The Natural History Museum
and Science Museum are both in South Kensington
, a short walk in a subway from the tube
station on this damp gray day, Easter Sunday in London
. Earlier we had laughed out loud at a local’s description of Friday “great weather – nearly 20 degrees centigrade”. I left Cape Town
in March, the end of summer, over thirty Centigrade most days, perspiring into my t-shirt as I packed.
The Natural History Museum was good, but the dinosaur wing had a queue. After wending my way into it, I realized that the whole exhibit was jam-packed like a rush-hour tube station and I abandoned the place before claustrophobic panic set in.
The science museum has a number of interactive exhibitions, one floor entitled "Who am I?" devoted to genetics, diversity and individuality. My fingerprints and the dimensions of my fingers may be unique, but does a new throw of the dice, a new random combination, really add up to individuality? Are seven million people cultural diversity or crushing uniformity?
I have never seen so many crashed windows machines as at this exhibit: Several projected videos held absurdly large dialog boxes informing all passers by that the DHCP lease had expired and that a DHCP server could not be found, and that we should click “yes” if we wished to see DHCP messages in future. Other exhibits had a more conventional DLL linkage failure application crash.
There was the cabinet of phobias, from ordinary to singular. The ordinary was demonstrated by the large hairy spider lurking near the bottom of the cabinet. A father was unable to bring his pre-verbal son anywhere near it, the kid just howled and backed off, unaware of the safety afforded by glass and the immobility of the fake or stuffed arachnid.
This demonstrates the presence of human instinctual behavior. Most common dangers in a big city such as this: muggers, road accidents, pollution. Most common phobias: spiders, snakes, falling. We are still hardwired for the cave, not for this.
Further down were the more singular phobias: A jar of dye: fear of purple. An empty jar: fear of air. A jar full of fabric patches, red and white crosses of St George: Anglophobia: fear of Englishness. It amused me so I said it out loud. Anglophobia. the word has a nice familiar balanced ring to it, unlike some of the really unpronouncable phobias. And the concept is amusing, especially seen right here in one of the better parts of London.
On the tube back, via Earl’s Court, the inevitable South Africans talking to each other, in accented English this time not Afrikaans. Often I can spot them simply by the way that they dress and move. Men with Oakley shades, tops with a single or double stripe, short hair usually indicates a person from Johannesburg. I have a pair of Oakleys myself, and my jacket has a cream stripe across it.
I didn’t open my mouth and identify myself to them as one of their own tribe. I’m not liking the sound of that accent anymore. The change in your accent begins when you stop identifying everyone around you as speaking oddly, and feel your own speech patterns to be deviant.
But some of these English are capable of contracting "is not it?" into a new word and pronouncing it "innit?", or dropping all the consonants out of a sentence, or pronoucing Heathrow as Eefwoe.
I like it here, but I hope that no matter how long I live here, no mater how my accent changes, I never learn to speak like that, or pick up some of the drearier aspects of their culture from the plastic neon tattyness of the poor to the smugness of the rich. The thought fills me with dread.
Please don't take this as an attack on the English. There's something to criticise in any place. I know that only too well. If I really disliked it here in London, I wouldn't be here.