The Power of Poison – 21/06/15



Well, it’s been an interesting week. On Wednesday night I baked some brownies and, waiting for them to cool down, wrote a silly little song about the recent train troubles on the Chingford line.  Then Nathan filmed it, we stuck it on Facebook and YouTube and I cut the brownies up to send them into Nathan’s office the next day. The day after that, I was in the local paper. “Woman bitches about late train” is news around here. Don’t believe me? Have a look here.

Luckily, my new found notoriety didn’t stop us from leaving the house today. We didn’t even have to fight off any paparazzi as we tapped in at the station. And that’s just as well, because we had an exciting new exhibition to go to at the Old Truman Brewery.

First though, church. Then a post-church meeting which saw our kids dragging their Godparents off to the park. A park near Liverpool Street? Why, that’s mighty crazy. You may be wondering where this park is. Well, sorry to disappoint…it’s less of a park and more of a building-site – plus-sales-pitch. Presenting….Finsbury Circus!

Yes, the green space is a shadow of its former self as a huge chunk has been scythed off for the Crossrail site. But those Godparents had the kids convinced that it was a source of fun second only to Disneyland. There was a bandstand:


And somehow that managed to amuse them for an hour or so. Godparent magic. I was more amused by the “Crossrail Living Wall”, where a few plants on the hoardings were somehow meant to compensate for the loss of the 1920s bowling lawn and the other delights that used to be in a rare green space in the City. But apparently it’s meant to be restored some time next yearish. I won’t hold my breath. Why would I when that living wall is producing such lovely oxygen for me?


Anyway, it was 3PM and Nathan and I hadn’t eaten, so we grabbed a bite at Benito’s Hat, just outside Liverpool Street. Reuben was excited at the prospect of a “Taco Tuesday”, even though it was a Sunday.


I went for the Balsamic Pork Torta, which was a bit of a squidgy mess. But, ohhhhh such a tasty squidgy mess! I’m drooling a little just thinking about it. If only they’d included a few extra napkins. We perched on the steps of the rotunda to eat, which was appropriate as we were about to do our own little Backpassages of Spitalfields tour.


Those evenings following Steve and Alan around had paid off, as we kept the kids entertained with tales of Jack the Ripper’s car park and Spooky Hawksmoor’s church. Reuben, wide-eyed, looked at the church and said “Did one person really build that all by themselves?” We said yes, because…yknow…it’s fun to lie to your kids now and then. “Wow” said he “It must have taken him three whole days!”. Indeed. And he didn’t even stop for lunch.

Soon enough, we found our way to the back of Brick Lane and the “Power of Poison” exhibition which, you may have discerned, it actually the point of this post. Very friendly staff checked our coats and bags into the free cloakroom and we headed into a darkened room to find out more about poison.


And then we left again. Apparently there was something about the darkness that totally freaked Eva out, and she took one look and ran straight back out. Don’t worry, we eventually persuaded her that it wasn’t all “too dary”…but not before another escape attempt and a slightly accelerated move through the first few rooms. So, we didn’t get to watch the film and we barely lingered in the jungle room, although she did like the orangutans hanging from the trees. She calmed down once I’d located something she’d like. Butterflies!


Obviously, they’re like poisonous butterflies but we didn’t need to tell her that. All we needed was to be able to put her down without her bolting. She said the butterflies were pretty and from then on, it was smooth sailing. A word of caution, though, if you’re planning on taking a sensitive 3-year-old – they might have a similar reaction. A 6-year-old boy, on the other hand has no fear.


The next section moved started to look at poison in literature, with an interesting explanation of why the Mad Hatter was mad – it’s to do with the mercury involved in the hat-making process. As someone who married into the “milliner” family, I’d say that explains a lot. Both kids recognised Alice for the Disney-figure pack that Roo got yesterday and so were excited to see her. Another Disney favourite was waiting just around the corner…


Snow White! Now, you’d think this “borrow’d likeness of shrunk death” version of Snow White would freak out a girl who was only familiar with the sparkly one on her synthetic Snow White dress. But no, she loved her. We told her not to cross the rope-line, so she just sat under the sign and looked at her. Later on, she’d come back to her. And again and again. Clearly Eva’s favourite part of the whole thing. On the way to Snow White, we’d passed a few other exhibits and I’d like to have had a bit more time to read all the signs. After all, you aint seen nothing like the…


The children also enjoyed the story of the rabbit who first brought death into the world. Here, he is, ReaperBunny himself. Isn’t he sinister?


Eva loved him. She also loved the tarantula. You’ve got to wonder what goes on in her head that some green writing on a black wall reduces her to tears but she’s not even a little freaked out by this snake:


Oh, and that’s a real, live tarantula I mentioned just then. Obviously behind glass, but the spider is just one of the actual deadly animals in the exhibit. Luckily the snake wasn’t real, and the bunny may have been real at some point but wasn’t any more.


Round the corner from Snow White was one of my favourite bits –  “The Enchanted Forest”.  It’s hard to explain how this works, so bear with me but essentially it was a giant book about deadly plants (one of which was growing in our garden last year…eeek!) and the pages were blank when you first turned them and then suddenly filled with content. I assume it was a data projector hidden in the ceiling, but it was ever so clever. There were even red dots that you could press to animate the pages and to unveil hidden bits. The photo I have doesn’t really do it any justice.

Next up were some cabinets, showing the part that poison plays in literature. A selection of great books were discussed, including Harry Potter, complete with Marauders’ Map:


Lemony Snicket:


And some superheroes, just to make Roo happy:


The next room was about solving poison mysteries. That was lots of fun. Three mysteries were set up, in 3D form with clues scattered through the scene. In front of each mystery were a line of iPads, which you could use to find out what had happened and solve the mystery. There was a dead owl, a sick sea captain and a dog that Nathan thought was dead but actually went on to live a long and fulfilling life. Phew. We spent ages in there, with me, Roo and Nathan solving the mysteries and Eva pressing buttons at random…and running back to the Snow White room.


We were nearing the end by now, with the last room home to a coral reef projection and the aforementioned tarantula. But right at the end, there was a fun activity to do – make your own souvenir postcard using a selection of glittery sands. What you do is peel the stickers off your (free) postcard, scatter sand over the top and ta-da….a bespoke piece of art! It was slightly fiddly getting the stickers off, but even my “blunt instrument” technique on mine and the kids’ resulted in some pretty postcards, and the kids did the sand bits all by themselves


. Nathan’s, meanwhile, was darn near a masterpiece:


While we were busy making postcards, a man in a white coat came up to us and told us that he was starting a presentation soon, in the mysteries room. Roo and I went, as Eva was having another stubborn moment and refusing to leave the gift shop. Her loss (and Nathan’s!) because it was very entertaining – he told us the story of a man who’d been poisoned by his grandson, and how a pioneering chemist called James Marsh managed to prove the existence of arsenic in some used coffee grounds. And how then it was thrown out of court because the jury didn’t really know what forensic evidence was. All great fun, and we learnt a lot about arsenic too…or “inheritance powder”, as he called it.

Then it really was time to go, with the kids flaking almost as much as we were. It’s a great exhibition, possibly more suitable to Roo’s age than Eva’s but they both enjoyed it, after the initial freak out. I believe it’s on till 6th September, so don’t hang around too long to go!

Disclaimer: I was given free tickets to the exhibition in return for this post. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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