Musical Micropause: Z

http://cdn2.bigcommerce.com/server3700/cc40e/products/216/images/1444/Z_Zzzzzzzz__16565.1409193807.1280.1280.png?c=2

Zoot Woman: Grey Day (2003)
Zoot Woman is a three-piece electronica band from the UK. They released their debut EP in 1995, and in August 2014 they released their fourth full-length CD. During that time they’ve picked up a range of high profile supporters. They’ve been included in monthly “free” CDs from Mojo and Uncut, they’ve had songs on CSI and in cosmetics TV campaigns, and they have a vocal fan in Noel Gallagher (describing them as “Krautrock at its best“. I hear more New Order than Kraftwerk, but maybe that’s just me hearing New Order in everything electronic.

 

Thalia Zedek: Body Memory (2008)
Most biographies of Thalia Zedek include comparisons with Patti Smith and Nick Cave, and this track goes a long way to justify those references. The Chicago Tribune described Zedek’s voice as having “spellbinding power” and a “raw, barbed-wire twisting intensity matched by few rock singers.”  With a viola dominant in her current band, the Cave parallels continue, as it can sound like she’s hired The Dirty Three for back-up. 


ZZ Top: Tush, live from Crossroads Guitar Festival (2004)
Before ZZ Top and MTV crossed paths to create some of the most memorable music videos of the 1980s, ZZ Top had been building a reputation as technical masters of blues-inspired rock. Their willingness to show their sense of humour was already evident in these early days, and 1975’s “Tush” gave the band their first top 20 hit. ZZ Top’s line-up of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard has been unchanged since they signed to London Records in 1970. “Tush” has been their most frequently played song through their career of almost 45 years.


Warren Zevon: Carmelita (2003)
A quick glance at the backing musicians on the 2002 compilation “Genius” says a lot for how highly Warren Zevon was regarded by his peers. Names such as Phil Everly, Lindsay Buckingham, Bobby Keyes, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, J D Souther, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, Graham Nash, Roy Bittan, Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell, the members of REM and one Neil Young all appear in the credits, while others like Bob Dylan paid tribute through live performances of Zevon’s songs. Lyrically, Warren Zevon worked with a shade of black humour that others would never consider approaching, causing no shortage of headache for his record label – despite a track describing werewolves mutilating little old ladies in London becoming a global success. I’d love to dig deeper into the Zevon catalogue, but I have no idea what could be lurking there.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Legoland Florida: September 2014

Sam and Dom are ready for Legoland

Sam and Dom – ready for Legoland!

My boys were always destined to be legoheads. My own Lego had been kept in a suitcase at my parents’ house for decades, with each set stored in its own blue plastic bag, and instructions meticulously hole-punched and numerically filed. “You may have boys of your own one day”, I recall Mum saying. She was right, and the choice of which plastic bag to choice became the highlight of any visit to their grandparents.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about Lego that sparks the imagination of boys across the world, and it does seem to be mainly boys. It also gives Dads the chance to relive childhood memories, sometimes long after their boys have gone to bed.

Lego has never really been out of fashion, but recent years have seen the release of an ever-increasing number of themes, allowing Lego to enjoy mutually beneficial relationships with the people behind Harry Potter, Batman, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Simpsons, and many others.

In addition to the video games, board games, TV shows and movies, children can enjoy a trip to Legoland. Legoland is not a new concept, but in my day a trip to Legoland involved a trip to Billund, Denmark, home of Lego. For a six-year old boy in New Zealand in 1974, that didn’t sound a very realistic goal. A trip to Europe was as likely as a trip to the moon. At least you could see the moon. But sometimes the unexpected can occur, and in 1993 I met a Danish couple from Billund who travelling through New Zealand. I was invited to stay with them when visiting in Denmark in 1994, and at the age of 25 finally achieved my boyhood dream.

What happened to Nana?

What happened to Nana?

