“I’m near a giant pile of wool. Near the singing lift.” I’m meeting someone in the Royal Festival Hall, trying to explain, on the ‘phone, where I am.
“Are you near the weird people?”
I look around. “Um…”
“Those weird wooden figures?”
“No”, I say. “I didn’t see any wooden people. I’m by the windows.”
Eventually, she finds the singing lift and the giant pile of wool and joins me.
Later, we notice a crowd start to form outside the building opposite. They are queuing for the two enormous helter-skelter-y slides that have appeared outside the Hayward Gallery. I nip off to the loo and am informed of the news on my return: the slides are not working; people are getting stuck. We are mesmerised by the sight of the staff trying out the slides. Each is instructed at the top by a woman with a severe bun atop her head and a walkie-talkie in her hand. Each starts well enough, but slows down at the third curve and after slowly inching down to the bottom, is forced to shuffle their way out on their bum. We watch the repeated indignities, silently hoping someone gets stuck, just to see what would happen. Our attention is drawn to the right of the slides, on another of the Southbank Centre’s myriad levels, where a group of people wander aimlessly with arms out, perilously close to the edge. They are wearing what appears to be virtual reality masks. They mill around like zombie robots.
We try to work, but it is difficult with giant slides and zombie robots to distract us. But we manage, because this is London.
The people continue to fall slowly down the slide and, at the time of writing, no zombie robots have fallen off the edge.
Drawing by Amy Pennington
How much more? You cry. Well, as it turns out, not so much. Unless you count the one stag, the alpaca that thinks it’s a llama and the, ahem, “Museum” – a large wooden shed, decorated with a few fairy lights and some information pinned to the walls. A little table with some colouring-in stuff for the kiddies takes care of the interactive side of things. There are facts about birds and wool (not even fun facts, either, unless you count the few that have exclamation marks at the end). There is dirty old polyester blouse to illustrate what polyester feels like in the man-made fibre area. There are also some plastic chairs and a short film about something or other on a loop, for a cinematic experience.
There is a shop, in which we are informed that the cotton nighties we are looking at are “wonderful for sleeping in, as long as you don’t mind losing your husband”. And a restaurant that smells of old chips. And lots of beautiful, nervously humming llamas which remain aloof as we pointlessly try to encourage a response from them.
A fun day out for all the llama-loving members of your family.