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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 12/28


Science Museum

(Amaryllis Night & Day)

Back down Exhibition Road the Liverpudlian exhorting passers-by to go in the right direction had disappeared. I headed into the foyer of the Science Museum for the next drop, wondering if I had time to find the Klein bottles specifically or whether I should be realistic about my schedule and just leave it in a toilet or the shop. I decided on the former because I’d visited the Klein bottles once before so they shouldn’t be too hard to find again, and anyway once I was inside the museum and looking at all the amazing machines on display it was hard to just run out again.

To be sure about my route to Kleindom I asked a girl at the main counter if she knew where to go. She gave me a free map and recommended I asked at the information desk. The information desk was occupied by a young guy with an unsure beard chewing a pen and, perhaps literally, staring into space. When I arrived he was immediately attentive. “Klein bottles?” he said in a South African accent, his brow furrowing. “It’s to do with topological space,” I said, “if that helps.” “Topological space?” he repeated, the furrowage deepening. Then, “Try Computing and Mathematics.” He circled a section on my map with his pen. “Go through the Space section over there and take the lift to the second floor, then turn left.”

I followed his directions, through the section devoted to the space shuttle and moon missions, the scale models standing silently in the emptiness of their black background as if saluting the astronauts lost in Sunday’s disaster.

The glass lift slid noiselessly down a glass shaft and the doors opened for me. Inside were two or three people including a man holding a paper cup of coffee. “Doors closing,” said an electronic woman’s voice. Two small boys ran in just at the last moment. “It smells like coffee in here,” said one. “That’s because there is coffee in here,” said the other. “Doors opening,” said the electronic woman. The small boys ran out and disappeared. I turned left, recognising the section from my previous visit; the South African information desker had been on the right wavelength. The section was full of glass cases containing various models of spacial, mathematical and computational items. The only lighting seemed to be coming from inside the cases themselves, making the whole area, which was deserted, seem even quieter and more mysterious than it already was. The case containing the Klein bottles and Möbius strips was in exactly the same place as it was when I first visited after reading Amaryllis Night and Day a couple of years ago. I wondered if I couldn’t actually attach the yellow paper to the case itself and then nick off quickly. I rummaged in my rucksack and took out the roll of sellotape I’d used to stick the quote to the bench on Eelbrook Common. Suddenly a curator appeared; I feigned Möbiusity for a few moments until he’d passed, and then quickly and efficiently fastened the quote to the case and took a picture. I made a rapid getaway back the way I’d come, stopping only to give the thumbs-up to the information desker for his help, and emerged into Exhibition Road feeling strangely satisfied. I can’t deny the satisfaction came partly from the feeling that I’d done something vaguely iconoclastic and gotten away with it, which doesn’t happen to me very often.

Next stop

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