In Bristol at the weekend, we decided to visit Explore, one of the exhibitions in the "At-Bristol" complex. It's a funkier and more up to date version of the Science Museum in London, with lots of buttons to press and levers to pull. In no time at all, we three adults (or so we like to imagine) were elbowing small children aside to have a go on the digger bucket or the reaction time tester. I'd forgotten how fun it is to just play.
We were looking at a particularly good tornado, generated using fans and dry ice, in a column taller than ourselves. A little hand tugged at my brother's sleeve: "That's a tornado", the voice attached said proudly. Later on, we were playing with the simulated whirlpool, which had a ping-pong ball in it, being swirled around on the surface. The same little kid grabbed the wheel and gave us a demonstration (with commentary) on how it worked, obviously concerned that we hadn't fully grasped the interactive aspects of the exhibit. "Look â€” you turn the wheel and make the whirlpool go faster or slower". My brother asked him whether the ping-pong ball ever gets sucked down. He gave us a rather old-fashioned look, and in that patient voice children use when talking to exceptionally stupid adults, he explained that it never goes down, and that it said as much on the information panel. Three well-read adults (a biologist, a sociology graduate and an engineer), and a 7 year-old kid tells us that Hollywood has lied to us all these years! It was like being told that Santa Claus doesn't exist. By a 4 year-old.
By the look of it, we weren't the only adults learning things. In an exhibit about dreams, visitors were invited to write a dream on one of the bits of paper provided, and post it on a board. We found this fascinating entry:
"I had a dream that I was being chased by Zippy from Rainbow. The only way I could stop him chasing me was by removing his legs. John [I'm not going to reveal his real name, for obvious reasons], aged 31Â½"