When people say “best kept secret” they usually mean “tourist hotspot,” but the computer museum (called The Jim Austin Computer Collection, or the Computer Sheds) in Fimber, about 40 minutes out of York, is York’s best kept secret, and it’s anything but busy. In fact, we should keep it between you and I. I would be pretty sad if it suddenly became a major tourist attraction because as it is, it’s pretty much the best collection of artefacts that I’ve ever seen (and all the guys who keep it running were only too happy to talk computers with our group of 5 people who ventured out of York). I’d wanted to see this collection since 2008, when I first heard about it, but this was my first opportunity to do so, and I’m glad I did (and that I went with a bunch of people who knew more stuff about old computers than I do – and I’m pretty enthusiastic about them).
One of the best things about this place is that it hasn’t had “museum heritage management” done to it yet; it’s still got that sense of discovery, you’re not just seeing what some overpaid museum education officer wants you to see, you get to see everything. And touch some of it (if you’re careful and sensible). There’s other electronic equipment besides computers – televisions, cameras and radio equipment are also represented in the collection.
There’s no cafe, there’s no gift shop, no ticket office, and no twee middle aged women reiterating the same 5 facts every 20 minutes to new tour groups; there’s just boatloads of computers, and the people who love them (and they do actually have a boat). It’s fitting, because that’s really how the whole computer movement has progressed. There are so many stories of “Windows started out as two enthusiastic guys in a garage,” “Apple started out as three enthusiastic guys in a garage,” and so on, that if this place got the proper museum treatment, I’d be sad.
The Jim Austin Computer Collection reminds me of why I fell in love with archaeology – and exactly why I have no intention of working in a museum. This stuff is real, it feels real, it’s being taken care of by people who know about it, and I recognized loads of the stuff that was there. More than that, it felt alive. There’s no arbitrary reductionism going on to cheapen the past to make it more palatable for people with short attention spans. I wish I could say the same for most museums.
But if this place did become a ticketed, gift-shopped museum, I think it’s the one museum I’d actually enjoy working at.
I have more photos, but since the majority of my readers are not computer enthusiasts, I shall save them for another time.
If you are in the area and would like to visit the Jim Austin Computer Collection, further details can be found at their website. Personally I found this to be a great day out, although I wouldn’t recommend it for (chronological) children unless they’re sensible and very well behaved. Entry is free but it would probably be polite to get in touch in advance so someone’s there to open up the place for you.
We saw the first road sign for Flamingoland and I got so excited I nearly steered the car off the road. The second sign and I really had to concentrate on driving because I was jumping up and down in my seat and would have been clapping my hands in excitement if I wasn’t holding the steering wheel.
We parked up and I practically ran to the entrance. I may have locked my car. Not that anyone would have done anything to it – Flamingoland just felt totally safe, in the middle of nowhere, in the North Yorkshire countryside, and there weren’t many other cars parked today because it’s the off season. Tickets were £10 for Winter Entry (December to March) – about a third of the usual price – because the combination zoo and theme park only had the zoo open (and possibly one ride). I am really glad that they have started doing this because going in the off season has many advantages –
1. The tickets are affordable.
2. There are no crowds on the walkways, no queues to see the animals and no jostling or other general annoyances that you get in the main season.
3. The screaming from people on rides is vastly reduced – with just the one ride open, and far less people around the park, the screaming noise is an absolute minimum which is great. I used to live near and work at a different theme park and found the screaming noises from people on rides could get quite annoying at times. I don’t think people have any idea how annoying that is or how much noise pollution it causes.
4. I didn’t want to go on the rides anyway – I only wanted to go to the zoo, so it was lovely that they have the winter opening.
Where did I go first? I went to see the giraffes.
I probably spent an obscene amount of time around the two separate giraffe enclosures (that’s six giraffes in total), and I really loved that they all had big sized areas to play in – and that some of them were kept close to the zebras.
The zebras (who are housed with the ostriches) really seemed to love being near the giraffes and they interact with each other through their enclosures which is really adorable.
