Grant Museum of Zoology, London: The Lovely Bones

I’ve long run out of humorous excuses for neglecting this blog, the pathetic truth being that I neglect it because I don’t think many people read it, which of course engenders a chicken-and-egg problem which is so totally first-world I’m ashamed to even be talking about it. So let me launch right into the good stuff, and by good, I mean good if you’re into skeletal remains and cute furry things entombed in glass formaldehyde coffins.

Anyone who understands London at all will know that you can live there for years and still only scratch its surface, unless you happen to be Peter Ackroyd, in which case I want to transplant your brain into mine. The Grant Museum of Zoology is a classic example of how I managed to live five minutes’ walk from an intimidatingly long walrus penis bone for four years and not know it. It’s one of UCL’s museums, small but very charming, and of course like almost every other museum in London, you can enjoy it for free – something I always appreciated about London, but even more so after I’d visited New York. I realize that as someone who used to enjoy taking spontaneous detours past the Rosetta Stone or Elgin Marbles on the way home from lectures or shopping, I have been extraordinarily spoilt, but that’s just what London does – it spoils you for anywhere else.

But I digress – onwards to the walrus schlong. (Actually, don’t get your expectations up too high, it’s not that big of a deal. Well, it’s big, but I shamelessly exploited it to sucker you into reading a post about a dusty little zoological museum.)

Here’s a thumbnail gallery to help with page loading time, and so that the full-size horrors of the Surinam Toad or the Jar of Moles aren’t plastered across the front page of this blog, but the full post follows under the thumbnails.[slickr-flickr type=”gallery” search=”sets” set=”72157628495925387″ flickr_link=”on” descriptions=”on” size=”m640″]

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Goodbye Mr Stephens

Mr Jim Stephens was my lecturer and tutor in criminal law in my second year at UCL. Two years later, he would still smile and say hello whenever we happened to meet on the streets of Bloomsbury, or in the corridors of the law faculty. This would perhaps be understandable if I had been a good student of criminal law, but I wasn’t. Through no fault of his, I missed at least a third of the lectures, and was usually woefully unprepared for tutorials. But even though I certainly entered the doors of his room with very little in my mind, I always left with much more.

He bewildered and frustrated us at first. The robustness that cut through the dead air of lecture theatres and kept even sleepy me awake as he snarled “Hey, FATTY!” in lectures on provocation was almost too much to handle in his faculty room, where each of us in turn would be hemming and hawing at the end of his penetrating gaze as we racked our brains for the answer he was looking for. He insisted on a highly systematic approach to dissecting the many different elements of a problem question, and in my conceptual haziness I chafed as what I thought were reasonable answers were often not considered precise enough. Over time though, things got clearer, and everything started to make sense. I believe his rigour in those tutorials was behind my eventual First in criminal law.

It would be inaccurate to frame this post as a goodbye to a beloved teacher. The nature of my university life was that I engaged with my teachers as little as humanly possible, because I was acutely aware that I was quite possibly their laziest student, and if they didn’t already know that, I didn’t want them to find out. But when I heard the news today, memories of Mr Stephens were easy to find, easier to find than memories of most of the people who have only just lectured me in NUS. I remember a clear blue gaze, a ready smile, and pavement conversations where he seemed genuinely interested in what and how I was doing, and all this for a student who faltered on questions like “What is the leading case in defining recklessness?”

The next time I am in London, Bloomsbury, and the corridors of the UCL law faculty, will feel a little emptier.

Happy Ending

I’ve only just come to the stage of post-examness where writing for the blog begins to feel like a growing necessity rather than the enforced sidetrack from Getting A Life that it would have been in the past few days.

There is nothing wild or bacchanalian to report. Company Law went much better than I’d expected, and I left quickly after exchanging a few perfunctory words with the few people I actually talk to in the course, nothing of substance; there was no feeling of Here Ends Undergraduateness (assuming I pass), no lump in the throat.

It’s an illustration of my general lack of connection with the social aspects of the law faculty, I guess, even if I will miss the lady in the cafe who worried aloud that the owner of the purply coat left behind (mine) would be cold and since then always reminds me to take it with me when I leave, the lovely Irish security guard who always tried to calm me down every time I was desperately apologizing that my debating tournaments were keeping him there overtime (we always got him some whisky to make up for it), and strangely, the roadworker on a long-term job on the road to the faculty, who chats me up every time I walk past and tells me I’m pretty even when I look bloody awful.

I grabbed a Time Out, a Marks & Spencers lunch, and made a long list of things to do, both practical and frivolous. I went shopping – the makeshift stall on Goodge Street again proved itself an unlikely treasure trove when I found Adventures In Foam (Cujo, 2 CDs, £10), reeled back in disbelief, and snapped it up hungrily. Oxford Street yielded two skirts and a garish top.

Last year the night the exams ended was celebrated in typical style – dinner, pub, club till dawn. This year I had dinner with just Russ (in Carluccio’s, which I loved. Can’t wait to try the one in St Christopher’s Place). It felt right, celebrating the end of my undergraduate life at UCL with a friendship which I count among my most important achievements at university. I didn’t feel the need for anything more glamorous.