Saturday 3rd February 2007

Today is Groundhog Day, which means it's time once again for meteorologists everywhere to defer to American rodents for medium-term forecasting of the weather stateside.

Ha ha. I am so funny. Bill Murray would be proud. I think I will make that joke every year.

Today is not actually Groundhog Day, but the day after Groundhog Day, and I used it to visit Bristol Science Museum with a group of disabled children.

It was a pretty good hands-on science museum, with plenty of knobs to twiddle, levers to pull and giant hamster wheels to run in.

One of the best exhibits was a mock-up TV studio, complete with news desk, blue screen and simplified mixing desk. However, free with the excitement came a palpable air of chaos. When I went in, there were two families, meaning that there were in total three groups, each of whose children seemed to have an entirely different creative vision. With the flick of a switch, a child attempting to be a weatherman would suddenly be transported onto a moving rollercoaster at the whim of the often-incompetent vision mixer (children are rubbish) whilst simultaneously having a caption making insinuations about the smell of someone's brother popping up at the bottom of the screen from someone typing at the dedicated caption-maker.

One could see why it is conventional in television to have only one producer. One could also see why in a normal studio there is not a yellow button on the sound effects bank whose sole purpose is to play Robbie Williams' Rock DJ. It is wrong in so many circumstances, but doubly so in the middle of a news bulletin delivered by an eight year-old.

We also watched a rather crazily US-patriotic 3D IMAX film about the building of the International Space Station narrated, as if to steep it further in pro-Americanism, by a slightly smug-sounding Tom Cruise. For example, an astronaut with a slightly Spanish accent gave a voice-over on a shot of the ISS floating in the middle distance above an expanse of the lower United States, explaining that, from up here, there are no visible national boundaries and one feels a part not of ‘America’ or ‘Mexico’, but mankind. A slightly trite but laudable sentiment…until five minutes later, when a truckload of Yanks turned up in a Space Shuttle, marking the occasion with what our self-satisfied narrator described as ‘some very special socks’…emblazoned with the stars and stripes. Which is, of course, the flag of mankind.

The whole visit was conducted at whirlwind speed; a large section of the museum dedicated to the World's jungles informed us on entry that an average visit would take two hours. We tore through it in about fifteen minutes, and it would have been less had we not got lost in the middle.

And, at the end of it all, back on the coach for the journey home which was occupied largely by an elaborate rôle-play about some aliens taking over the ISS acted out with a launchable foam rocket on top of a giant balloon pump purchased from the gift shop. Tom Cruise would be pleased to know that it was the astronauts who won out in the pitched battle for the space station, and doubly pleased that their victory was as a result of bringing some guns with them. Live the American dream.

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