspiring experience this was, even for a science-dodging luddite like myself. With the Richard III exhibition also located in Leicester that was that, we were going. More on Richard in the next part, or at least his 500 year-old skeleton recently dug up from a Leicester car park. Let's get back to the National Space Centre for now.

The building is shaped like an enormous beehive. It's set back from the surrounding roads which have exciting sounding names like Exploration Drive and Discovery Road. We arrive about lunchtime on Saturday. We couldn't go on Friday night because Saints were playing and well....it's Saints and we've paid for it anyway and we can always take Monday off and.... So we did exactly that. It being lunchtime the first thing we do is eat. This decision is also influenced by the fact that the cafe is the first place you hit when you go through the entrance. The entrance to the exhibits is a little further along. All of which means once you are in among the exhibits you cannot then use the lift to gain access to the canteen from another floor if you get a touch thirsty at any point. You have to go all the way back through to the lift on the opposite side of the building and then back through the gate on the ground floor. Which frankly is a little silly but I am supposing they are worried about people grabbing a sandwich before taking the lift to the upstairs exhibits and cutting out the inconvenience of having to pay for their visit. On which subject, you can expect to pay £13 per adult to visit the centre, and £11 for concessions of which I am one. Everything is accessible except the space travel simulator but that's probably a pretty big deal. Big enough to knock off a few quid from the admission price.

The most interesting thing about the cafe is the model rockets which hang from the ceiling. They probably don't hang. They're much too heavy for that but from my position at a table on the other side of the room I can't actually see what is holding them up. Something big and strong like Simon Cowell's ego perhaps. Below one of these rockets is a table at the centre of which is a red button. Most adults can barely reist the temptation to press buttons despite not knowing what they do, so you can imagine how often the children at the centre poke their tiny, tampering fingers in its direction. When they do they get a set of scienc-ey instructions which are indecipherable to me and a countdown, all delivered in a Transatlantic drawl. But that isn't the fun of it. The fun of it is the fake smoke which then descends from the rear of the rocket. Kids line up to stand underneath the rocket in order to get overwhelmed by the fume fakery. It's all a bit like a 70's episode of Top Of The Pops. Except nobody will get arrested as a consequence. Hopefully. As gimmicks go at least you can say it is fairly original, though the sight of young children violently swatting the smoke away from in front of their faces does make me wonder how much they have enjoyed the experience. Apparently enough to do it again. And again. And again.

Once you are inside you had better be prepared for a lot of reading. I read everything but, being a luddite with the attention span of a recently concussed goldfish, I find it hard to hold that information inside my brain for more than a couple of hours or so. The video and audio exhibits leave a longer-lasting impression on me. One section speculates, through a variety of talking heads and written quotes, about how the universe will end. An eight-year-old boy is quoted as saying that the universe will end when someone eats all the Galaxies. It's as good a theory as any. Certainly better than any piffle about horseman of the fecking apocalypse. And what kind of a universe would it be without Galaxies anyway? Would you want to live in it? In another clip clever-arsed film director Woody Allen can't come up with a thesis for the possible end of the universe, and instead questions people who would want to 'know' the universe in any case.

'I can't even find my way around Chinatown' he muses.

But if you want a real visual and audio experience at the National Space Centre then head for the Sir Patrick Mower Planetarium. You have go when they tell you but it is worth a look. By which I mean that when we pay our entrance fees we are informed that we have been booked in for the 1.50pm screening of 'We Are Aliens'. Well, you might be aliens. I'm definitely from Thatto Heath. If I were a superior being I'd probably find a better way to get around than an NHS wheelchair. Now, normally when I go to a theatre or a cinema or something of that nature I like to bail out of said NHS wheelchair and transfer on to a seat. The Sir Patrick Mower Planetarium is not the place to do this, for me anyway. I'm not the tallest, and when my backside hits the cinema-style seating I sink into it and can't see anything except for the back of the seat immediately in front of me. The screen surrounds you so this might not have been such a problem, but I do like to be able to see what is directly in front of me. Besides I look like Kermit The Frog's nephew Robin sitting on the Iron Throne. I get back into my chair.

I remember wondering why they had chosen Rupert Grint to narrate the film. For those of you who have been living alone on a remote island for the last decade or so Grint is most famous for his role at blathering idiot Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films. I can't see the connection. Harry Potter films are about wizards and magic, not space travel. Space travel is not magic, it's science. Although as we know I got an 'E' in science so what do I know? For 25 minutes or so Grint speculates about the possibility of life on other planets or even in other solar systems with the help of some distinctly cartoon-like graphics. He concludes that Mars is the place that scientists are 'most excited about' because there used to be a lot of water there. I'm not so sure. There's water in Wigan but I'm not sure you'll find any signs of civilised societies.

Some five hours after arriving at the National Space Centre we head back to the Premier Inn, where we have booked to stay for two nights. We are assigned Room 101 which, for people as ignorant as I am pompous, is not only a mediocre panel show hosted by Frank Skinner but also the room containing all of the Hellish nightmares in Winston's mind in George Orwell's 1984. Only we could be burdened with such an omen. Thankfully there seems relatively few fears within the walls and no sign of the four R's I would select should Frank ever be kind enough to ask me on to his show. Religion. Royalty. Rugby Union. Rihanna. That just about completes my list. Neat and tidy. No need to use words starting with any other letter.

Having been told on arrival that the town centre was 20 minutes walk away we are pleased to find that it is more like 10, and within just a few minutes we have found a trusty old Wetherspoons. While we eat and enjoy the first alcoholic beverages of the evening I still can't refrain from getting annoyed. First by two Scottish men arguing in very strong accents so that you couldn't understand the problem, and then by a bunch of girls taking 'selfies'. I hate selfies. I hate the word 'selfies'. Curse me for polluting my column with such a vile word. Selfies are the ultimate expression of narcissim. Can you really not wait that long for someone to take your photograph? I hate having my photo taken anyway. Taking a selfie for me would seem like poking both of my eyes out and then skinning myself alive. With a potato peeler. I don't like selfies.

Later on in another bar when things get really tipsy there is a girl dancing to a Katy B song. She's doing that generic arm-dancing that girls with no rhythm do. She hasn't moved her feet at all. Again, why would you want to dance when you are shit at it? She's no Katy B. She's Katy Z, at best. We peruse a few more watering holes before calling it quits in preparation for our Richard III themed exploration tomorrow.

But I fucking hate royalty, don't I?

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