Recent days out

A model of an armoured elephant at the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds

Although it’s currently the bleak midwinter – and I mean bleak, with sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures last week and Storm Isha this week – we have managed a few days out. Some of these were in the first week of the year, as our eight-year-old didn’t go back to the school until the following week.

Here’s where we’ve been:

Manchester Science & Industry Museum

A photo of Stephen Hawking's wheelchair, currently on display at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester

The Science and Industry Museum in Manchester is somewhere that we typically end up at least once a year. This time was mainly for the Food, Poo and You exhibition, which features content from the presenters of Operation Ouch (including Dr Chris, writer of Ultra-Processed People). It didn’t take much convincing our eight-year-old to go to an exhibition about poo, and it’s well presented. Just be aware that, whilst the rest of the museum is free, this is a paid-for exhibition and you’re advised to pre-book. My wife happened to be working that day and so I expect we’ll be going back before it finishes in June, after which it’ll probably go to the Science Museum in London.

Also there at the moment is Prof Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair. I was naturally more excited about this than our eight-year-old was.

What isn’t at the museum at the moment is, well, about three quarters of the museum. It’s just what’s available in the ‘New Warehouse’; a huge restoration programme means that the other buildings are closed. The Power Hall should be open again next year if all goes well.

Eureka

A photo of the Eureka National Childrens Museum in Halifax

Considering how often I pass Eureka, and the fact that we have a young child, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s been almost seven years since my last visit. And like that time, it was partly due to some Tesco Clubcard vouchers expiring. The museum hasn’t changed much in that time; the main difference was that the car garage is now a community area with a bus and a smaller electric car exhibit.

It’s still a good museum for half a day, and at eight years old our child isn’t too old for it. There’s a new Eureka, focussing more on science for slightly older kids, in Wirral which we need to visit at some point.

Royal Armouries, Leeds

A disarmed AK-47 rifle that has been covered in sprinkles and Love Hearts sweets

The last time we went to the Royal Armouries was for Thought Bubble, back in 2016. Museums about war and armour aren’t really my thing, but our eight-year-old had read a library book about them recently and so it was an opportunity to see some of those things in real life.

The Reloaded exhibition is interesting, as it looked at guns as gifts and objects of desire. There were also a couple of commissioned art pieces, such as an AK-47 covered with sprinkles and Love Hearts. It’s always fun to see the elephant armour too.

We have a few more busy weekends coming up, so I doubt we’ll be going anywhere else for a few weeks.

Thought Bubble Comic Con, Leeds

Photo of Neil and Christine pondering a trip to Thought Bubble, annotated in the comic book style

Yesterday Christine and I went to our first every comic convention, as part of this year’s Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds. It’s been running since 2007, and I’ve been aware of it since 2012 but this was the first time we’d been.

Running over two days, the comic con concludes the week-long Thought Bubble Festival which takes place across Leeds and celebrates comic art. It’s based at the Royal Armouries Museum, taking over the Royal Armouries Hall (recently renamed from the ‘Saville Hall’), the New Dock Hall, and a large marquee in the square outside, plus some small rooms for talks. There were hundreds of mainly independent comic book sellers, artists and all sorts across the three main venues.

Me and Christine, dressed in Steampunk outfits

One-day passes were £15, or two-day passes for both days – for die-hard comic fans who want to attend as many talks and panels as possible – were £24, and in both cases there was a £4 discount for cosplayers. So Christine and I dusted off our various steampunk paraphernalia and dressed up for the occasion. In doing so we spent more than the £8 that we saved on the entry price but we had a significant number of positive comments about our outfits – especially the octopus fascinator that Christine bought at a previous Leeds Steampunk Market. I’d say around 10-20% of attendees were in cosplay, some more elaborate than others. Kids under 12 had free entry so there were plenty of children around, many also dressed up. We saw a small Tardis, and a young, grumpy Hulk in a pushchair amongst others.

We followed the web site’s advice and made sure that we took out plenty of cash before we got there. The bigger stalls take cards but many of the exhibitors are regular people like you and me who just do this on the side, and the one cash machine nearby usually runs out of money on Saturday morning, apparently. And we spent most of the cash that we took.

Comic books bought at Thought Bubble

Here’s the point where I’ll admit to not being an avid reader of comic books, but you don’t necessarily have to enjoy reading comics to have a good time at Thought Bubble. It did mean that we knew very few of the exhibitors – Moo and Keo being one of the only major exceptions, along with Dr Geof whose Tea Museum has recently returned from an exhibition at the Cutty Sark in London. However we did come across the official Professor Elemental comics, about the steampunk-themed ‘chap hop’ rhymer, and James Chapman whose Soundimals comics I’ve come across on Tumblr and Facebook. We bought their books, the latter signed, with a sloth illustration.

Speaking of sloths, we also had a couple of commissions, or pieces of art drawn for us. The first was by Sajan Rai, who offered to draw you as a sloth – Christine volunteered, hence the octopus. And Lucy Bellwood drew us the beautiful red panda, which we’re planning to get framed.

Commissioned pieces - red panda and sloth

Leeds’ major comic book stores – Forbidden Planet, Travelling Man and OK Comics – were also there and we picked up The Oatmeal‘s book 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (sponsored link).

Part of the fun of Thought Bubble, for us, was simply people-watching. Obviously some of the cosplay outfits were amazing, although regrettably I only took one or two photos. But it was also fun looking at the bemused expressions of those who were on their way to the Royal Armouries Museum and weren’t aware that Thought Bubble was taking place – and were thoroughly confused by all the people dressed up. In Pizza Express, at lunch, we were one of two steampunk groups, with a girl on another table wearing a painted morphsuit showing all of the muscle groups in the style of a flayed corpse.

It was really good fun, and I can’t believe we’d never been before. We’ll be there next year.

Armley Mills Industrial Museum

Photo of the inside of Armley Mills Industrial Museum

Yesterday Christine and I, along with a few friends, went to the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills.

Regular readers will note that this is the third industrial museum in the area that I’ve visited recently. Last year we went to the Bradford Industrial Museum, which is open regularly. And in August this year we went to the Calderdale Industrial Museum, which is only open select weekends throughout the year. The Leeds Industrial Museum is housed at Armley Mills, towards Kirkstall, and straddling a patch of land between the River Aire and Leeds Liverpool Canal.

Our reason for visiting was for the twice-annual Leeds Steampunk Market. It had moved to Armley Mills from its usual venue of Left Bank near Burley Park. Rather than being arranged in one place in a main hall, this time the market was spread out across the museum and over the four floors, including outside. This made it seem less busy, but well over 600 people had come through the door on Saturday, and the numbers were looking similarly healthy on Sunday when we visited. A 50% discount for those who came dressed in costume may well have helped, and indeed Christine and I took advantage of this.

#steampunk

This was our third visit to the Steampunk market and we have now both amassed the basic Steampunk outfit. Sadly we didn’t take any photos this time (bar the Instagram image above) but my spray-painted gold goggles attached to a top hat made an outing. I suppose over time we’ll be able to come closer to some of the outfits that the more committed followers of the Steampunk subculture have. As usual there were some excellent costumes on show by other attendees.

As for the actual museum at Armley Mills, I managed to take a few photos (uploaded to Flickr of course) but to be honest we will need to go back and actually look at the exhibits properly next time. Especially as in some cases it was difficult to tell if something was a museum artefact or a piece of Steampunk art.

The next Steampunk market in Leeds will be at the White Cloth Gallery on November 30th and December 1st. I may be there.