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Britain’s got dinosaurs

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John Penrose

John David Penrose is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare

There was a story in the papers at the end of last month reporting that Lewis Hamilton wanted the national anthem to be longer. He’d just won the German Grand Prix and felt that his time on the podium could have done with being prolonged, on the basis that – as he said – “When I stand up there and Felipe (Massa) has won, theirs is like ten minutes long and when I’m there it’s less than half a minute.”

Lewis Hamilton - anthem reform championNotwithstanding the fact that the jaunty Brazilian anthem probably doesn’t really run to ten minutes, you can sort of see his point. And so did any number of newspaper pundits, would-be online opinion formers and radio phone-in hosts, who ensured that the issue got a comprehensive airing. And, as so often on such occasions, it wasn’t long before the press started trying to winkle out which bit of Government had responsibility for such things. More particularly, which luckless Government Minister could be hauled in front of a microphone to address the victorious Mr Hamilton’s concerns. Who better, many thought, than the minister responsible for both heritage and all things ceremonial? Step forward, they demanded, me.
National flowers, animals and birds
But it turns out though that the national anthem and, in particular, its content – or duration of same, when performed on sporting podia (is that the plural of podium? Any idea? Me neither) – is not on my manor*. Nor on anyone else’s apparently. It comes about by virtue of custom, practice and tradition, with no Act of Parliament or Statutory Instrument required. In that sense, it’s like the national flower, the national animal and for that matter the national bird**. They are because they are.
MegalosaurusA national dinosaur?
And I was reminded about all this when, a few days later, I received a letter from a chap called Matthew Campbell asking me to consider designating the Megalosaurus as our ‘national dinosaur’. According to Mr Campbell the Megalosaurus was ‘almost certainly the first dinosaur to be discovered (in England) and was a carnivorous, probably relatively intelligent species, which hunted with speed and grace.’ I suspect a certain amount of poetic licence in that last bit, but who am I to argue the toss on such things? If the estimable Mr Campbell reckons his nominee ‘hunted with speed and grace’, that’s good enough for me. My own research, by the way, confirmed the rest of it too. Megalosaurus, I discovered, was a European resident, living some 175,000,000 or so years ago and was also the first dinosaur ever to be named in popular media, specifically Dickens’s ‘Bleak House’ where we find a description of ‘implacable November weather – as much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.’
Diplodocus.jpgDippy or Stan?
But should it be our national dinosaur? There are lots of other candidates, you see. There’s ‘Dippy’ the Diplodocus, a cast of whose massive skeleton fills the entrance hall of the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London and has astounded visitors to that place for just over a century. Or ‘Stan’ the Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose replica in the Manchester Museum has been pulling in visitors for a rather shorter time. And that’s before you get to all the original specimens – including the first ever ichthyosaur skeleton – discovered by Mary Anning around 200 years ago in Lyme Regis. As you can see it’s all very difficult, or would be if I had even the faintest influence on the matter. But I don’t. A government minister can do many things, but it turns out that designating a national dinosaur is – perhaps fortunately given the press pursuit of a Minister for the national anthem – not among them.
Oh, and as for Lewis Hamilton’s plea for a longer national anthem for celebrating sporting triumph, I’m inclined to think that it’s frequency of playing rather than duration that’s the important thing, don’t you?

Boom time for our museums
Speaking of the NHM (I know that’s a weak-ish link, but hey ho) I was also encouraged last week by the results of VisitEngland’s annual visitor attractions survey which reported that Dippy had welcomed a splendid 4,647,613 visitors last year, 13 per cent up on 2009. In fact figures for all visitor attractions were up by three per cent on the previous year, with entry to free venues leaping ahead by six per cent overall. This is great news and shows once again that England, and the UK as a whole for that matter, does not have to be an expensive destination for visitors.
But places like the British Museum and Tate are fantastically popular with visitors not simply because they don’t charge for admission, but also because what they have to offer is world class in terms of quality too. That’s not a bad combination.
Airport-Travel.jpgAre we there yet?
And finally, I was also interested to see the results of a survey commissioned by Gatwick Airport, published this week, which revealed that 21 per cent of parents who travel abroad with children end up wishing they had gone on holiday in the UK. And the reason? Stress from long queues and delays at airports, problems feeding and entertaining the kids and, for 38 per cent of travellers, the disheartening effect of ‘evil looks’ from other passengers when their child misbehaves. It all seems a long way from Cliff Richard’s ‘fun and laughter on our summer holiday, no more worries for me and you’. So, if you haven’t managed to get away yet but are planning to sqeeze in a break over the Bank Holiday, do try to keep the ‘evil looks’ to yourself and concentrate on the ‘fun and laughter’ instead. But please, no Cliff Richard singalongs unless you absolutely must…
*Not quite right yet, I know, but better I think than portfolio, brief, bailiwick or purview, as discussed here back in June.
**These incidentally are the rose, the lion (or bulldog) and the ‘European robin’ respectively for England (although there does seem to be some blurring of titles between the home nations with ‘national bird’ in particular being no respecter of the devolved administrations, as far as I can tell.)

Image credits
Lewis Hamilton image by Evil Monkey Ali on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Megalosaurus image by Mariana Ruiz on Wikipedia. Released into the public domain.
Dippy Diplodocus image courtesy and © Natural History Museum.
Airport travellers image by Quinn.Anya on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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