Don's Diary

March 16, 2001

Monday
08.30, Natural History Museum: 22 million specimens, 30 curators. Unlock scaffold bridge connecting old and new buildings, check atrium lift is operational - a glass panoramic thing protected against damage from assault by the 5,000 or so trolleys. Later, it will form part of our behind-the-scenes experience of the Darwin Centre.

All four teams of curators are packing, moving and unpacking separate parts of the collection; orderly chaos of polystyrene, bubble wrap, micafill, gloves, masks, wrist protectors, plastic crates, trolleys, even hydraulic platforms. There are about 450,000 fragile glass jars of every conceivable shape and size, filled with specimens.

Tuesday
Major media photocall, TV interviews am and pm -clean lab coats, select display specimens and arrange trolley queue. Frenzy of cameramen - why do the media always go for fish photos? No interest is shown in exquisite variety of lizards, snakes, crabs, squids or sponges.

Last of shelf brackets have arrived - 49,000 of them shipped from Italy in wooden crates. Meeting to sort out lighting on principal floor. Glass wall in gallery will enable public to see part of reptile collection, but lights must be subdued to protect specimens -100 lux max.

Wednesday
Redistribute wooden shelves between cupboards - massive task - there are 3,500 storage cupboards and, placed end to end, they form km of shelving.

Problem with hydraulic lift for heavy jars, WD-40 to the rescue, order new wheels. The largest of the glass jars are truly impressive - but very heavy and increasingly fragile with age. The largest is a metre high and more than 60kg in weight - there are 750 of these. In the Darwin Centre, we will no longer have to manhandle bulk alcohol, it will be piped to the workplace and available on tap.

Thursday
All teams progressing well -sponges and cephalopods on the sixth floor, euphausiids on the fourth, fish types on the second, frogs on the first and small mammals on the ground.

VIP visit in morning. End tour in the Tank Room - a rather special area housing 50 large stainless steel tanks for really big specimens. All heavy mat-erial, so new facility is equipped with overhead monorail crane - at last, no more heaving around of these beasts, dripping in smelly alcohol. Also, bespoke ventilated dissection table for scientific study of large preserved specimens. Convinced public will enjoy seeing into this area as part of the museum's access initiative.

Friday
Tough week for curators, lots of physical work and reports of arms and backs aching. Team spirit good.

16.30: wind down transfer, pack up safety gear and check security. Another 50 cupboards filled - only 3,000-odd to go - aiming to finish in August. Work out that the total distance to be covered in this marathon trolley journey is 1,000km - not sure I should mention this at closing time on a Friday.


Roger Lincoln leads a 30-strong team of curators as they move into the Darwin Centre, Natural History Museum.

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