Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Zebra Cafe, Natural History Museum, Tring, Hertfordshire

This is not really a café as such just a small room on the Lower Ground floor that does a selection of sandwiches and various snacky bits. Access is fine, there's a lift - although busy - and a ramp from the outside. My tuna and cucumber sandwiches were generously filled, scone with butter and jam was generic, but tasty enough and the tea was fine and free refills available.

But this place is strange. It's a museum of stuffed animals. That's all it is. Oh, yes, there are various signs and notices that use terms like 'science' and 'research' and 'zoology' and they even bung in the odd apologetic 'eccentric' and 'rich' in case you're wondering how on earth this vast collection of taxidermy actually exists. Someone with pots of cash and a mania for nature somehow leads to this dark wood and parquet-floored repository of glassy-eyed, inert lions and tigers and bears (oh my).

Still, it's interesting. If only because you have the opportunity to snort with derision at signs that announce that a species is 'extinct' and announce loudly that 'well, it's no wonder, is it?' If only for the culture clash of 'twenty-first century eco-hippy sensibility meets misguided Victorian paternalistic altruism'. And because, occasionally, the sheer cumulative oddness of the place bends reality enough to create its own universe of the fantastic. When there is just you, standing in the quiet, under the subdued lighting between these vast glass cabinets, staring at the masses of fur, feathers and fins, there is a creeping tingle in your bones that makes everything before you and behind you seem palpably, feelingly alive.

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