Fast forward exactly twenty years to 2014, and there are six Legolands around the world, and now I do have boys of my own. We’ve decided on Legoland Florida and the boys are checking out the attractions on the website. My kids are not really daredevil kids – you won’t find them anywhere near a rollercoaster. Their thrills are a lot more sedate, but sometimes a parent doesn’t mind that at all.

Fast forward a few months more, and we’re sitting in the Market café. We’re here in September, which is the least popular time of year for visitors – maybe because of school schedules, maybe because of the weather. Regardless of that, we have the café to ourselves. I’m slightly disappointed that nothing we order is rectangular with eight studs (the official terminology for those bumps on top), but it’s a healthy start to the day.

The boys want to start with the Driving School, and they soon find themselves sitting behind the wheel of their own vehicles. At ages 8 and 10, they don’t have a lot of experience driving, so there’s a lot of over-steering and over-correction. Why drive in a straight line when you can do a figure of eight. They’re also not familiar with driving on the right, as we drive on the left in New Zealand, but I’m impressed that they quickly adjust to that. There are a few encounters with the fence line, and without a reverse gear, they have to be pulled back into circulation. We also find keyrings and magnets with Sam and Dominic’s names (a rarity for Dom), so it’s a great start to the day.

IMG_5679

What side of the road do we drive on here Dom?

DSCN0300

DSCN0299IMG_5681 Can I have this set Dad?

After a slightly disappointing session with some remote control cars that (a) don’t do what they are told, and (b) have nothing to do with Lego, we’re off to the NFPA Rescue Academy. This is not advertised as the ride where the parent has to do all the work, but so it eventuates. Someone has to man the pump if the volunteers are to put out the lego flames.

DSCN0301

This wouldn’t look quite so dodgy from a different angle

IMG_5688The steering issues from the Driving School resurface at the Boating School. Each boy needs an accompanying adult, so Dom captains our craft and Sam takes his Nana for a spin. Unfortunately, there was more spinning than progress. Clearly the adults are there to assist, but this assistance may not always be accepted willingly, and we somehow find ourselves going the opposite direction to every other boat, blaming our issues on a non-existent current. Sam quickly realises that the more the boat strays off course, the longer our circuit will take. He’s loving it – it’s not every day you get to ram a boat into your brother and your Dad.

IMG_5690

Don’t touch my steering wheel again Dad.

IMG_5691

Sam taking some enjoyment from ramming us. Nana not impressed.

DSCN0305IMG_5694The next ride takes some convincing, but soon becomes one of the highlights of the day. Aquazone is a ride where two people sit in a buggy and spin around in a pool, with the ability to change their height and speed. Non-riders on the sideline can also set off explosions of water around the pool as the buggies approach, but a poorly timed explosion can soak the spectator more than the rider – as Dom finds to his surprise. This is no roller coaster level of adrenalin, but lots of fun.

DSCN0311

Dad giving Dom a pep talk up top while Sam shows how it’s done.

DSCN0313

Dom now happily behind the wheel

DSCN0308

Dom accidentally drenches himself. Not impressed.

DSCN0306 The weather is still behaving so we buy lunch at Lakeside Sandwich Co and watch water-skiing practice on Lake Eloise. I think this is a sneak preview of the water-skiing display later that day, so having our own personal show is just fine. We’ve already signed Sam up for a programming workshop and test at 2pm, so lunch has to be finished by then.

The chance to play with Lego Mindstorms, one of Lego’s more pricey products, is definitely the highlight of Sam’s day. He’s one of four boys to be given laptops and programming challenges to complete – which sounds a lot more like school than a holiday, but he loves it. The success of the programming is judged by the ability of his Lego vehicle to move the correct distance, in the correct direction, and do all the tasks required, with each challenge being dependent on successful completion of the previous task. He hasn’t played with Mindstorms before, but he grasps it all very quickly, and is rightfully very proud of himself when he completes all tasks within the allotted time. Unfortunately, he has to give the laptop back at the end. It’s a shame Mindstorms has to be so expensive.

