“Cats and Dogs” at the Horniman – 17/02/22

It’s been a while since we last ventured to deepest South London. Reuben was offered the opportunity to go to Forest Hill after church last week and he dismissed it with a shrug that suggested it was just too….far. And so it was on a rainy Sunday afternoon. But on a sunny Thursday with tickets to an exhibition about dogs? Bring it on!

Of course, the days are long gone when we could just hop on the 185 for the Horniman but there are a variety of ways to get there from Highams Park. I chose to do the changeover between overground lines in Dalston as I vaguely knew where we were going and there was only a small chance we’d get confused and accidentally go to church. So we got off at Hackney Downs, hopped on a 56 for a few minutes and hopped off again at Dalston Junction. We didn’t sit on the bench outside there for 45 minutes like we did last time we’d hung out in Dalston…instead, we went for an earlyish lunch at McDonalds. Eva has very recently discovered that she likes the vegan McPlant burger (“an ideal cinema snack” apparently) so wanted to go for one of those, fries and a strawberry lemonade. I know plenty of people would avoid McDonalds on principle but when you have a kid who’s an anxious eater, any environment she feels safe in is a total win. Especially when she’s now eating something vaguely resembling protein*

*Resemblance may be surface level only

She didn’t quite finish her burger or her drink so we took both with us on the overground, which was heading towards Crystal Palace. I know Eva’s been there before but it was when she was much younger and she’s clearly forgotten because she was filled with wonder at the very sound of the name. “If only all stations had such wondrous names!” she declared in her…distinctive way.

Turns out she’s easily impressed by station names. Surrey Quays, Canada Water and Rotherhithe also met with her wonder-filled approval. “I just can’t believe my ears….or my eyes” she said, as we slid through the grey surrounds of SE16. If you’re the woman in this picture, I also need to apologise for the child’s relentless singing of Encanto songs with half the words cut out. Snowy was practising her part as Mirabel, you see, so she only needed to sing Mirabel’s lines.

If you’re wondering, this is Snowy:

What? You thought we could go and see an exhibition about dogs and not take any of the cuddly dogs with us? How little you know. I was just thankful I only had one to keep an eye on and not the full 27.

We had 2pm tickets for the exhibition. If I’d gone full Alpha Mom, I’d have made sure we had tickets to the aquarium and the storytelling and the craft sessions and all the other bits as well. But you should know by now that I am far from an Alpha Mom. It’s hard to label yourself nowadays with Greek letters without sounding like some deadly viral strain but I’m probably around the Gamma or Delta. It was unlikely enough that we would make it out of the house at this point in half term, let alone all the way to South London so I didn’t overcommit. One ticket was fine.

It did mean we had some time to kill before our timeslot though, even with the half mile slog up the hill that I’d kinda forgotten about. Eva refused point blank to go into the Hall of Dead Things so we went to the musical instruments gallery, where she was lost in wonder once again…this time at French Horns rather than Canada Water. Who knew there were so many types of brass instrument? And so many flutes!

We spent some time at the interactive screens, listening to what a zither and a Jew’s harp sounded like (although I think my father owns both of these instruments so I could have just asked him really). When I tried to take a picture of Eva using the white screen, the weirdest thing happened:

And it was even weirder when Snowy was sitting on top of it. She looks like she’s had an 1980s makeover:

We also visited the “Hair” exhibition, which had some freaky elements to it. There weren’t as many fainters as there were when we held the “Skin” exhibition at Wellcome but still, there is something slightly unnerving about anything that was previously on a person and is now in a museum.  There were some pictures of good dogs but their owners were wearing clothes made out of the dogs’ fur. All a bit Cruella de Ville for my liking. This bit was fun though – a wall of mirrors where you could arrange nature-shaped magnets to give yourself a new hairstyle:

By the time we’d done those two galleries, it was 2pm and so we were ready to go into “Cats and Dogs”. If you’ve read this blog for anything length of time, you’ll know which animal we prefer but there’s plenty to look at in this exhibition for both feline- and canine-lovers. Eva scampered around a bit, looking at the various activities before trying out the “Can you jump as high as a cat?” test. She couldn’t…but she had fun trying.

Then a similar idea  – “Can you run as fast as a dog?” The aim was to weave in an out of the yellow poles in less than 3 seconds but Eva never quite managed it, especially not on all fours.

Next, we had a go at the Horniman breeding program. I think we tried almost every combination of dogs and I can’t quite remember what we crossed with a dalmatian here:

But Eva certainly thought it was adorable:

Mind you, she also thought this was adorable:

We watched a couple of films about the origins of dogs and how the good wolfie boys became the good slightly-less-wolfie boys. And discovered that Eva is about the same size as a German Shepherd:

We had to wait a while for the doggy version of Guess Who but I beat Eva in both games. Even though she had Snowy on her side, who really should be the dog expert:

We spent around 50 minutes in the exhibition in total. It was half-term-busy so I think we’d have stayed longer if there weren’t any queues. But there’s only so long I can deal with being bemasked anyway, so it definitely felt time to get some fresh air.

And what a glorious day for some fresh air in the Horniman gardens! I don’t know whether spring comes sooner in South London but it certainly felt springlike with the blossom out:

I’d completely forgotten there were animals in the grounds, so stumbling across a pair of alpacas was a nice surprise:

Even if Eva thought the brown one looked smug. Does this look smug to you?

We also spotted a lamppost wearing a wig, presumably to tie in with the “Hair” exhibition:

We wandered about a bit, playing on the outdoor instruments and just generally taking in the view:

“Look Eva, we can see across the whole of London from here” I said, as we stood at the vantage point. Eva looked at me, momentarily confused and told me that no, we couldn’t because some bits of London were behind us. Hmmm, so I never get a bit of poetic licence then?

I wanted to stop for coffee and cake before the long journey home and Canvas and Creams had been recommended to us. I didn’t get any decent photos but Eva was enjoying her red velvet cake, honestly. I had a soy latte and a slice of carrot cake.

We were almost homeward bound but just stopped to take a photo of this mural, which reminded us both of Antonio’s room from Encanto:

And then back northwards, with this “angelic” sky, as Eva described it to see us off. I think it was somewhere around New Cross:

Nice to breathe a bit of South London air for a while and return to our old haunt. Thanks for having us, Horniman!

“Cats and Dogs” runs until 30th October 2022. For tickets and more info, click here.

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