True Gripes: Towering infernal: The trials of techno-heritage

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The Independent Online
I have just had a horrible experience. I have been to the new Jewel House at the Tower of London. My niece, who is nine, likes history and things that sparkle, so being a devoted aunt I took her and her seven-year-old brother to that glorious fortress on the Thames while my sister languished at home with a slipped disc.

I was dragged to the Tower by my parents at around the same age in the late Sixties. It is part of the initiation ceremony, as Desmond Morris would say, of the Londoner. We all have to do it once. I remember queueing and being vaguely bored by having to peer at this and that Queen's crown in a glass case. But that was pure pleasure compared with what I had to go through last week.

We entered the Jewel House in bright daylight and were plunged into a sweaty, smelly darkness. Huge screens showing the Queen's Coronation and close-ups of the jewels blared and blasted at us, the commentary turned up to maximum volume.

We saw the orb on screen (the real thing was reserved for a fleeting glance at the end). Pushed along in an ever-winding snake of beleaguered tourists, this claustrophobic journey seemed endless; you could neither forge on nor go back: we were stuck in a techno-bog.

At last a flash of gold. Thank God - the maces, real ones. As we walked past, the attendant cried: 'Move along, once you've seen one mace you've seen them all.' I'm sure he's right, but I had paid pounds 18.95 for the three of us and I was blowed if I was going to be rushed past the genuine article.

When we got to the crowns there was a moving walkway, so we couldn't stop and stare; we were being 'travellated' along and had no choice about pacing ourselves.

Once we were let out of the murk and allowed into the sun again, I felt as if I had been in a particularly grubby changing room at the local swimming baths. Surely the joy of museums should be that you have some freedom to choose - to rush past or to linger? And isn't the whole point of the visit to be able to see the real thing, not a distorted image or someone's idea of it?

There is no chance in the jazzy new Jewel House. Forget about the ravens flying off, it's the herito-designers you want to worry about. But all is not lost, one thing seems to have remained the same - the Beefeaters were great.

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