IMG_5699

Your challenge should you choose to accept it…..

IMG_5704

It wasn’t like this in my day

IMG_5701 IMG_5702 IMG_5703 IMG_5705While Sam has been immersed in Mindstorms, Dom has been in competition to design and build with limited pieces a vehicle built for speed. Races are held against other kids down ramps, and the competition is intense. Dom’s pretty pleased with his result, and Sam has time for a quick turn too.

IMG_5697

Praying might help

IMG_5706 IMG_5695 IMG_5698 I’m finally allowed a break as the boys cycle themselves in circles on the Technicycle, before we all head to Miniland. This bears a bit more resemblance to the Legoland I remember from Billund, but updated to include the latest crazes. It’s good to see Star Wars in Miniland – another phenomenon that has survived the years to be equally loved by my kids. I suspect like many fathers and sons, we’ve agreed to disagree on the merits of Jar Jar Binks.

IMG_5713 IMG_5714 IMG_5715 IMG_5718IMG_5725 DSCN0323 IMG_5726 IMG_5727 IMG_5728 IMG_5729The boys are divided on Beetle Bounce – a ride that promises to boost the boys to new heights, 15 feet to be exact. It’s more the rapid decent that Dom isn’t keen on, but this ride is another winner for Sam.

IMG_5732IMG_5733The promised rain is now lurking, so we quickly find an indoor ride. Dom seeks clarification from the Lego helpers that he won’t be dropped from a great (or minor) height, or spun upside-down, and that the ride is flat for the duration. Once he is convinced of his personal safety, we embark on the Lost Kingdom Adventure. On this ride, we fire lasers at anything that vaguely resembles a target, not always successfully. The photographs taken during the ride show that one of the adults in the car is perhaps taking this a bit too seriously. We don’t often buy ride photos, but this one’s a bit different. The photo of the four shooters can be superimposed onto a small white Lego brick wall, complete with scorecard of laser strikes, thus immortalising forever the concentration required for shooting ghosts and other unwelcome guests in your own personalised Lego set.

IMG_5730  IMG_6359I’m surprised that the boys are keen for the Royal Joust. This ride takes tame to a new level. Maybe it’s the opportunity to be the only two kids on the entire ride, or maybe it’s the fact that on fixed wooden horses Sam can’t crash into Dom. The fact that there is no jousting involved can’t hurt, and they cruise around with big smiles.

IMG_5741 IMG_5737 IMG_5738 IMG_5739The rain suddenly changes from threatening to torrential, but the boys are keen on one of the Chima rides. Sadly for them, everything either involves getting even wetter, or the guides have already deserted their post, assuming that no right-minded kids would want a ride in this weather. And they are right of course.

IMG_5742I play the “Nana’s getting tired” card, and we head back towards the entrance. We take a brief look at the Studio Store, but decide against any purchases. We’ve already taken up a lot of the allocated souvenir space and are down to fridge magnets and pens.

Our last stop is the Lego minifigure store, where the boys dig through fours barrels, one for heads, one for bodies, one for legs, and one for accessories. The result of much consideration is their creation of their own unique minifigures, and given the combinations they choose, I’m confident that they are unique.

The minifigures are a great way to finish a very successful day, but we’ve been here since opening time, and now have eight very tired feet. These boys have had so much fun, but they’re understandably starting to wilt. We all know that we didn’t come here to relax. It’s time to regroup and start again tomorrow. Cape Canaveral awaits!

IMG_5743

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Nick Cave – live in Auckland, 7 December 2014

It has to be a sign of a great gig, where you can’t stop the songs from going around your head a day later, and after listening to nothing but Nick Cave for weeks, you don’t want to stop.

