Thirty Thousand Streets

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hunterian Museum

I went to the Hunterian museum this Saturday gone, which is situated a (sling-shot) stone's throw away from the John Soames house, on the Southern Side of a garden square in Holborn. It was as part of an illustration short course I've been doing, and the purpose of the trip was visual research, sketching and drawing.

It's actually within The Royal College of surgeons, and, in a nutshell, is a collection of surgical artifacts, including paintings, antique instruments from the operating theatre (which looked like they could have doubled as tickle-sticks for the Spanish Inquisition) to the core of the collection – banks of display cases containing a variety of organic specimens, from skeletons to dissected fauna to human anatomy.

No photography was allowed (due to the sanctity of human remains, y'dig?), so unfortunately you'll have to make do with my drawing of a crumbling syphilitic skull. But take my word for it – this is a pretty amazing little museum.

It's centred around the collection of the distinguised surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, which the government purchased in 1799 and presented to the college. Hunter was (to quote Wikipedia) 'an early advocate of careful observation', which is borne out by the miscellany presented here, assembled for reference, which orginally constituted the contents of a museum in Leicester Square. To be blunt though, and scientific merits aside, much of its allure for me did lie in the 'grue' factor inherent in wandering through chambers populated by centuries old limbs and biological oddities suspended in fomaldehyde. In fact, it wouldn't be too hyperbolic to call some of it a bit 'freakshow', if one is assuming the word freak to denote anomalous, as some of the exhibits are indeed mutations – such as the two-tailed lizard and the four-legged chick – only these are very much real, rather than some sideshow bit of fakery (though the skeleton of 'The Irish Giant' Charles Byrne suggests its previous owner wouldn't have looked out of place in Todd Browning's carnie classic, Freaks).

Highlights for me included (in no particular order):

Watching a video where a team or brain surgeons excised a tumour made me all the more admiring of their consummate skill, as well as glad I didn't have the Pret Meatball Ragu sandwich for lunch.

The club owned by one on the 'Beadles' responsible for transporting the remains of executed felons to the college for dissection (perceived as a horrible fate by the underclasses). It's a kind of wooden belaying pin with iron flanges, presumably used to repel irate rellies of the deceased.

Some stereoscopes attached to a wall displaying before and after cases of early 'plastic' surgery to first world war casualties, a reminder if ever one was needed that trench warfare 'ain't great' especially on the frontline, with assorted bits of metal hurtling about at high velocity.

An early device for removal of gall stones. Most of the surgical instruments look like more tarnished versions of things I'd glimpsed in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, but this little bit of steel joy is something else. Supposedly an early example of 'non invasive' surgery, it probably helped gave rise to the surgeon's phrase of the day 'Lord if thou take me, do it not through the bladder". I'm not going to even try and explain it here – pets might be reading.

Charles Babbage's brain. Yep, that's right, a section of brain previously belonging to the man often referred to as a 'father of the computer' can be found bobbing round in an unassuming fashion in a jar in Holborn. Apparently they've got two other bits out back, and his family were quite 'up for it'.

That should hopefully have piqued your 'appetite anyway'. I think there's some other bits in the college to check out, but this section is, in itself, is a fascinating window onto a historical period in medicene, and nascent surgical techniques (as well as lots of things that look like they're out of that film Aliens). It's free, as well, so even if you're feeling 'the pinch of the crunch' you can justify mooching on over for an afternoon. Plus kids will probably love it if it doesn't scare them witless.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Gordon Brown

I got this David Shrigley postcard with a print I bought from POW recently, and it's kept me chuckling ever since. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about David Shrigley I like. I feel I should find his stuff naff – wonky doesn't usually do it for me – but I instead find it intriguing. And hilarious. And sinister.

And G-Unit? I sorta feel sorry for the guy, really. He's in an unenviable position and it looks lonely at the top. He seems tired and out of his depth, which even by the standards of someone whose spent most of their premiership very much on the back foot is saying something. Presumably the only reason his 'Heathcliff-like' presence is still lashed to the wheel of the ship he failed to navigate past so many icebergs is the albatross around his neck, which might yet draw some of the public's venom away from Labour's cankerous body politic. Poor lad. He only wanted his turn.

But I can't take Labour seriously anymore. The government that marched us off to war, wants to retain our DNA on a database, give us all ID cards, and make it illegal to photograph Police (so they can whack us over the head with impunity when we try and protest), yet tries to block details of their expenses coming out in case we find out they've been claiming for their Muller Corners on us? Puh-lease!

Indeed, Labour are so far beyond the point of people being able to take them seriously, that the light from 'people being able to take them seriously' will probably reach them just before the universe ends, or whenever they get back in power – whichever comes first.

In the meanwhile, and in the words of 80s coin-op 'Operation Wolf':

"Sorry, but you are finished here".

Saturday, June 06, 2009