I think they don’t house them together though because the giraffes can probably get a bit boisterous and they’re very tall. I got taken to London Zoo when I was about 17 and they had three giraffes but they were all out on loan to another zoo when I went which was very disappointing, I’ve always wanted to see a real giraffe. I wish we’d got to Flamingoland a bit earlier so we could have participated in feeding the giraffes, that would have been the experience to top all zoo experiences, but they only do it once per day and they only let four people do it each day, and we arrived an hour after they’d finished. I’ll have to look forward to next time.
Then there were the Bactrian Camels. They’re the ones with two humps. They seemed to be people watching, and somewhat unaware that the people they were watching were camel watching. It was funny.
The tigers were chewing on bones, I was very glad that both they and the lions were behind safety glass. The lions were asleep and didn’t make for a very good photo (the tigers didn’t either due to the glass).
The flamingos were adorable. They were just going about their daily business enjoying life. It was nice to see different hues of flamingoes because naturally they’re not pink it comes from the beta carotene in the shrimp they eat, and a lot of zoos feed them beta carotene additive to make them pink or they have boring white ones as they lose their colour. These ones were the full range of flamingo colours and I think it must be because their diet was pretty much what they ate in the wild.
The penguins were also pretty sweet, although I’ve never been that caught up on penguins. The emus were the fluffiest birds I’ve ever seen, and they came to say hello.
Another special surprise was the red panda – he lives on his own because apparently they’re very solitary but he was the snuggliest little thing I’ve ever seen!
After all those animals we took a break and had a coffee – I was absolutely astounded that the coffee shop had soya milk for my tea, but it really made the day that little bit better, especially as it was freezing cold outside. There were also squishy sofas to sit on.
In the gift shop we found this six foot tall giraffe that costs £100. It was very awesome, but we didn’t buy it.
There were lots of other cool and awesome animals, of the others, the meerkats have to win out as the stars – there were two enclosures for them, and the second one, in the middle of a children’s play area, was teeming with bouncy excitement, as we got there just as feeding time was happening:
I was very proud of myself because the exit was through another gift shop and I left without buying anything – not even a postcard (which I usually get at places where it’s hard to get good pictures, and which has become a bit of a tradition when I go anywhere now). I am following through on my commitment to not fill my house with clutter, and I felt really good about it as we left. We then carried on spending the rest of Valentine’s Day celebrating our relationship.
For Valentine’s Day, we have had a five-year history of not doing anything. Every year I’ve gotten really excited, because I’ve always wanted that *one* Valentine’s Day where we went on a romantic date and ate food and stuff. Just the one. Every single year, life has intervened and made sure we couldn’t do anything on February 14th. It was becoming a tradition that we failed to celebrate V-day every year. I wanted to go to Bempton and see the puffins but they won’t be back again until the end of march (seasonal wild birds are like that) so I thought it was going to be another year where we did nothing. When my husband suggested Flamingoland I thought it wasn’t open, and that even if it was it would be £30 each to look at some flamingoes. I was very pleasantly surprised and it turned out to be well worth a visit with the winter opening hours – and even though it’s school half term (a weeklong holiday for kids) there were not many children at Flamingoland either which was great.
Overall, it was a lovely day out as part of a magical Valentine’s day (I’m going against the popular opinion here because I actually really looked forward to Valentines day even though I care nothing for the consumerist trappings, I just wanted to enjoy being with someone I care about). I’m glad we got round to doing something this year because it was really special to just spend time with my husband, have a fun day out, and focus on how much we love each other and celebrate our relationship.
We didn’t bother with cards, flowers or chocolates, and champagne would have been out of place, but the zoo was perfect, followed by a nice meal (at a pub, no Valentines day specials for us), and then we went home and watched Kung Fu Panda 2 followed by the extended version of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring, which was about four and a half hours long (and excellent. I’ve seen it before when it first came out and it hasn’t lost its depth, I highly recommend it if you have the time to watch it, or you could chunk it into two parts).
Have you been to any good zoos lately or seen any exciting wildlife? Let me know in the comments, and remember to keep ’em clean – this blog gets read by pensioners and children as well as twenty/thirtysomethings!