My build-up for this show started a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t listened to some of Nick’s earlier albums in some time, and reacquainting myself made for some very enjoyable and noisy drives to work. Apart from seeing Grinderman in a storm (very fitting), I’d only seen Nick once before, in another “solo” show, that time in Mainz, Germany in 2006. I wasn’t familiar with all his songs in those days, and wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Despite that, the show in Mainz was fantastic, so my expectations for Sunday night in Auckland were in danger of spiraling towards unattainable levels.

My Nick weekend started on Saturday with a screening of 20,000 Days On Earth, followed by a Q&A session with Nick. Some of the questions drew interesting answers, others drew a laugh, and others groans of embarrassment from the audience. I had some questions ready, just in case Nick was met with an audience of shy kiwis, but there was no shortage of people wanting to engage with Nick. There’s a compete review of that on Graham Reid’s Elsewhere site here. I hope he doesn’t mind that link. I don’t think my readers will cause anything to crash.

And so to Sunday. Built in 1929, the Civic Theatre in Auckland is a beautiful venue, the perfect place for Nick to play. As well as being my favourite place to see movies as a kid, I’ve seen some great shows here – Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, the Waterboys. This description sums it up: Indian-inspired motifs, seated Buddhas, turrets, minarets, spires, Abyssinian panther statues, a domed blue ceiling  with twinkling stars and floating clouds. It leaves quite an impression and is probably the only venue in Auckland that may impress an overseas artist.

The two Auckland shows sold out almost instantly, so after my my initial disappointment at being in the back row, at least I was going to my first Nick Cave show in over eight years. When Nick comes to town, you don’t miss that opportunity. And he was as fantastic as I had hoped.

The advantage of the back row was that I was sitting very close to the sound guys, so I managed to secure the setlist.  There were a few changes, with four songs added (Watching Alice, Into My Arms, More News From Nowhere and Babe You Turn Me On) and one taken out (Love Letter). I’m not completely sure where these were added, but the following is my best recollection:

1. We Real Cool
2. The Weeping Song
3. Red Right Hand
4. Nobody’s Baby Now
5. Higgs Boson Blues (incredible solo by Warren – even Nick and the band applauded)
6. Mermaids
7. The Ship Song
8. From Her To Eternity
9. More News From Nowhere
10. God Is In The House
11. Into My Arms
12. Up Jumped The Devil
13. Water’s Edge
14. Black Hair
15. Lay Me Low
16. The Mercy Seat
17. Jubilee Street

Encore:
18. We No Who U R
19. Breathless
20. Watching Alice
21. Babe You Turn Me On
22. Jack The Ripper
23. Push The Sky Away

So here are some dodgy photos taken from the back row. If you have the chance to see Nick on this tour, cancel all other plans and get there!

IMG_6319 IMG_6320 IMG_6321 IMG_6323 IMG_6324 IMG_6325 IMG_6326 IMG_6333 IMG_6341 IMG_6344 IMG_6352

Posted in Music | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Musical Micropause: Y

http://www.clipartbest.com/cliparts/RTA/kb8/RTAkb8kTL.jpeg

Neil Young: Rockin In The Free World (1989)
How do you pick one Neil Young song? Do you choose acoustic Neil or noisy Neil? There’s a world between “See The Sky About To Rain” and “Cortex The Killer”, but both would be contenders for me. “Rockin In The Free World” has arguably become the fist-pumping highlight of his electric shows; it’s Neil’s “Born To Run”. I hope he doesn’t get tired of playing it any time soon.

 

Thom Yorke: Harrowdown Hill (2006)
Harrowdown Hill was Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s first solo single, from his CD “The Eraser”. Yorke has confirmed that the song refers to the suspicious death of David Kelly, a British scientist. Kelly had engaged in off-the-record discussions with BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan about the British government’s dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was identified publicly as Gilligan’s source and appeared on 15 July 2003 before a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee.  Two days later, Kelly was found dead on Harrowdown Hill.


