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Nearly 7,000 people turned up on the night for our biggest-ever After Hours event in 2010. Double the numbers we had hoped for. By 8pm there were queues stretching far down the Cromwell Road outside the Museum, South Kensington tube was rammed and the atmosphere in the Central Hall was buzzing.

 

(Click on the images to enlarge them.)

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First visitors arriving in the afternoon

I went down around 4ish to the Central Hall just as the event was starting and was lucky enough to get a glimpse of some of the great things at the science stations: Alan Hart's gold nugget, Ed Baker's domino cockroaches (scampered up my sleeve!), and Richard Sabin's rare dolphin skull, before passing by some very excited toddlers observing wriggly worms in a petri dish at the Natural History Roadshow in Dinosaur Way. This was the family time of the event and not so crowded. Although it was still too difficult to get near to Max Barclay's huge beetle collection at the Entomology Station, due to the avid fans around him.

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Ed Baker's Past and Present Insects Station - live cockroaches in the container to the right of the boy!

 

When I returned later from the office, around 8pm, it was really packed and Central Hall along had that amazing feeling of 'the place to be'. But the Museum tours were by now fully booked up, so I missed these. I met friends who had joined The Vault tour and were raving about Alan Hart our mineralogist who led this tour. They were also charmed by the live chameleon that had greeted them near the front desk.

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The live chameleon at the front desk, what a charmer

Around mid-evening it was pretty difficult to get close to any of the science stations so we headed to The Science Bar. Aoife, the bar's stewardess for the night, was shepherding the next batch of guests to their tables, with scientists at the ready to join the conversations. It was obvious they were all having a brilliant time. Aoife told me afterwards: 'It was probably the most intense and rewarding experience I've ever had. The scientists loved it. But I didn't get to sit down all evening or have a minute's break." I think the latter sentiment was echoed by many of the scientists and volunteers involved in the night's activities.

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The Whale Hall tour led by Roberto Miquez, especially popular because there was also a Spanish translator to hand

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The Darwin Centre's Forensics Station was a real hit, thanks to lots of recent press coverage for our forensic insect experts

Drifting over finally to the Darwin Centre, past a huge bone (or what is it a fossil?) being presented at the Natural History Roadshow, we made it to the Hendrick's Bar of Curious Concoctions. Annoyingly it was closing, but the manager proudly announced to us that they'd given away over 700 gin and tonics. He waved a huge wadge of postcards at us, shouting, 'we'll have to sort all these next, it's been fantastic.' I guess we'll hear more of those quirky 'natural history' stories exchanged for free spirits at a later point. But Hendrick's gin has now joined many of my colleagues' drinks collections that's for sure.

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'We gave away over 700 free gin and tonics' announced the Hendrick's bar manager proudly at closing time

On my way out as the event was finishing, I met Laura Harmour the event co-organiser with press officer, Sam Roberts. Both had big smiles on their faces. 'Wow, what a success, worth all the hard work and why were we panicking people wouldn't come!' we laughed. Ringing in my ears were Sandy Knapp's witty observations on freeze drying potatoes up in the Andes and Mike Rumsey's erudite identification of an opal that a visitor had thrust in his face on her ringed finger. Let's hear it for the scientists, thought I. It really was their night.

 

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Rare botanical books revealed by Mark Spencer on the Leafing through the Past tour behind the scenes

There were disappointments for those who couldn't get on the Museum tours and frustration at not getting as close to some of the scientists and their specimens as some would have liked. But hey, it was the first time we staged such a massive science event. Lessons to be learned and as Stephen Roberts, organiser of the event says, 'we'll do it better next time.'

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The atmospheric Fossil Way bar

 

Science Uncovered, au revoir.

 

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