Sleepless in the Museum

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Sleepovers are becoming increasingly popular as major institutions open their doors to hordes of children clutching their sleeping bags and teddies.  Now you can kip under Dippy Diplodocus in the Natural History Museum after a midnight torchlight trail in the Dinosaur Gallery,  wake up to the sounds of the big cats roaring at the zoo or, (like we’ve just done) roll off the stone floor in the Egyptian Gallery of the British Museum to explore the museum before the doors open to everybody else.

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photo – Benedict Johnson

The Science Museum has been doing it longer than anybody else and their night’s programme consists of science shows, workshops, fire, explosions and an IMAX movie over breakfast.  Most of the sleepovers are in the 7-13 age range and often involve lots of Scouts, Brownies and birthday parties.

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We’ve been on both the Natural History Museum and now the British Museum ones.  The Natural History one was enormously exciting.  The Dinosaur Trail, was quite possibly the best thing my son and his friends have ever done, only topped by sharing sleeping quarters with Bellatrix and her children (although Helena Bonham Carter did disappear in the middle of the night to presumably more comfortable quarters, I noticed!)

The children are divided into groups and activities are done on a rota basis, so although there are hundreds of children there, your actual group is quite manageable and team friends are formed quickly.  At the British Museum, the sleepovers are themed around the major exhibition at the time, so ours was about El Dorado.  We went first to a story-telling session, lots of snakes and monsters and brave Colombian heroines, to be swiftly followed by a workshop where they made gold embossed stylus cases, sang along to fantastic Colombian music and we all had a bit of a dance and then at 11, when I if not the children was quite ready for bed, we sat at tables beside the Easter Island statue and made feathered headdresses.  All very cool indeed.

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I hadn’t brought enough snacks, the kids were a little hungry.   Everybody else had though, the Egyptian Gallery was awash with biscuit and sweet papers and seemingly half the boys in the place had brought their whoopee cushions out.  Their were lots of maggot wars going on too (leaping around in your sleeping bag and trying to topple each other over), luckily the Egyptian statues are too heavy and too well-stuck on for this to worry the curators much.  The sleeping arrangements were a hilarious social commentary.  Newbies like me had come with a thin mat and a sleeping bag and lay on the stone floor staring up in to the face of an ancient lion in a deeply uncomfortable wonderment, whereas those who were regulars had brought enormous air mattresses and mountains of pillows and duvets.  There was even a side lamp I spotted.  I didn’t care, I’d rather be sleepless in the British Museum than most other places and the shadows at night were fantastically eerie.  The children went to sleep almost immediately, torches clutched in sticky hands, faces burrowed in their hurriedly removed jumpers and all was at peace.

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Seven o’clock and we staggered blearily out for a quick wash in the toilets and to breakfast before we got to see the El Dorado exhibition on our own, which was wonderful.  I managed to keep the boys there long enough to show them the nose rings, ear plugs and lip bat ornaments that we had heard about the previous night, before they made a break for the gift shop and we paraded out past the early tourists lugging rucksacks behind us.

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