Yeasayer: Fingers Never Bleed (2012)
Yeasayer were one the bands on my must-see list for Laneway 2013 in Auckland, and they didn’t disappoint. “Fingers Never Bleed” is from their 2012 CD, “Fragrant World”, initially made available to fans via an internet scavenger hunt. The band would send clues via their twitter stream three weeks prior to the official release. In an interview with fastcocreate.com, lead vocalist Chris Keating described the band as “still a niche kind of band, even if I’m not sure what that niche is.”


Weird Al Yankovic: Bob (2003)
I was all set to find the clip for Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise“, when I came across “Bob” – Al’s tribute to Bob Dylan and the power of the palindrome. Ideally this would be written in palindromes too, but I’ll have to leave that to Al. Dammit, I’m mad! Weird Al’s video is based on Dylan’s original film clip for Subterranean Homesick Blues, released in 1965, and generally regarded as one of the first promotional music videos. Al managed to squeeze one final palindrome into the song’s title.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center: September 2014

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – remember the name!

Who doesn’t like a good waffle? These have become a key part of the daily routine for my boys, and Sam is more than happy to share his new skills on the waffle maker with anyone looking slightly nervous. Most people make their way around Sam, make their waffles, and move on, but one small boy is looking slightly bewildered. He hesitates in front of the machine for slightly too long and Sam pounces on his opportunity to demonstrate Waffles for Dummies. Whether it be via a redemption of air miles or a Christmas present, I’m seeing a waffle maker in my future.

Waffles – fit for a President

As we’re heading out today, I meet two of our neighbours in the Hotel. I knew the Hotel allowed dogs, but I’m surprised to see two terriers exiting just as we do. I hadn’t heard so much as a muffled woof, and usually there’s a sign on the door warning guests of the canines inside. They’re either very well trained, or they appreciate a full night’s sleep. And I thought that only happened in France!

The goal today is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, but requiring too much space for central Washington DC. If you have your own car, it’s an easy 40 minute drive to the Center in Chantilly, Virginia. If you don’t, it requires a bit more patience and a lot more time, but it’s well worth the effort.

We first need to take the metro to the end of the silver line (Wiehle-Reston East). That’s a 45 minute trip. My boys are old hands at the metro now. Our only incident was during a rush-hour crush when the boys were already safely inside, but the doors slammed shut on me, threatening to send the boys on without me. We’ve been careful to avoid rush-hours since then.

At the end of the silver line, an official helps us top up our tickets for a further 45 minute bus ride to Udvar-Hazy. Thought is given to finding the Gents (or bathrooms as they are called in these parts – although don’t go expecting a quiet soak), but they either don’t exist or are very well hidden. Fortunately the wait for the next bus isn’t too long.

Through this trip, I’ve tried to share my time evenly between my boys, and today I’m sitting next to Dom. You never quite know where a conversation with my boys is going to lead, and Dom’s area of questioning today is the weaponry used during the New Zealand Wars of 1845 to 1872. I didn’t see this coming – he is only eight. I should know more about this aspect of New Zealand history, so my answers aren’t too precise. I don’t think he can tell that I’m bluffing some of this.

IMG_6121Udvar-Hazy is enormous. There are two hangars; one is the length of three football fields, and both hangars are about ten storeys high. Aircraft are everywhere, all at different angles – they sit on the ground, they hang from the ceiling. Past foes now rest together. There are currently around 160 aircraft on display, with the intention of passing 200. When I ask where the additions are going to go, I’m told that they can “shuffle them around a bit”. I bet these guys are great at packing car boots too.

IMG_5635

SR-71A Blackbird

I’m not really a plane buff, but there are four must-sees for me here. The first is the SR-71A Blackbird – the world’s fastest jet propelled aircraft. Operational from 1964 to 1998, a total of 32 aircraft were built with none lost to enemy action. The data they collected is now provided by satellites. The last flight by this Blackbird was to set the speed record for flying from the West Coast: Los Angeles to Washington in one hour, four minutes. It was then turned over to the Smithsonian.

