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Postcard from Tring

July 10th, 2011 0 comments

Tring is a somewhat unremarkable town to the northwest of London. But its main attraction is that it is an annexe to the Natural History Museum and houses an enormous collection of stuffed birds. Before I became a horse watcher I did an apprenticeship as a bird watcher. I am also a keen Darwinian and the Tring collection houses the finches that Darwin collected on the voyage of the Beagle and contributed to his formulation of the theory of evolution through variation and natural selection. The finches have world-wide renown and are now known as “Darwin’s finches”. Tring is the last sacred site on my long-standing quest to view Darwin relics. I have made an appointment to inspect the finches, but was pretty much fobbed off. They will show me a few birds in the foyer. I am hoping for more. After all, I am a noted retired ornithologist who has journeyed half way around the world to view these birds. We check in at reception but the signs are ominous. The secretary has no appointment. Eventually three birds are brought down in a tray to placate me. I kick up only a small stink and finally I am shown a tray of the 12 Galapagos finches, displaying their amazing variation in bill size. These are not the birds that Charles collected, but they will have to do. I have been stonewalled and there seems to be no way that I will get access to the collections. I depart, tail between my legs.

But this is not the end of the story. La belle Missus and I decide to check out the rest of the museum through the front door. Wow! We are totally blown away. This is the collection of Lord Rothschild. We have never seen so much wildlife that has been slaughtered in the name of science. Every single animal you can imagine has been shot , stuffed and displayed in magnificent Victorian cases. And the place is teeming with equids, although they all seem to have stripes. Lord Rothschild loved riding around his estate in a cart pulled by a zebra!
So, at last some horses.

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