Has it really been a year? Well, not quite – just three days short of a year since my last post. And a lot’s happened since then. Most notably, the arrival in March last year of the best little fella you’re ever likely to meet – my son Barney.
Being a dad’s been interesting… I have a lingering self-doubt about whether I’m ‘doing it right’ – whatever ‘right’ is. But more prevalent than that is just the simple pleasure of having Barney around – he’s such a happy kid, very friendly and open. He loves encountering new people and situations, and actively recruits people by smiling at them until they smile back. That sounds silly written down, but you have to meet him.
Once a month, my partner spends a weekend at college, and Barney gets to have two days out on his own with dad. Though I love our time as a family, these days out with dad are becoming something of a highlight for me.
The last one of these, in December, took us to Durham to visit ‘dli‘ – the new name for what was known as the Durham Light Infantry Museum when I was a kid. I was keen to see the temporary exhibition inspired by the work of Victor Pasmore at Peterlee, and I’d heard that the cafe was pretty kiddy-friendly.
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that my memories of visiting ‘the DLI’ as a kid consist of case upon case of dusty medals – a very trad municipal museum which didn’t seem to have changed much since it was opened by Jennie Lee in 1969.
A refurbishment in 2000 has changed that, with the medal display gathered in a special display on the first floor, and the history of the DLI told through a ground floor gallery focussing on World War One, and a first floor exhibition on World War Two.
The displays are a big improvement on what I remember – they’re experiential, and very child-friendly. Naturally, though, Barney was too young to appreciate many of the displays – a walk into a WW1 trench left him unmoved, and I was frankly quite pleased he wasn’t old enough to want to play with the decommissioned rifles available for kids to use.
Upstairs was more promising – the World War Two Jeep proved popular with Barney, and I found the Courageous Restraint exhibition on 3 Rifles’ recent posting in Afghanistan really fascinating.
On the second floor, the current Pasmore-inspired exhibition is brilliant. From the moment you read Toby Paterson’s description of Pasmore’s work at Peterlee as part of ‘the Welfare State’s search for a visual identity’, you know it’s going to be interesting.
Balsa-wood models of Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion rub shoulders with his paintings, examples of Toby Paterson’s work and also work produced by kids in Peterlee – all inspired by Pasmore’s designs and in particular the Pavilion. I’ve decided the Pavilion will be a future trip for me and Barney.
If you’ve got a family connection to the DLI, you can look up relatives on their computer, and if your kids are into the military in any way, it’d be a good morning out. For me, the art gallery space jars slightly with the military displays, but both are arranged well in their own ways.
I paid £3.60 for an annual pass which means I can return all year for free. If you’re just going for the day, it’s £1 cheaper. The cafe is pleasant, if unspectacular – reasonably priced jackets and sandwiches, cake and scones, with free wifi. Note you don’t have to visit the museum to use the cafe – it has its own entrance.
Barney being 10 months, he produced what 10 month olds produce, and we did need to use baby changing. One of my pet hates are places which only have baby changing in the ladies loos – do they think dads never venture out alone with their kids? Fortunately, dli hasn’t fallen into this trap, and the changing facilities are in the disabled loo – and very clean and easy they are too.
Overall, I’d give dli 7/10 – it’s reasonably priced, the temporary exhibition was great, and the military stuff is well presented. Worth it just for the Jeep