IMG_5637

Space Shuttle Discovery

DSCN0289

IMG_5659

Gemini VII

IMG_5661

Mercury – Freedom 7 II

IMG_5653

Behind the Blackbird is the Space wing, and pride of place is held by the Space Shuttle Discovery. This craft spent 365 days in space, over 39 missions, carrying a total crew of 251. It is preserved at the Center as intact as possible after completing the 133rd Space Shuttle mission in 2011. There are many other space displays in this wing as well. The boys and I could spend a long time here.

IMG_5673

Enola Gay

IMG_5665 It’s not easy to match a Space Shuttle in terms of historical significance, but the next plane on my list might just do that. Piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, the Enola Gay is a  Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber and was named after the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay Tibbets. On 6 August 1945, its crew released the first nuclear bomb over Hiroshima killing an estimated 100,000. A second bombing followed over Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II a few days later. One of the guides here gives us a very interesting speech on the plane’s background and its involvement in both bombings.

IMG_5669

Air France Concorde

IMG_0408My top four is completed by Concorde, the world’s first supersonic airliner. Operational from 1976 to 2003, only 14 Concordes were ever used for passenger flights, seven by British Airways, seven by Air France. The Concorde here is a donation from Air France and was used to fly from Paris to New York, Washington DC and Rio de Janeiro. At over 60 metres in length, it is without doubt the hardest plane to photograph in the Center.

DSCN0288 IMG_0389IMG_5675
There’s so much more to the Udvar-Hazy Center than these four craft. The website lists 3762 other objects, and I’m sure the more trained eye would select other objects for their top four.

IMG_0393 IMG_5629IMG_5633A highlight for the boys is the chance to take the controls on a Cessna, fortunately without breaking anything. I suspect the instructor thinks the boys aren’t listening, so I ask the boys to repeat everything back to him, which they do. I might have pilots on my hands. The Center has a very comprehensive gift shop, and after lunch we stock up on souvenirs. They have an excellent supply of fridge magnets here.

On our bus trip back to the metro, Sam and I have another look at our guidebook for Washington DC. We’ve done quite a bit over the last week, and don’t seem to have missed anything too major.  This is the boys’ first taste of the United States and they’ve had new experiences every day. That’s what it’s all about.

Next stop…Orlando!

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Musical Micropause: X

http://theaveragejess.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/redx-300x297.jpg

XTC: Making Plans For Nigel (1979)
It’s generally a sign that a single has been a major success in the UK if it manages to find its way to New Zealand airwaves, and this was particularly true in the late seventies. MTV was still a few years away, but I remember seeing the video for “Making Plans For Nigel” on a weekly music show. Formed in 1972, XTC started life as a glam-rock band, before becoming caught up in the New Wave. Their years as a successful live act were numbered though, as lead singer Andy Partridge suffered from major stage-fright, reducing XTC to a studio-only band from 1982 until they called it a day in 2006.

 

The XX: VCR (2009)
The XX’s self-titled debut CD was released to universal praise in August 2009, and when they appeared on a small public square for Auckland’s Laneway festival in February 2010, they looked like they were still getting used to the idea of global acclaim. They were soon playing larger venues, having performed at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits by the end of 2010.


X: Arms For Hostages (1993)
X started with great promise, with their debut album being produced by Ray Manzarek, and their second album being named “Album Of The Year” by Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and others. I discovered X from a KCRW “Rare on Air” compilation from 1994, where they performed an acoustic version of “Arms for Hostages”, from their final album, 1993’s “Hey Zeus!”.


Xela: Afraid Of Monsters (2002)
I also found Xela through a compilation, this time an mix of electronica from Mojo. Xela’s mother refers to him as John Twells (I assume), and “Afraid Of Monsters” is the opening track from his 2003 debut “For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights”. This is where my knowledge of Xela ends, but I read that he has an obsession with horror soundtracks. Sounds like fun; I’ll be looking for more.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I need my Space! Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington DC: September 2014

National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

I confess to being a maker of lists. While some people count sheep, I might be working out my top ten bands that I have yet to see, or my top ten unvisited destinations in Europe. Barcelona is still leading, but Istanbul is challenging. Washington has been heading my “cities yet to visit in the US” for several years, and in the sub-list of attractions that Washington has to offer, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is right at the top.

