I’ve mentioned before, that I’m a bit of a geek. Not quite a nerd, I think I flit about loving too many different things for that, but I’m definitely a geek.
And I can remember being a teenager, almost having left high school, when Horrible Histories first appeared on the bookshelves of my sisters and brother. Never mind the young-uns who were supposed to be reading them, both myself and my mum were hooked.
We loved history, and here it was in bitesize form, easy to understand, easy to take in, at a time when I was studying WWII and Elizabethan history for my GCSE. Oh, and the odd fact or two that was downright odd.
Fast forward to adulthood and the children’s television series appeared. I was hooked yet again. History in sketch form, funny, silly and addictive. Mr GFB would plug his earphones in while I turned to CBBC for a binge watch. There were musical classics such as ‘Literally’:
Come Dine With me, Greek style:
And Wife Swap with an Egyptian theme:
It might have educated kids, but for grown-ups (at least this one anyway), it was pure entertainment.
When it ended in 2013, I was incredibly sad. The cast went onto Sky to make the series Yonderland (well worth a watch of all 8 episodes), but since then, it’s all gone quiet.
Until an email landed in my inbox. Imperial War Museum North were launching Horrible Histories Blitzed Brits exhibition and would I like to go along? I replied and this weekend, dragged a very patient Mr GFB along for the ride.
Greeted by an animated version of Rattus Rattus (the voice sounded right, but gone was the fluffy puppet), we entered the world of the Second World War, HH style.
Telling the story from the radio announcement, through the blackout and blitzkrieg, to rationing and evacuation, everything is easy to understand, relatable and a lot of it is interactive. Test your blackout skills on a computer game, discover if you can cycle as fast as a pigeon flies, and find out what it was like to be in a blackout.
As adults wandering around, we were likely to be spellbound by things that the kids wouldn’t. Take the doll given to a bombing survivor. She was taken out to the shelter by her father, who stepped back into the house for the rest of her family, only to be killed with them as a bomb fell. It was Christmas time, and as well as losing her family, she lost Christmas – until a neighbouring child gifted her a doll.
She kept it until her death, and her family have leant it to the museum.
There are diaries, and audio recordings from those who lived through the war, adults evacuated as children tell their stories, and there’s a propaganda video showing Manchester in the bombs and our resilience as a city.
And this is something that’s done beautifully throughout. Relevance to our city. Stories from our people, maps depicting places bombed. It’s brought home to our world.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Horrible Histories without some silliness. I can personally recommend milking Daisy (she has not been officially named, but I think Daisy is suitable) the cow – painted with regulation fluorescent stripes to make her visible during a blackout, it’s one of the things a city kid, may have had to learn on a farm after evacuation.
Daisy didn’t seem to mind too much when I pulled up a stool, though Mr GFB was utterly bemused. I’d say I was sorry, but I’d do it again.
Once we’d made our way around and thoroughly entertained ourselves, we popped upstairs to the cafe for a little snack. Or should I say large slab of home made malt loaf and jaffa cake.
These gorgeous cakes and bakes are made on site and the Water Shard Cafe is quite rightly proud of it’s local produce. Of course, if you’re there with the kids, their suitably small nibbles, are bound to satisfy small fingers, but Mr GFB and I had somewhat larger portions (and I was in dire need of a cup of coffee).
The exhibition is fantastic for young or old. We went on our own, without any kids, and had a great time, but I’d just as happily take my nephew along for a visit. The exhibition runs until Spring 2016 – so you’ve plenty of time to head over for a visit.
With or without the kids.