The concept of After Hours events at At-Bristol is exceedingly clever. A few nights a year the science centre stays open from 6pm until 10pm, for over 18s only. There’s food, if you want it, and a bar. The lights are kept dimmed and you can explore to your hearts content. It plays straight into the age-old fantasy of being somewhere (school, a museum, a shopping centre…) when you’re not supposed to be, once the lights are out and the doors are locked.
The last event was on the 10th of December, with the suitably wintery theme of ‘Ice’. Immediately on entrance there was a table showing changing water patterns over the globe throughout the millennia, which gave the usual sobering message of global warming. Another exhibit allowed you to watch through a magnifying glass as water froze before your eyes in a beautiful crystalline pattern. The water pump driven by a giant hamster wheel was irresistible and kept spinning all night. A tasty touch was the free ice cream made with liquid nitrogen at the food bar.
The planetarium’s themed show on Inuit stargazing gave a new perspective on the night sky and a fascinating insight into the world of the ‘eskimos’, although it was sad to realise how much information from that culture has been lost over the years.
Taking a wander around the periphery of the centre, there was still access to many of the exhibits that didn’t fit in with the theme. For me, as a first time visitor to At-Bristol, this was wonderful. From optical illusions to aerodynamics, it was all delightfully engaging. I can picture it charming children during the day but surely no more than it charmed me and the other adults there for After Hours.
I should include a word of appreciation for the staff, working beyond their normal hours, who were nonetheless friendly and approachable, and kept everything running smoothly through the night. At 10pm when the announcement came that it was closing, At-Bristol was still busy and no one seemed quite ready to leave – I saw a few people sneaking one last go on the interactive exhibits on their way out.
I loved science centres as a child and it turns out that nothing has changed. If you feel the same way, or perhaps if you are seeking a slightly different Valentine’s date, the next After Hours is on the 14th of February, themed, of course, ‘Love’.