A day in Nottingham with Rowan and Lola

Took Rowan and Lolly out for the day on Saturday. Rowan made her usual protests about wanting to stay at home, but they were less emphatic than usual, and pretty soon forgotten once we’d left the house. We caught the bus into town, train to Nottingham, and taxi to Keyworth where I collected the car (quelle shock! I’m another 500 quid poorer, after having the clutch replaced, new rear brake pipe and associated fittings, and seat stripped down and re-welded to get rid of its awkward wonkiness).

Having got the neccesary stuff out of the way, we headed back into Nottingham for some serious family-style attraction visiting. Target for the day was Nottingham Castle museum and art gallery, which I had visited some 12 years before with the Woodcraft Folk. It was a wonderful, magical little place, much improved since my last visit. Although not very large, everything was laid out with such attention to detail and an obvious feeling for what children like, and Rowan didn’t complain once. OK, maybe once, when she thought I was going to make her look at paintings, but for the most part she had a whale of a time.

There was a lot of touchiness about – several displays had “PLEASE TOUCH” labels on them, and a wall painted to resemble Noah’s Ark had pottery animals behind flaps, animal noises at the press of a button, and darkened holes to stick your hand in and feel the textures. A jar in the shape of a bear had its own picture story-book which I read to Rowan (“I’m not a teddy bear, and I’m not cute.” “And I’m not even a bear – I’m a dog”. The bear, it turns out, was a depiction of mediaeval bear-baiting in nearby Alfreton, and the creature it was holding was a dog who was supposed to be trying to attack it).

Lunch was a bit of a hit and miss affair – the first waiter brought my sandwich but forgot my juice and Rowan’s lunch box, which arrived some 5 minutes later, minus straw for Rowan’s drink carton. Afterwards I got a cup of tea without any milk, and Rowan’s Scone with Jam turned up without any jam. Still, the friendliness of the staff made up for it, and we got everything we wanted in the end.

Then we went upstairs for the gallery portion. There was a temporary exhibition of Ghanaian coffins – beautiful, amazing things, the existence of which I had never been the slightest bit aware of. They were carved into wonderful shapes, brightly painted and decorated, and varnished shiny-smooth. Here was one shaped like a red fish, the lid off to show luxuriant red trimmings inside. To be buried in one of these, you had to be a fisherman who caught the lucky red fish. Lobster fishermen, unsurprisingly, got a coffin in the shape of a lobster. A spring-onion-shaped box was for burying farmers, elephant and leopard were less specific, although for brave and clever people only (Rowan thought that she would probably choose one of these, as there were few other coffins for girls, and she is after all both brave and clever). A lion was similarly unspecific, although stronger and less intelligent than the previous two, would suit a warlord. One of the strangest coffins came in the shape of an oil barrel, hazardous chemical symbol and all. Apparently these are used to store the local banana-derived alcohol, and the maker of such drinks would end up in this coffin. In another room were a key – for politicians and royalty, people with access to prestigious apartments – and a hen covered in chicks – for mothers with many children, and usually grandchildren as well. The coffins gave Rowan and I much to talk about – she thought that a bus coffin for bus drivers would be a good idea, and if it was a double decker you could even get two in at once. More examples of Ghanaian coffins here.

The next room was just as much fun – entitled "how much is that doggy" it was an installation piece, taking the form of a toyshop. Childrens’ toys and books were scattered around, animal pictures from the museum’s collection were on the walls, there was a pond area where, by donning a baseball-cap built-up with felt to look like a goldfish and passing through a curtain of blue lace dotted with water-lilies, you could become a fish and swim around. In the opposite corner was a dog basket the size of a sofa, piled with well-worn and comfy looking blankets and cushions. We flopped down inside it and became lazy hounds.

The fun continued outside the castle. We admired the view across the new industrial and commercial buildings of Nottingham, and then did a few circuits of the playground, where slides and climbing frames were disguised as castles, and coats of arms studded the paths between one area and the next. After carrying Lolly around all of this, I didn’t have the energy to carry on to Tales of Robin Hood, and I don’t think Rowan did either, but still we managed to go home feeling that our day had been full.