Watson, Crick and Spotted Dick

dna 1953

In September, 2013, my husband, Jim, and I visited the British Isles.  This trip was planned around various aspects of genealogy and family history – all of which pertain to and were enabled by DNA.  I’m going to be sharing portions with you over the next several weeks.  These stories will all include DNA, but I’m also going to share other photos with you.  The culture, so different from ours, is critically important to understanding our ancestors and these areas are simply beautiful.  I’d like to share the entire experience, not just the DNA piece.  So I’m inviting you along on my day in London.  Come on….we’ll have fun!

I didn’t plan my trip to England with Watson and Crick’s DNA model in mind – that part just kind of evolved, a positive mutation, so to speak.

Jim and I traveled with a family group that indeed did make this trip as a result of DNA – but that is another story for another article, several, in fact.  In any case, we weren’t really in charge of where we were staying in London – the tour company took care of fanthat – supposedly.  That is a long and sorry saga which I’ll spare you.  Let’s just say we weren’t staying at the hotel where we were SUPPOSED to have reservations and the one where we were staying didn’t have air conditioning.  It was “broken.”  It should have been an aha moment when they handed me a fan when we checked in.  At least they did that much.  It was very hot.

Suffice it to say, we were close to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London.  The idea was that we could take a walk in the park if we wanted to.  Flowers often grace every nook and cranny in Europe and the thought of walking and viewing was quite enticing to me.  Here is a rose garden in front of a private home near Hyde Park. Just lovely.

London rose garden

The London subway is a bit overwhelming, but it really a good transportation system once you get used to it.  You can get places far more quickly by subway than by car on the surface streets.

london subway

Still, you stand a high probability of getting lost, at least initially, and it’s pretty intimidating.  So we opted to walk when we could.  Plus, you get to see a lot more of the area that way.  After all, it’s not always the destination.  Sometimes, it’s about the journey.

Before we left for London, I searched for the location of the double helix model created by Watson and Crick in 1953 when they discovered DNA.  I found that it is in the British Science Museum.

After arrival in London, looking at the map, I discovered that the Science Museum was just on the other side of Hyde Park.  I asked and was told that it’s about a 10 minute walk.  Have I mentioned never to believe a British person about distances???  It must be genetic – they seem to have a distance judgment impairment gene!

Jim and I set out to walk to the Museum because it seemed like a much better option than three different subway transfers.  And after all, it was only 10 minutes away and only drizzling.

Me hyde park

We cut across the park and enjoyed the walk and found the museums, further away than we thought, of course.  We discovered we were walking on the Princess Diana Memorial walkway, and only after we got home and looked at the photo did I realize that Kensington Palace is behind me.

British parks and gardens are really quite remarkable.  There are a lot of them and they have beautiful statues and flowers. This statue is of Prince Albert.

prince albert

Half an hour or 45 minutes later, we arrived at the Science Museum.  It’s quite large, and we asked where the DNA exhibit was located, received directions, and off we went.  We were pleased to see that they had an entire exhibit area devoted not to DNA but to what makes people unique.  Of course DNA had a prominent position in that exhibit.

dna book

The “books of genes” shown above and below is actually the top back of a seat in the museum exhibit.

dna seat

But we were unable to find the Watson/Crick model.  We asked a second time and the guard told us that it was downstairs “by the autos.”  We had just come through that area and we didn’t quite believe it would be there, but since it wasn’t where we were, we went to look.  Sure enough, in with the 1950s cars and the earliest computers, in a display case but not near anything else similar, we found the double helix model with only a small display description.  In fact, we had walked right past it earlier and didn’t notice it because where it is located and how it is displayed is so nondescript.

dna sign

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The helix model itself is kind of difficult to see because it’s small and kind of thin and in the middle of a case with glass on all sides.  Jim is trying to get a good picture, but that is almost impossible between its position and the glass and lighting.

Crick Watson Jim

The model is constructed using clamps.

Crick Watson closeup

It’s actually difficult to see because the aluminum templates, shown below (wiki photo) are on a flat plane so they are being photographed sideways.

DNA model leaves

I was thrilled to see the model, but saddened that it has been relegated to the section of “vintage cars” when it was the discovery that fueled many of the life-changing medical discoveries of the past few years and nearly everything in the exhibit we had just seen about what makes people unique.  If not DNA, then what?

The Crick/Watson double helix model should be the crown jewel of these types of exhibits, not relegated to a place in the footnotes of the 1950s.

The model itself is elegant in that its simplicity belies the complexity of DNA.  Yet, that complexity is comprised of simplest of elements combined in the simplest of manners.  It’s hard to believe sometimes that we are looking at the recipe for reproduction, for all of life itself.