Yesterday’s exertions have taken their toll on Mum. We wandered from Washington State University and the Watergate complex, around the Potomac, visiting a string of monuments and memorials, before finally heading home. It was a beautiful walk, but as we reached the hotel, I realised that Mum was now smiling because the end was in sight. As soon as we arrive at the Air and Space Museum today, Mum knows that she’s not up for this, and we get her a taxi back to the Hotel.

So today is just me and my boys, and the Air and Space Museum isn’t such a bad place for a Dad’s day out.

IMG_6113

Air and Space Museum Guide, along with official bookmark to the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rover Exploration Program

The initial impression is like seeing a famous monument for the first time. It doesn’t matter how many time you’ve seen photos of the Apollo modules; it’s not until they’re at touching distance that they become real. It’s almost as if you need proof. Now they exist.`

I find myself quickly reverting to the ten-year old kid who would constantly have books on Space out of the local library, and who would cut pieces of cardboard and paper into the shape of Saturn to write his own guide to the Solar System. The Solar System had a lot fewer moons in those days. Fortunately, Sam is just as hooked as I was. If I don’t recognize something in the museum, it’s quickest to ask him, and he’s generally right. Dominic’s getting into this too. He may be two years younger than Sam, but he’s old enough to know that he doesn’t have a choice. Our first half hour is spent bouncing from exhibit to exhibit, spending barely enough time to take a photo, before being distracted by something equally as fascinating.

We pause for breath, plan our day and decide to start with a space documentary at the Einstein Planetarium. We’ve seen many similar movies at our local planetarium in Auckland, but this is on an entirely different scale. One aspect it does share with its poorer New Zealand cousin is its ability to put me to sleep soon after the movie starts. This is no reflection on the quality of the show; those seats are just so comfortable. Through the movie my head is constantly gently dropping before suddenly jerking back up. My kids just shake their head – they’re not angry, just disappointed. But I can recommend the movie – well, I enjoyed the opening and closing credits.

It’s time to tackle the museum again. This time our circuit of the two floors is much more orderly – we even read some of the signs. Everything of major and minor significance is here. And if it isn’t here, there’s usually a good excuse – like it’s on Mars or some other inconvenient location. In that case, there’s a test version or other replica. We’re surrounded by the history of space exploration, starting with Ptolemy’s Model of an Earth-centred universe and many historic artifacts, through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, to moon rock you can touch, and replicas of Skylab, the Hubble Telescope, and Mars rovers. I could list many more, but these guys do it so much better.

IMG_5519

Friendship 7, Mercury Program. In 1962 Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth aboard this craft.

IMG_5511

Columbia – brought back Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins safely back to Earth and 1969 lunar landing.

IMG_5532

Yuri Gagarin’s test suit in preparation for his journey aboard Vostok 1 in 1961, to become the first man in space.

IMG_5537

Test version of Lunar Module, 1969 Apollo program

IMG_5542

So why is my head blue and the kids’ heads are yellow?

IMG_5540

Telescopes – old school style

IMG_5526

Hubble Telescope replica

IMG_5518

Moon rock

IMG_5569 For the record, the moon is very smooth, but that could be more due to the millions of fingers that have rubbed this sliver of moon rock 70215 since it was loaned by NASA to the National Air and Space Museum in 1976. Despite all that handling, it’s not looking a day over 3.7 billion years old.

Being eight and ten year old boys, Dom and Sam are impressed by many exhibits, but don’t see what the fuss is all about with others. The Spirit of St Louis in the central hall is just like theirs, except this one is bigger and not made of Lego. They’re in agreement about the importance of trying the simulators though, and just in case we experience a bumpy flight, I suggest we do this before lunch.

