With disaster just about averted when a random arm flail knocks the plates out of my hand, but cling film saving the day, we’re on the train and I’m snarfing down the food. They taste great.
Citymapper and Google maps both told grim tales of how long our journey was to take. With no Thameslink trains from Wimbledon we can’t stay above ground, instead needing to go to Waterloo and a couple of Northern Line stints to our first Barnet venue. The internet said the whole journey was likely to take us upwards of 2 hours. Bleurgh.
Few people want to go as far north as us. Two women strike up an immediate friendship opposite us, discussing the NHS march and stuff, so engrossingly that the marcher misses her stop. With all the interesting stuff on the Northern Line being in the middle, once we’re beyond Camden the train becomes mostly empty. Once we’re done conjuring up puns for a future borough I reminisce, in excruciatingly boring fashion, about my Morden to Finchley commute for 6 months back in 1998.
Mill Hill East is a fucking dump. There’s a bus stand and a bus stop and a small car park and some recycling bins and a large desolate building site. That’s it. It’s cold and raining, but our bus doesn’t take too long to turn up.
Into reception they assume we’ve turned up just to visit the cafe, but no, we want to see the animals please. After paying, getting a bag of “large animals” feed, and fondling a scarf, we go through the “to the animals” door and straight into the building where the small animals are. Here’s some cockatiels and stuff.
I’m taking photos of birds and this degu. Is it a degu? I think it’s a degu. Let me look it up. Yeah, it’s definitely a degu.
Well this zoo is already a great place to visit. Up next, beautifully coloured, neat guinea pigs... as well as the daft scruffy guinea pigs.
There are more sheep with much better face markings, and another goat.
There’s another greedy goat. Helen’s hands are getting disgustingly slobbered on by all the hoofed animals.
Then, more chickens.
It’s almost all birds around here. Big bantams, doves with big feet, and turkeys.
This part of the farm is a loop and we’ve seen everything except, oh hang on, the bit at the start where there were meant to be chickens - there’s a chicken. Wait, no, there’s a few chickens. And they look pretty cool from a distance...
My day is made. We go into the canteen and order some lunch because food here is meant to be very good; I go for the mini ploughmans, Helen has a savoury waffle. It all tastes bloody lovely. I don’t know what chicken the eggs come from but they are local.
When I’m not eating I’m mostly laughing about chickens and re-watching the video. Hahahahahahaha. The way it walks! Hahahaha!
In a rare moment when I can collect myself we decide the only thing left to do before leaving is go check on the giant rabbits, in the hope they aren’t now still in a big heap. The good news is they have separated, the bad news is the mottled one is hidden under a tree.
Right then. Back across to the Three Hammers bus stop and it’s a short wait for the 240, but not so short that we can’t fit in some accidental culture by way of a plaque on the wall opposite. What’s a philologist? I’ve not looked it up yet. Hang on...right, it’s the study of language in oral and written historical sources. OK then.
The 240 takes us downhill and to Mill Hill Broadway station, in a busy part of town with shops and pubs and that. The bus stop/station is in a bleak underground lair next to the train station and underneath the tracks, I assume. Our changeover here is perfectly timed, just a minute until the Fatboy Slim/Roland inspired 303.
As you would probably expect from an RAF museum, what we’ve got here is a couple of hangars fill to bursting with shitloads of military planes. Like these.
Some of the planes are made of wood and have no roof and are actually flying boats. Whoa.
This is the Southampton, a boat which in the late 1920s went all the way from Felixstowe to Singapore via the Med and India. Holy shit, that’s a hell of a journey. Not that we could get a photo, but underneath these open air bits we could peek into the lower cabin where they had tables and chairs and stuff. The mind boggles when trying to comprehend what it was like to journey in this.
Also it was armed with this gun.
What this place isn’t, though, is fun. It might be on a different day, but the reason why the car park is so full is apparent: the RAF Museum in Hendon, on a rainy Sunday in February, is where everybody takes their damn kids for an afternoon out. There are way more kids than adults around, all screaming and running and shouting and it’s just like a huge creche. Some of them are learning stuff: there’s a big scout troop running amok, with all clipboards and pen and paper ‘n that. It makes it a pretty unpleasant place to wander around, and I might like to stop and read a bit more about most of the aircraft here but neither of us are in the mood to stand still for very long.
So instead, I go stand in a chinook.
As well as planes there were a bunch of old cars as well, and they looked undeniably cool - at least to me, but what the fuck do I know about cars?
On the wall, more examples of personalisation on planes, decorated to goad or boast. I get it, time was different and even ignoring that, some people just aren’t opposed to war and stuff. But, bleurgh, I’m left fairly cold and hoping this shit doesn’t happen again.
A bit of a walk through the rain to another building - this is actually a really large complex, and two other hangars are currently closed - and things look up. It’s still about planes and war, of course, but a) there are no kids b) it’s much more interesting and less grim to see really really early military aviation. This is the “First World War in the air” exhibit.
The planes are made of wood, predominantly. There’s obviously no retractable gear or anything; the wheels basically look like bikes or wheelbarrows. Without the crowds and kids it’s now feasible to stop and read a bit of stuff, and I’m gobsmacked by the plane which flew to 10k feet or so but had a top speed of just 65mph. How is it even feasible to stay airborne at such a low speed? Bonkers.
Because aviation was so new, in warfare or otherwise, a ton of support was required back in those days. We wandered into a support hut, and saw instructional guides on how to fly in a loop and the emotional support dogs which early pilots needed just to stay sane.
And that’s it. Time to go. It was interesting and sobering but not fun and we’re glad to be leaving. There’s one more item in our Barnet itinerary, and it’s a bit of a trek to reach. Let’s go get back on a 303 to Colindale, then jump on a tube.
Wait, Hampstead Heath? Surely that’s not in Barnet? Well, aha, yes it is - just this tiny little corner, where there’s Golders Hill Park zoo. We want more animals, damn it.
It’s a struggle. Walking up it looks closed but in fact it’s not, but the fencing is extreme and most of the animals are nowhere to be seen anyway. Here, I’m telling a Laughing Kookaburra a joke in an attempt to make it laugh.
It does not laugh.
Some animals are in large outdoor enclosures. So large that they come nowhere near us, again. This is the best view we get of the rhea. Let’s call him Chris.
There’s goats ‘n that, if you squint.