Here are Crick and Watson with the model.

crick watson with model

Of course, we walked back to our hotel, but we took a bit of a different route, past both sets of palace gates (below) and up some side streets.

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Glory be, we also found a Starbucks!!  We discovered a beautiful old church on Kensington High Street and slipped into the courtyard which is also the cemetery.

church high kensington

It’s hard to believe that just a few feet away on the other side of the fence the London traffic and hustle and bustle are in full force.

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This courtyard is a tiny haven of tranquility. Of course, I had to look at the stones to see if there were any familiar names.  After all, some of my ancestors were here – however, they weren’t wealthy enough to have stones in churchyards.

Some things have no equivalent here.

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Humps, in case you are wondering, are speed bumps.  The even more interesting sign was the one that had a picture of two humps, side by side, on the same sign.

We passed this lovely pub that is just so quintessentially English and so beautiful.  Surely looks inviting doesn’t it.  Want to have an ale???

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That evening, we met up with my cousins from New Zealand (more about that later) in The Swan Pub, a very quaint and very English old coaching pub across from Hyde Park, and had an English dinner of what else, fish and chips.

But that wasn’t the end of the adventures.  Nosiree….there was what we term as  “adventure eating” left to be done.  There was Spotted Dick on the dessert menu.  Yes, we did, we had to order that and try some.  Here’s Jim getting ready to try Spotted Dick.  Looks kind of apprehensive doesn’t he.  I must admit, it was very, very good.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with me on my day in London visiting Watson, Crick and Spotted Dick.

27 thoughts on “Watson, Crick and Spotted Dick

  1. Sounds like a fun adventure though I am not sure about the Spotted Dick… The pics are great. Looking forward to the next installment!

  2. The church is St Mary’s Abbott’s, and few if any of our ancestors would be there, church yards tend to be for ‘great and good’ .
    In my experience few Londoners you would meet live in London. The tremendous system of subway and trains means most only have a mental image of the area around the various tube stops they frequent.
    I do hope you visited and do a post on the Public Record Office at Kew, essential for genealogy and gardens!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mary_Abbots

  3. I absolutely love your posts…whether they are hard-core genealogy, DNA or in this case- travel. I hate to ask this…but what is “spotted dick”??? Looks like chocolate chip ice cream, but I have a feeling that isn’t what it is.

  4. Hi Roberta, this anglophile appreciates your comments about the London visit. If you got also to Cambridge I hope you knew about, and visited, Crick’s handy haunt The Eagle pub. Here is an excerpt from a Wikipedia posting: “Originally opened in 1667 as the “Eagle and Child”, The Eagle is one of the larger pubs in Cambridge, England, on the north side of Bene’t Street in the centre of the city. The site is owned by Corpus Christi College and is managed by Greene King brewery. Apart from the main bar, it sports a beer garden and the so-called RAF bar, at the rear, with graffiti of World War II airmen [including Yanks] covering the ceiling and walls. “When the university’s Cavendish Laboratory was still at its old site at nearby Free School Lane, the pub was a popular lunch destination for staff working there. Thus, it became the place where Francis Crick interrupted patrons’ lunchtime on 28 February 1953 to announce that he and James Watson had “discovered the secret of life” after they had come up with their proposal for the structure of DNA. The anecdote is related in Watson’s book The Double Helix and commemorated on a blue plaque next to the entrance. Today the pub serves a special ale to commemorate the discovery, dubbed ‘Eagle’s DNA’.” We stopped there once and remember it as roomy, interesting and friendly. As some souls are (rightly) leery of posted URLs, I’ll say, point your search engine toward Eagle Pub, Cambridge. Cheers, Gary Smith in Berkeley (California)

  5. I enjoyed reading that, being English I found it interesting to see London through an American’s eyes . I would love to see you blog about your English ancestry. I am not sure where they were from – just London? You could tour the UK & follow in their footsteps…Especially as I think you might have some from Devon & every American should visit the ‘West Country’ in high summer & walk the coastal path. Also you must visit the Cotswolds if you’ve not done so yet – not least for the best pub food in the world.

    • Hi Julia. Well, I’m not telling all of where we are ‘going” in future posts – but I’m only writing about the places we visited where there is a family/DNA connection and how that connection is made. I will say that we did visit the Cotswalds but I have no family there. Beautiful area. Had a lunch picnic sitting on the side of a fountain and found a lovely local chocolate shop. I will also say that after driving around the English countryside, I now have a love for sheep!!!

  6. Roberta –

    I thoroughly enjoyed your email about your time in London! Just one question – what IS Spotted Dick????

    Linda Gribben (a Speak relative)

  7. I live in London and really enjoyed reading about your visit from the perspective of the visitor. Will be interesting to hear about your genealogical finds as your trip progresses!

  8. Pingback: Second Sleep, the Rodent and Jewelry | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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