Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Prevention of cruelty to monsters

There are monsters down my road. No, really.

Well, strictly speaking, there are monsters down my road, over the railway bridge, right, left, right again, left again and then sort of diagonally left round the artificial lake. But, for monsters, that’s pretty close. And I do go to visit them often.

Icthyosaur at Crystal PalaceUntil five years ago, the monsters looked a bit shabby and uncared for, but a recent programme of repair has done them some good, and repaired the exposed strata of rocks that helped explain them in context. Excitingly, as of two days ago, they are now monsters with Grade 1 listing.

(I started writing this post two days ago, but things keep getting in the way.)

Anyway, this is a good thing.

The monsters are made of brick and concrete – the Victorian equivalent of CGI. They are fat and cumbersome and the iguanodon is wearing his thumb on his nose. They’re not dinosaurs, because we know better now about what dinosaurs looked like: Victorian palaeontologists only had scant evidence to guess from, and we’ve got a bit more to go on now.

The information boards nearby helpfully explain the differences between what Richard Owen – who supervised the monsters’ construction, coined the word “dinosaur” and wasn’t terribly lovely – thought and what palaeontologists now think today. Dinosaurs were really quick and slender, and in fact they didn’t die out. Instead their descendents are those feathered things cluttering up the sky.

(I have this vision of an avian Quatermass and the Pit, with an owlish Andre Morell explaining to the masses that in fact, “We are the dinosaurs.”)

The monsters are then a folly, a bold statement of ultimately not-quite-right thought. Cumbersome and somewhat cuddly, you could clearly out-walk them. I find them especially endearing because of that. And I’m glad the powers that are have come to agree.


IZP said...

Radio 4, my outboard head since pre-Google days offered this as the Afternoon Play on Tuesda

Dinner in the Iguanodon

By Chrissie Gittins

On New Year's Eve 1854, 21 leading scientists sat down to a sumptuous seven-course banquet, served in the plaster cast mould of a prehistoric beast. They were celebrating the creation of 33 life-size dinosaurs in the new Crystal Palace Park.

Mary Anning ...... Suzanna Hamilton
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins ...... Philip Franks
Professor Richard Owen ...... Christian Rodska
Mrs King ...... Tina Gray
Francis Fuller ...... Chris Serle
Connie ...... Sarah Counsell
Jack ...... Alex Maclaren

Producer Viv Beeby.

0tralala said...

Ooh! Ta!