IMG_0304

Simulators! They even work upside-down.

Our instructor mentions how to spin the plane, which sounds like fun. Dom and I take the first turn, and I soon accidentally send us spinning. Dom isn’t thrilled, and he can be heard all over the museum yelling “Put it back Dad!! I’m having a heart attack!!! Dad!! You are the worst simulator pilot ever!!” To be fair to Dom, we do spend quite a bit of time in the plane hanging upside down, but he may not get too many chances to do that in a plane. He’s very relieved when the door slides open, and we’re greeted by many onlookers curious to see what I was doing to my son.

When Sam takes his turn, he takes the pilot’s seat, and it’s smooth sailing all the way. Where’s the fun in that?

IMG_5574

Space food version of a toasted sandwich

IMG_5575

Space version of crackers and cheese. Not impressed.

Dom isn’t impressed by what passed for Astronaut food during the Apollo program, but that reminds us that we need to eat. We check out lunch choices and find that the options that aren’t McDonalds are all full, so we head off in the opposite direction looking for golden arches. What we find in the courtyard outside is a small caravan with the McDonalds logo attached, with a few tables under umbrellas. There’s also a grassy area with trees and bushes, separated from the courtyard by a long wall at just the right height for boys to sit on. Most importantly, it comes with fresh air, and it’s a beautiful day. We’re trying to resist the fast-food temptation on this trip, but today seems a worthy exception.

We take our place sitting on the wall, and we soon notice a rustling in the bushes behind us. A very huge and very well fed rat scampers out of the bushes, looks at me, my kids, and our lunch and swiftly retreats. I’m not sure whether he’s sick of McDonalds and is hoping for something different. A shriek comes from the bushes followed by more rustling. Either our rat is having an argument with his neighbour, or he’s not taking at all well the idea of McDonalds for lunch yet again, Once more he scurries out, eyes us up, and darts back into the bush. More shrieking. This animal definitely has anger management issues. I’ve never seen my kids interact with rats. They’re not afraid, so I feel the need to remind them to keep their distance, and that I bought those fries for them, not our furry friend.

IMG_5546

Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, flown from New York to Paris, May 1927. Good choice.

The Real Wright Brothers' Flyer

The Real Wright Brothers’ Flyer

IMG_5562

Amelia Earhart display

Amelia Earhart display

Of course, an Air and Space Museum would only be half a museum if it didn’t also have exhibits on the Air side of things, so that is our priority for our afternoon session. This is equally impressive with comprehensive exhibits on the Wright Brothers and their Flyer, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, along with more recent endeavours. I can see people taking a very close look at engines, nodding approvingly, and talking a language that I know is English, but I don’t recognise the words. I don’t really speak the language of engines – but I know people who do, and that’s what counts.

IMG_6119

Space pen! Any time, any angle.

From previous travels, I’ve learned that heavy pictorial books aren’t great souvenirs unless they are bought on the last day of the trip. Of course we can’t leave the museum without some souvenirs, so we quickly purchase a set of space chess, (ie chess where you can’t recognize what the pieces are, because everything is a rocket, and nothing resembles a bishop or a rook), t-shirts (which are useful because they extend the supply of clean shirts) a space pen (for those annoying moments when your only option is to write when hanging upside-down – maybe in a simulator!), a thin and light guide book, and the obligatory fridge magnet. For some reason the boys are also given a lot of marbles by the check-out assistant, but they seem to like them. An unexpected souvenir of the Air and Space Museum. (They later change their mind and give these all away to anyone who will take them).

And with that, the top line of my list of “must do’s” in Washington now has a metaphoric tick next to it. We’ve had all day at the museum but the boys and I have loved it. A new adventure must now take its rightful place at the bottom of the top five – but ideally one without rats this time.

IMG_6120

Official Air and Space Museum Fridge Magnet

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments