London: Christmas at Kew

And I’m back (for now), with a long overdue Christmas post, though the belatedness is not entirely my fault. I couldn’t possibly have written this before Christmas, since I didn’t visit Kew until the 4th of January. This past month has certainly been interesting, and not in a good way, but I’m glad Biden at least managed to get inaugurated without further incident from Trump’s idiotic minions (though I was super weirded out to see people hugging and kissing at the inauguration, even with masks on). Here in England, we’re in lockdown again until at least the middle of February, so I’ve barely been leaving the house. It was lovely having a break over Christmas to sit on my couch and watch nonstop Christmas and Cary Grant movies (The Bishop’s Wife is both!), but going back to work (remotely, of course) has just made me a giant ball of stress. I’ve been asked to help finish up our NLHF project, which means getting out a TONNE of content in the next month, so I’m working an extra day a week to stay on top of it (with pay, but still), and since I’m mainly working with our WordPress-based website where I have to use stupid Block Editor and the formatting gives me migraines, I’m not feeling especially inclined to be regularly blogging in my free time. So I think that for the next couple of months or whenever things might start to open up a little bit again, I will probably just be posting once a month or so to give myself a break from WordPress (because spending like 30 hours a week on it for work is enough!) and not give myself the added stress of trying to develop posts when there’s no museums to visit (ironically, I took this job because I thought it would be less stressful than my old one and I’d have the mental energy to write more…).

 

But enough with the complaining (at least in the introduction), and let’s get to Christmas at Kew. I’ve been trying to visit this festive light installation at Kew Gardens for a number of years, but it always sold out before I could book tickets (they offer it to members first, and those jerks seem to book it all up). So when I saw last September that they were still hoping to go ahead with it this year, and there were still tickets available, I took a chance and snapped up two tickets for early December at the hefty price (off-peak, no less!) of £19.50 per ticket. And then, of course, the November lockdown was announced, which not only spoiled my intended wedding date, but also my Christmas at Kew visit. Fortunately, rather than cancelling, Kew added in more dates in January, and re-booked us for the 4th. Not as good as going before Christmas, but better than not going at all!

 

Marcus and I did have some concerns, since we knew Covid rates were on the rise pretty badly in London (though we hadn’t realised quite how badly until the lockdown was announced), but Kew is only a few miles away from us, and the event was entirely outside, required masks, and had limited numbers attending, so we decided it was worth the relatively small risk, and set out in early evening to check it out. Since we’d never been to Christmas at Kew before, I don’t know how it compares to what they normally offer, but it was pretty magical. Kew Village itself still had some nice lights up as we walked to Kew Gardens, and all the staff when we arrived were friendly and helpful. Because of Covid, they had three entrances open this year to space out traffic – you chose the entrance when you booked based on your intended method of transport, so we used Victoria Gate because we came by train, which didn’t have anyone else going into it when we arrived.

  

As you can see, all the paths were bedecked with lights, and it was easy to social distance on the pathways, but perhaps a bit less so in front of the larger light show installations where people tended to congregate, but I guess at least we were all outside, so it felt safer than some of the museums (looking at you, BM) I’d been to back when that sort of thing was allowed. Although eating maybe wasn’t the smartest thing to do, as it involved removing our masks for a bit, I was excited that Kew was still having food stalls this year. I visited Southbank Christmas Market in 2019 more times than I can count for the toasted cheese stall there (and considering what happened in 2020, I have no regrets whatsoever), so I do totally love a hipstery Christmas market, and since the delivery options are pretty poor where I live (nearly all chain restaurants except for a handful of Indian places and a falafel/hummus bar that is delicious but is only open until 4, so I have to be in the mood for a really late lunch or early dinner to eat it. Not gonna lie, I do love the occasional Domino’s (but only in the UK – the American version is gross), but not a fan of fast food or chains otherwise) I was thrilled just to eat some nice food that I didn’t have to cook myself. And the stalls we tried were actually surprisingly high quality. The chip “shack” had literally the best cheesy chips I’ve eaten in the twelve years I’ve lived in the UK – the guy even blowtorched the cheese on top so it got all gooey and delicious – and the waffle topped with peanut butter cremeux, banana, chocolate sauce, and honeycomb crumble that I had from Utter Waffle was amazing (and this is coming from a waffle purist who usually just likes syrup) and gluten free to boot (not that I care, because I love gluten, but it made the tastiness of the waffle even more impressive), so I was excitedly messaging my gf friend who lives in Kew whilst I was eating it and telling her she had to go there. I also may have had two hot chocolates, because fuck it, I was treating myself.

  

And the lights were pretty great too, though I confess I was more distracted by the food for some of the time. I especially loved the tree shown above left, the animal sculptures, and the dandelion pod things that were suspended over our heads. I’m team coloured lights all the way (white lights are just so boring), so I was glad the installations were mostly pretty colourful and the white lights were at least in interesting shapes. There was Christmas music piped in throughout, and a final large display projected on the fountains in front of one of the glasshouses, which was particularly cool but fairly crowded, so we didn’t hang around for long. Kew had made an attempt to accommodate this by clearing a large standing space in front of the fountains, but people gonna be jerks if given any opportunity, so they did still pack themselves in, albeit not as tightly as they would have done in pre-Covid times. I would imagine the whole thing was much less crowded than it would have been before Covid, and probably so much the better for it, as we could explore with ease, and staff members at least kept people moving along on the pathways.

 

I actually really loved Christmas at Kew, perhaps partly because it was the only Christmas activity I got to do this year, but I would definitely go back in a “normal” year too to check it out again (if such a thing as a normal year exists anymore). And it turned out to be the only activity we got to do at all for who knows how long, because whilst we were there, my friend who I messaged about the waffles messaged me back and said that it looked like they were about to announce another lockdown, which happened as we were on our way back home (luckily, the trains were super empty that day, and we were the only people in our carriage), so I guess Kew rescheduled our visit for the perfect time, as we wouldn’t have been able to go if it was even a day later. 1 in 30 people in London with Covid is a pretty terrifying figure, so I understand why it had to be done, but I am still happy we got to squeeze Christmas at Kew in first, because it was a much needed treat! 4/5.

  

See you again at some point in February, and really hope things have improved a bit by then, though I’m not counting on it!

 

Merry Christmas!

Me in a mask next to the underwhelming Christmas display in Coal Drops Yard, which sums up the experience of Christmas 2020 rather nicely, I think.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! Wishing you all a much better 2021 than 2020!

Due to Tier 3 coming just as I got out of self-isolation (and now Tier 4, which seems to just be lockdown by another name), which put a stop to any more museum visits in 2020, and me just needing a little break, frankly, I will not be posting next week (which will be the first time since I’ve started blogging that I’ve skipped a week), but I will be back at some point in January. I promise this is not the end of Diverting Journeys, just a little blogging holiday since I can’t take a proper holiday right now (though I do have two and a half weeks off of work thanks to my new employer giving us an extra four days of leave over Christmas, which is the longest break I’ve had since last Christmas, and much needed it is too, even though I can’t go anywhere)! See you soon!

London: “Unfinished Business” @ the British Library

I had some unfinished business with “Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights”. I was originally booked in to see it the day before lockdown 2.0, but then I ended up getting married instead, which took priority. So I made sure that Unfinished Business was the first exhibition I visited after lockdown, and as it turns out, it was also the only exhibition I got to see during the brief period museums were allowed to re-open, since I got word the day after my visit that one of my colleagues had tested positive, so I had to leave work and immediately start self-isolating (I wasn’t able to get a test since I fortunately never developed symptoms (and my colleague had a very mild case, also fortunately), so I still don’t know if I’ve actually had Covid or not, or if I was infectious at the time I saw the exhibition, so I guess it’s good I had a mask on the entire time I was in central London, even when I was outside). I was hoping to get in one more museum visit when my self-isolation period ended on Wednesday, but then the government decided to move us into Tier 3 starting Wednesday (instead of just reassessing on Wednesday, which was what I thought they were meant to do), so there goes my one day of freedom!

 

But anyway, back when I was unaware that I was a potential Covid Jessica (I know I’m being a bit flippant, but I would honestly feel awful if I knew I got someone sick), I headed up to the British Library for the first time in well over a year to finally see this exhibition (time flies when you can’t leave your house…at least up to a point if you’re an introvert like me. I enjoyed working from home in my pajamas instead of having to go into the office (and I was only working from an office again for a month before having to self-isolate (and this is at a museum with a very small team), so that went well!), but I do miss visiting exhibitions every week). Tickets are £15, or £7.50 with Art Pass, and you must pre-book, though there were plenty of tickets still available on the day when we visited. It is meant to run until February 2021, though this may be extended now that they’ve had to close again.

  

We were already off to a better start than our recent experience at the British Museum as soon as we entered the exhibition, because it was pretty damn empty. There were maybe only ten visitors in the entirety of the large PACCAR Gallery, and the one way arrow stickers on the floor were huge, so there was absolutely no way you could miss them (and there was really only one natural path around most of the exhibition, so we wouldn’t have run into the same issues that we had at the BM anyway). The BL normally divides the space into a lot of smaller rooms, but in this case they had wisely decided to leave everything open, which made it a lot easier to social distance. No complaints about the appearance or configuration of this exhibition!

 

As for the content…I definitely consider myself a feminist, and am interested in the women’s rights movement, so I was really excited to see this exhibition, and it didn’t disappoint. Rather than being divided into individual galleries, the exhibition was divided into zones on Body, Mind, and Voice, though there was definitely a bit of overlap between the zones. As always, the BL presented fascinating historical documents alongside contemporary art and artefacts, and I absolutely loved the little cartoons on the side of each large interpretation panel, most of which contained wry observations on being a woman in male-dominated industries (totally my experience when I worked in brewing and people used to assume I was the head brewer’s girlfriend, though definitely not in heritage, which is heavily female-dominated, at least everywhere I’ve worked), though there was also a delightful cartoon about the Bronte sisters that made me laugh out loud (with any laughter particles safely contained within my mask) and a chart mocking the idea of an “ideal” body type with different food-based body shapes (I’m definitely a pierogi, not least because I eat a lot of pierogi when I can be bothered to make them).

 

“Body” contained sections on beauty pageants, cross-dressing female vaudeville entertainers, transwomen, menstruation, and more. I was fascinated to see the correspondence between American suffragist Caroline Kennard and Dahl’s Charwin, as I call him, aka Charles Darwin, about whether women were intellectually inferior to men. Darwin believed they were, and Kennard tried her best to set him straight by pointing out that women didn’t receive equal educational or employment opportunities, but Darwin presumably had none of it because he was kind of a jerk. There was also a small section on family planning, and the exhibition didn’t shy away from pointing out Marie Stopes’s racist views (similar to her American counterpart Margaret Sanger, she was a big believer in eugenics. It’s a shame all these early birth control advocates had such awful beliefs). I was also super interested to read Urania, an early 20th century gender studies publication written by feminist activists (definitely ahead of its time!), and see how badly I fail at dressing professionally for the office according to a 1970s guide for women on “power dressing” (I’ve been known to wear things close to that exact outfit, sans the slouchy hat).

 

I’m not sure exactly where “Mind” ended and “Voice” began, but I have to assume the education section was in “Mind”. Throughout the exhibition, there were charts showing the proportion of women represented in various fields, like politics, the workforce, etc. (and a really depressing one on domestic violence, which we all know has gotten worse during the pandemic as more women are trapped at home with their abusers), and the only chart where women were surpassing men was on higher education (though not when it comes to the make up of actual faculty, and the number of BAME female professors is particularly low). I was disturbed by the photograph of the 1897 protest by male students at Cambridge against granting degrees to women, which was full of boorish looking men throwing fireworks and suspending an effigy of a woman on a bicycle from a building, and was apparently successful, since the Queen Mother was the first woman to be granted an (honorary) degree at Cambridge, and that wasn’t until 1948!

 

“Voice” focused a lot on the suffragette movement, and made a point to mention the role women of colour played, and how they were basically ignored by white British suffragettes, who showed no concern whatsoever for the plight of women living under colonialism. In fact, during WWI, the Women’s Party put out a really revolting publication called Brittania, full of “patriotic” garbage extolling the “virtues” of Empire. Blech. I found the sections on solidarity movements by BAME women really interesting, and I loved all the protest art. Although much of the focus was still on white women, as that is still what makes up much of the BL’s collection, I do think they really tried to focus on women of colour as well and point out the many inequalities that still exist. This was really driven home in the case of Khadija Saye, one of the artists featured here, who tragically died aged only 24 in the Grenfell fire along with her mother due to the ultimately hideously unsafe conditions they were forced to live in.

 

As the exhibition guide said, although the exhibition tried to represent as many voices as they could, an exhibition of this size covering so much ground could never be comprehensive, and was really more of an overview, though I think it could be a great starting point to encourage visitors to learn more, and there was definitely a lot of interesting looking feminist literature available for purchase in the exhibition shop (along with some cool badges and stickers). The BL generally excels at including a range of interesting primary documents in their exhibits, and this was no exception, with poems written on toilet paper by suffragettes in prison (and my god, does it look like coarse, unpleasant toilet paper), to manuscripts of Jane Eyre and Middlemarch, and even a good range of artefacts from ordinary women, like a housemaid’s recipe for lemon ice cream and a rad uterus quilt.

 

I really liked “Unfinished Business”, and was definitely impressed with the social distancing, easy flow around the exhibition, and friendliness of the staff. 3.5/5. If you have time to walk around the building (which takes a bit longer than it used to due to the one-way system), there is a free display of more of Khadija Saye’s art on the first floor. I’m also including a photo of the small case on the Glasgow Women’s Library because I thought Anabel might like to see it, and you get a bonus photo of the BL’s cat, who we encountered as we left. One of the security guards told us her name was Daisy, and she is very cute!

 

London: “Arctic: Culture and Climate”@ the British Museum

This was the last exhibition I managed to see before lockdown 2.0, and after visiting this, I could kind of see why we needed another lockdown, because this was a free-for-all (as I’m sure you’ll see from the photos). When I visited “Tantra” at the British Museum a few weeks before this, I had no issues. The exhibition was fairly empty, and the pre-booking only system seemed to be working well. For “Arctic,” however, I suppose in their keenness to get as many people as possible through a major exhibition, the British Museum had let far too many people in at a time, and it was impossible to socially distance in some areas of the exhibition, because they were as rammed as they would have been pre-corona. Even the permanent galleries seemed significantly busier – there were lots of families and what looked like school groups, and I had to queue for ages to get into the toilets, even though, like my previous visit, this was also on a Monday at the exact same time in the early afternoon. Lockdown hadn’t been announced at this point, so I can’t even say it was a last hurrah; just a general loosening up.

 

But let’s get down to the exhibition itself. Regular readers know about my fascination with polar exploration, so I was very excited to see this exhibition on the ways the people who live in the Arctic manage to survive in such a harsh environment, and how they were adapting to climate change. “Arctic: culture and climate,” was originally meant to run until February 2021, though this may now be extended. Admission was a hefty £18, or a more reasonable £9 with Art Pass. It was held in the Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery, which is on the ground floor in the back of the museum – I don’t think I’d been to an exhibition in this gallery before, or at least not for a while, as all of the ones I’ve seen lately have been in that tower thing in the middle of the Great Court.

 

The gallery space featured one big corridor lined with the larger eye-catching artefacts that ran the length of the gallery, with smaller rooms branching off from it, and it was these smaller rooms that were the biggest problem, particularly as a lot of our fellow visitors seemed to be big family groups with the maximum allowed six people, and if you were stuck in a room with just two of those groups, there was no way you could put two metres between you. There was apparently a one way system in place, with markings on the floor to show you where to go, but neither Marcus or I noticed these when we were in the exhibition – we only saw them when we were looking at some of the photos after we left, so they need to make this a lot clearer!

 

The exhibit opened with a collection of traditional clothing worn by various Arctic peoples, and moved on to both the art and more quotidian objects that they have used throughout history. There was a lot of art featuring animals, especially the seals, whales, walruses, and various birds that the indigenous people have traditionally been dependent on for food and clothing – obviously, I loved this (says the woman with whale wallpaper in her living room)!

 

I also thought the tools associated with whaling were fascinating (though whaling is never a nice thing), especially a sealskin suit from Greenland with a hole in the middle. The wearer could crawl into the suit through the hole, and pull the hole closed behind him to create a waterproof suit. The suit would then be inflated via a straw to provide extra insulation and buoyancy. The most remarkable thing about this suit is that it was made some time before 1834 (presumably the date it was acquired by some explorer or another), since we tend to assume waterproof clothing is a more modern technology (I get the impression that most people were walking around in wet wool all the time in 19th century America and Britain, or at least that’s what it seems like in the Little House books).

 

As you might expect, a lot of the artefacts here were related to hunting and fishing; although many parts of the Arctic have more plant life than people might think in the summer, which the people living there of course incorporated into their diets, for the rest of the year, they needed to hunt to survive. And even the non-edible parts of the animals were very much used, not only for clothing, but for various intricate carvings using bone and tusk, many of which were quite beautiful. I loved the wooden seal helmet – it was used for hunting purposes, but it just looks so cute!

 

There was also a section here on first contact, much of it with the various polar explorers that I’ve read so much about, who were of various degrees of jerkishness – some were keen to befriend and learn from the native people, but others just wanted to claim the areas for their respective countries, and saw the people living there as a nuisance (which was just dumb, because if you’re planning on exploring a fairly inhospitable land, wouldn’t it make sense to learn a thing or two from the people who have managed to survive there for centuries?). There were some fantastic drawings from these encounters from the perspective of both the native Greenlanders and the European explorers.

 

There was a lot of great contemporary art here too, but my favourite things were probably the historical artefacts, many of seemed surprisingly modern like the aforementioned whaling suit, such as the snow goggles used to protect the wearer’s eyes from the sun glare coming off the snow, and the waterproof fish skin bags used for storage, which are far more sustainable than most modern materials (though I don’t particularly want to carry around a fish skin bag!).

 

A small section at the end had information about climate change and how it might affect the people living in the Arctic going forward, but most of the exhibition seemed to be on traditional ways of life, which I admittedly found more interesting, though obviously climate change is a huge concern. I did have to skip a few of the cases because there were just too many people hanging around in front of them who wouldn’t move and I wasn’t comfortable standing near that many people for a prolonged period, but I did enjoy everything I saw – it was just too busy! There was a shop at the end that directed us to wait outside if there were more than 15 people in the shop, but as you couldn’t actually see into the shop from outside the doors, and there was no member of staff there to regulate numbers (like they have outside the toilets), I have no idea how you were meant to gauge that yourself. The shop was quite a big one, with various crafts and food from around the Arctic (mainly Scandinavia and Canada), but maybe they could have cut back on the amount of stock in the shop and limited the amount of people in the exhibition more, because now is not really the time to be going all out on a museum shop (says the person who used to run a museum shop and had their budget frozen for the entirety of this year, even before Covid).

 

Anyway, the exhibition itself was good, though not big enough to justify either £18 or the amount of people they were allowing in the space. 3.5/5. Hopefully when it reopens after lockdown, they’ll be a bit stricter about limiting numbers or making sure people leave within a designated span of time.

 

 

Cobham, Surrey: Painshill Park

This post is slightly bittersweet for me to write, because if we had gotten married on 28th November as planned (our 12th anniversary), we would have also gone to Painshill Park on the 7th November for a pre-wedding photo shoot, and I was super excited to bust out my witch hat and take a bunch of fun Halloweeny pictures with all the foliage. But the reality is that lockdown happened, we had to move our wedding to the 4th of November (with only two days’ notice) so it didn’t get cancelled, and even though we technically could have still gone ahead with the Painshill photo shoot, it seemed a bit redundant to do a pre-wedding shoot after we were already married, not to mention the fact that we had just paid a photographer to photograph our wedding, and couldn’t really afford two photo shoots in the same week. Don’t get me wrong, I do really like most of the photos we ended up with, but a lot of the poses weren’t ones that I would have necessarily chosen, and it makes me a bit sad to look at these photos of Painshill and think what we could have done there. Oh well, I guess there’s nothing stopping us from doing it next autumn if we really want to, but it won’t be quite the same.

 

But I digress. This was actually the second time we’d been to Painshill Park, as it is quite close to us by car. The first time was about eight or nine years ago when Marcus dragged me there in the middle of the winter to get some fresh air, and I was not a happy camper. It was so long ago that I hadn’t even started blogging yet, which is why I never posted about it. But this visit was so much better, coming as it did on a warm day back in September, except for a bit of confusion on arrival.

  

Painshill’s website said that due to Covid, pre-booking was required unless you were a member, or had a Gardener’s World or Historic Houses card, or National Art Pass. Straightforward enough, except for when you went to the booking section of the website, it didn’t mention National Art Pass at all and said you had to pre-book unless you were a member or had one of the other two cards. We decided to take our chances and just turn up, but were even more uncertain when the signs in the carpark also failed to mention Art Pass. And when we reached the entrance and tried to explain that we hadn’t pre-booked because we had Art Pass, the woman standing there had no clue what we were talking about. Fortunately, another staff member overheard and swooped in to save the day, so we were able to buy tickets on the spot (£9 normally, Art Pass gets you a 25% discount). They seemed to have remedied this error on their website, so hopefully other visitors with Art Pass won’t have the same issue (the reason we didn’t pre-book just to be on the safe side was because they didn’t offer discounted tickets online). And since they’re a park, they remained open to the public during lockdown.

  

I don’t think we had even walked the entire length of the park (probably due to my crankiness about the cold) when we visited years ago, because whilst I remembered some follies, I didn’t recall quite this many! Painshill Park was built between 1738 and 1773 by Charles Hamilton, the 14th child of an earl who clearly had lots of money to blow. The garden was inspired by his trips to Italy, and his goal was to create a “living painting” through landscaping and the creation of various follies. One would assume there was originally a manor house of some sort as well, but if there was, it’s not there now. Some of the original follies have disappeared too, but Painshill is gradually restoring them, which is probably why I don’t remember quite so many on our first visit, because some of them weren’t actually there then!

 

Be prepared for a lot of walking (they offered us a golf cart rental when I booked the photo shoot, which I probably would have taken them up on just to not have to hike in shiny silver heels), but you will be rewarded by discovering grand vistas and delightful follies at every turn, including a Turkish tent, Temple of Bacchus (this was only rebuilt recently), mausoleum, gothic temple, and more! My personal favourite thing is the Crystal Grotto, because I love a grotto; unfortunately, due to Covid, we weren’t allowed to go inside (nor could we climb the tower at the other end of the property), but I still enjoyed walking around the outside.

 

We also enjoyed discovering the hermit hut hidden in the woods, which we missed on our first visit (in the weird Georgian tradition popular in grand estates, Charles Hamilton tried to hire someone to live as a hermit in the hut and sit in quiet contemplation to add to the ambience for his visitors, but the hermit was apparently found in the local pub shortly after being hired, which put an end to the idea of a live-in hermit pretty quickly. However, assuming you could hook up some electricity, plumbing, and a supply of books, I think I’d be fine with holing up there for a while in the summer months, especially if I could visit the cafe for cake), and the waterwheel. Painshill is right next to a motorway, so you will be distracted by the roar of traffic if you’re at the outer limits of the property, but it’s so big that you can easily pretend to be in bucolic countryside for most of it, especially when you’re by the lake that runs alongside most of the property.

 

I have to confess that though I was of course keen on the idea of getting photos at Painshill because of all the follies and lovely fall foliage (I mean, I assume it has lovely foliage judging from some of the photos on their website, but I don’t actually know because it was still pretty summery when we were there), the thing that completely sold me was the cafe. We stopped to have a tea and cake after all that walking, and I selected the jaffa cake cake (not a typo). The woman working there immediately praised my choice, and I can see why. It was similar to the biscuit (or is it a cake?) but so much better, with a soft orange sponge, orange curd, and a dark chocolate glaze. I wanted more, and I thought if we had photos there, I could easily sneak in another piece (or two!).

 

It’s rare I enjoy a walk, but clearly follies (and nice weather and cake!) are the key, because I had a very nice time indeed on this visit. I’d definitely recommend if you fancy a walk and some cake, and I still think it would be a fab place for a photo shoot. 4/5.

London: Bruce Nauman @ Tate Modern

Was Bruce Nauman an artist whose work I could have identified before seeing this exhibition? No, but my quest back in October was to pack in as many exhibitions within walking distance of Waterloo on my two journeys into central London as I could (both to minimise my time on public transport and to build up a bank of posts, since by the middle of October, I strongly suspected we would go into lockdown again, and look, I was right!), I looked to see what was at Tate Modern, and here he was. Given a choice between what I could see of his work on Tate’s website, and the Andy Warhol exhibition, I chose Bruce, and after seeing the queue for Andy Warhol, I think I made the right decision.

 

You had to prebook to visit Tate Modern, even if you were just there to see the permanent collection (though those tickets were free), but there were still plenty of slots available for Bruce Nauman when I booked it the night before, which I suspect would not have been the case for Warhol. Tickets were £13, or £6.50 with Art Pass, and the procedure at Tate Modern was that you joined a queue upon entry for whatever you were there to see (Bruce had no queue, so we could breeze straight through, but Andy’s stretched the length of the Turbine Hall), someone scanned your ticket and told you where to go, and then someone checked your ticket again at the entrance to make sure you were there at the right time. There was also no queue at the entrance to the exhibition, and we could go straight in, but the queue for Andy was very long indeed (yes, I am quite smug about this, first of all because I don’t even really like Andy Warhol, and if I did, I know there’s a museum in Pittsburgh that I could easily visit any time I go to visit my family in Cleveland, though who knows when that will next be).

 

The exhibition was spread out over 13 rooms, and since most of Nauman’s pieces were installation style, there were only one or two semi-immersive pieces per room, making it easy to socially distance (and of course, face coverings were required inside). Bruce Nauman is an American artist (from Indiana) who has been active since the 1960s, and is probably best known for his neon sculptures and video installations, though he has dabbled in a range of media, including more traditional sculpture and photography. He’s the type of artist whose work you have probably seen without realising it’s his work. (And yes, that is Nauman’s butt and face in the above pieces.)

 

I could definitely see some of the pieces here as being the reason some people hate modern art, like “Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square”, which is exactly what it sounds like – though we got the excitement here of looking at the square he had taped out on the floor and a plank of wood leaning against the wall, we couldn’t actually walk in an exaggerated manner ourselves, since it was behind a rope.

 

Nor could we go inside the “Double Steel Cage,” which is meant to provoke feelings of “anxiety and entrapment”, though since Nauman’s intention was that the door be left open so visitors could go inside and experience anxiety for themselves, I think this was probably a Covid-related decision made by the Tate. However, we could try out the “Going Around the Corner Piece” where we literally walked around a corner to try to catch a glimpse of our own backs on a TV monitor as we were being filmed on the opposite side of the wall, which was quite fun.

 

One of the reasons I decided to see this exhibition was because of Nauman’s clown pieces, since this visit took place in October when I was in full Halloween mode (as opposed to the partial but still enthusiastic Halloween mode I’m in the rest of the year), and I thought clowns were appropriately creepy and Halloweeny. This series of videos was called “Clown Torture” and filled the entire room, and was very creepy indeed. Nauman finds clowns very menacing, and this really came across here. There’s a clown screaming “no, no, no!” in one of the videos, and another where he keeps repeating the children’s rhyme, “Pete and Repeat sat on a fence. Pete fell off, who was left? Repeat. Pete and Repeat sat on a fence…” and so on, which I definitely remember reciting to irritate my mother when I was little (along with “The Song that Never Ends” from Lamb Chop. I was an annoying child), which made this installation very much an assault on the senses, as was “Anthro/Socio”, which is the piece pictured at the start of this post, with an actor shouting “Feed Me, Eat Me, Anthropology” and “Help Me, Hurt Me, Sociology” again and again whilst his head spun around on a video monitor.

  

Nauman also finds many children’s games quite sinister, as reflected in his “Hanged Man” neon, which was my favourite piece here (I mean, he’s not wrong about Hang Man – what a weird children’s game!). This was definitely not child friendly, as the hanged man goes from being alive with a flaccid penis, to dead with a huge erection, as you can see above, based on the old myth about what happens to hanged men (which maybe isn’t a myth? I don’t even know).

 

I liked the neons here generally – the coolest one was probably “One Hundred Live or Die” which is a grid of one hundred different declarations that light up in turn, such as “Live and Piss” “Die and Shit” “Smell and Live” etc. Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of it because it was impossible to photograph, so you get to look at “Human Nature/Knows Doesn’t Know” and “Black Marble Under Yellow Light” instead, and it is probably self-explanatory which is which.

 

There were also a couple more video installations; one featuring a mime (also creepy), and another showing sleight of hand tricks close up and various people falling, all shown in the RGB colour spectrum. Honestly, one of the coolest parts of the exhibition was all the huge period video monitors and projectors, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s, which reminded me of the technology we had elementary school.

 

Tate had a couple more of his installations scattered throughout the museum, including one on the wall of the cafe, and a sound installation in the stairs we used to exit. I think they have a couple pieces of his on permanent display too, but we didn’t attempt to go in the permanent galleries. Considering I’m not usually the biggest fan of modern art, I surprised myself by enjoying this quite a bit, since it was quite immersive – my only complaint would be that it only took us about half an hour to see the exhibition, even with lingering in some of the rooms, which is a bit light for a £13 exhibition, but since we only paid £6.50, I didn’t mind so much. 3.5/5 for Bruce Nauman – definitely worth visiting after lockdown if you’re in the area and don’t feel like spending your day queuing for Andy Warhol! It’s currently meant to run until February, and they might extend it further depending on when museums are allowed to reopen.

 

Recent Events: Wedding + New Job!

You might already know about some of this if you follow me on Instagram, but I wanted to share what’s been going on in my life lately outside of blogging, because the past couple of weeks have been totally crazy! First of all, Marcus and I got married on the 4th of November, which is a story in itself, so I hope you’ll either indulge me whilst I tell it, or just wait for my next post, which will be museum-related.

 

We’ve been together for nearly twelve years, but somehow never got round to the whole marriage thing, partly we’re both introverted and aren’t super comfortable with being the centre of attention, and were kind of dreading the whole process of doing it in front of a big audience, but didn’t really know how to get out of it without offending family and friends. And then Covid happened, and we saw an opportunity to have a small ceremony without hurt feelings, so we gave notice of our intention to marry at our local register office (which is awkwardly in the same building as the archives where I used to work sometimes) back in early October (you have to give at least thirty days notice in the UK, for those who aren’t familiar with the process), with the intention of getting married on the 28th November, which is our twelfth anniversary, and conveniently falls on a Saturday this year. Me being me, I immediately ordered a dress and accessories and only after that started thinking about logistics.

  

We definitely didn’t want a full-on reception at this point in time (nor would we have been allowed dancing etc), but we thought it would still be nice to be able to at least have a drink or two and some cake afterwards if we could do so safely, so we tried to find a venue for that. But, even though at that stage we were allowed to have up to fifteen people at a reception (this was when we were still in Tier 1, but even in Tier 2, you were technically allowed to be inside with people from other households for a wedding reception, even though I was feeling less comfortable with doing it), we had a hell of a time trying to find someone willing to accommodate more than six, other than very expensive proper wedding venues (and I’m sorry, but I’m not spending over £1000 on a reception for 10 people if that doesn’t even include food or drink). We finally managed to find a pub down the road from us with a private room big enough to socially distance in that was willing to host us and wasn’t even charging a booking fee, so I started to relax a little bit with that settled…and then lockdown was announced.

 

With all wedding ceremonies cancelled during lockdown, things were looking bleak until the registrar rang me on the Monday before lockdown and told me we could either postpone the ceremony indefinitely, or get married that Wednesday. After a hurried discussion with Marcus whilst I was still on the phone with the registrar, we said, “what the hell, let’s just do it Wednesday!” Cue two days of total madness, though since we had bought clothes and things weeks before, all we really had to do was tell our guests, order a cake (more on this below, but this was my number one priority after getting my dress. I’d already spoken to a bakery, but was holding off on ordering until closer to our original wedding date and the short notice meant I didn’t have time for anything custom anyway), try to find a post-wedding drinks venue, and book in a photographer, the latter of which proved the most complicated, since we had two people cancel on us before we found Louise Adby, who did an absolutely lovely job!

  

Because it was a weekday, not all of our guests could make it, so we ended up with only six attendees, but we’re grateful they were able to come on such short notice, especially the people who took off work on our account! Our original plan was to take pre-wedding photographs the first weekend of November in Painshill Park and skip a professional photographer for the wedding, but given the circumstances, we cancelled the Painshill Park session and just met our photographer in Bushy Park about two hours before our wedding to get some couple portraits before she photographed the ceremony. All the posing was super awkward (especially the eight million kissing shots she made us do, since we’re not normally super affectionate in public – you might be able to tell that I was wearing lipstick at the start, but it completely wore off over the course of the afternoon), but I guess it was worth it for the end result. I usually absolutely hate how I look in photos, but I’m actually pretty happy with most of these ones!

 

I’m obviously not a super traditional person, and a white gown is so not my style, but I didn’t really want to go full goth either at a registry office wedding, so I opted for a super sparkly black 50’s style dress from Vivien of Holloway (I already have several dresses from there, so I knew it would fit without trying it on first), an autumnal orange coat, because I will take any excuse to buy a new coat and I love a hood; a purple spiderweb wrap from Etsy, and pointy witch shoes from Killstar. Marcus put together my bouquet from orange, black, and purple artificial flowers I’d ordered, wrapped with black and white striped Beetlejuice ribbon that I had rush shipped from America because I couldn’t find any I liked here. I was actually intending on changing into silver heels for the photos, but it was kind of muddy in the park, so I just left my flats on until the ceremony. I had also bought an excellent black and white feather fascinator that made me feel a bit like a less evil Cruella de Vil, but I completely forgot to put it on before we left to take photos, so I had to do without. Good thing it wasn’t expensive!

  

The ceremony itself was super short (we all had to go wash our hands upon arrival, the guests had to wear masks the whole time, and all the chairs were distanced, but we were allowed to take our masks off during the ceremony), which we were fine with, except for the fact that we couldn’t choose our music, and I really wanted to have had our song(s) playing at the start and end of the ceremony (by Phil Collins and Huey Lewis – you can try to guess what they are if you like), but it’s not like they would have played for very long anyway, since they hustled us out immediately after we signed the book, so it’s fine (we didn’t even get our marriage certificate on the day, as that was deemed unsafe. They posted us a copy the week after). We actually made our own rings in a silversmithing class at Morden Hall Park last Valentine’s Day, so we’ve had them sitting around for ages! And let me just state that I will not be changing my name – I may or may not have gone on a rant about the patriarchy to the registrar before the ceremony – I’m not judging anyone who chooses to do so, but it’s definitely not something I’m at all interested in doing.

 

Because of the impending lockdown, we couldn’t find anyone to host a reception for this much earlier date, so we just ended up going to a local pub with three friends who all live together, but of course had to sit outside per the rules since we were a mix of two different households, so it was a very cold night indeed (we were just down the road from our house, so I ended up going home and changing into jeans after a couple of hours of freezing my ass off – I loved my dress, but I have my limits!), and the only place that was serving food outside didn’t really have anything that appealed, so I just had a bowl of chips and a Coke (and a cup of tea because of the cold!), because I barely drink anymore. Thrilling, I know. I think we probably will have to have an actual party when it’s safe to do so, because I at least want to eat some decent food! We did manage to get a cake to enjoy by ourselves when we got home from the bakery I had originally decided on (Flavourtown in Fulham, since they deliver) – I got the smallest size, but it was still an awful lot of cake for two people, so we ended up posting out slices to our guests the next day. Fortunately, it was close enough to Halloween that the bakery was still doing Halloween cakes, so I was able to snag this rad pink skull one, and Marcus made the topper himself, so it was pretty perfect even if it wasn’t custom. I also ordered cookies to pass out to our guests as favours after the ceremony (since we could individually bag them, which felt a bit more sanitary than handing someone a slice of cake) and those were delicious too (obviously we saved ourselves a couple!).

  

So that was our wedding, and since lockdown started the next day and we couldn’t go anywhere anyway, I just went back to work the day after (we will totally take a trip when we can though, whenever that might be), because it also happened to be my last week of work at my old job. Yes, as if throwing a wedding together in two days wasn’t enough stress, I was also trying to wrap up everything with my job, especially because there is a hiring freeze on, so I knew they wouldn’t be able to hire a replacement for a while. I will miss my lovely volunteers (and am worried no one else is going to advocate for them), but there were a lot of other aspects of that job that I absolutely hated, and it was generally not great for my mental health, so on the whole, I am relieved to be gone! I started my new job last week (and yes, I know how lucky I am to a.) have kept my job in heritage in the first place (this was mainly because my former museum was run by a local authority, so I was deployed to the Comms team for six months whilst the museum was closed), and b.) found a new job in heritage with better pay than my old job in the current climate). I was working as a Visitor Services Officer, which included shop management (amongst other things), and I was desperate to get away from the retail aspects of my job, because I HATE retail, so I was thrilled to land a Museum Coordinator position at another museum near enough my house to still be able to walk to work. It’s still not the curatorial role I would eventually like, but it is far more marketing orientated, which at least means a lot of writing, and the shop is not my responsibility, which is the most exciting thing about it for me! It’s super weird to be working in an office again after working from home for almost eight months (I’m splitting my time between the office and home for now, because even though the museum is closed to the public during lockdown, there are still things going on in the building that require someone on site and there’s only three people on our team, so we take turns going in), but the museum itself is a lovely space (much nicer than my old workplace). Lots of changes, but I’m hoping once I’ve settled in a bit more, I’ll be less emotionally drained than I was at my old job and will have time to do a bit more writing, as I would really like to start doing creative writing again at some point. Thanks for reading, if you made it to the end, and hope you didn’t mind looking at so many wedding photos!

 

London: “Tantra” @ the British Museum

Note: I wrote this post back in mid-October before the second lockdown was announced, and god, I was so optimistic and so excited about getting back into London then. I’ll leave it as is so we can all reflect on the naivete of Jessica from just a few weeks ago.

After an absence of many months, I have finally ventured into central London again! I had a dentist appointment for which I had to take the train anyway (since I never changed dentist after I moved last year, and good luck trying to get into a new one now!), so I thought I might as well just hop back on the train in Wimbledon and go all the way into Waterloo and walk across the river from there (I’m not quite ready to brave the Tube. The train is bad enough). I hadn’t been into London since March, and I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it until I went back. And honestly, public transport was the worst part of the whole experience, because central London is still pretty damn empty. Kingston is 10 times busier and full of non-mask wearing assholes, and I much prefer the atmosphere of London, I just wish there was another way to get there! (And don’t suggest cycling, because I will die if I cycle on city streets. I’m not a confident cyclist AT ALL.)

 

It was a grand day strolling around Bloomsbury and Covent Garden, getting cinnamon buns and excellent sugared brioche pretzels from my favourite Swedish bakery (Bageriet, much nicer than the more well known Fabrique, in my opinion), an ice cream from Udderlicious, and going into an actual bookshop and buying a book that I could look through first. Glorious! I also of course got in a museum visit, which proved to be a bit tricky since everywhere now requires pre-booking (rightly so) and many of the exhibitions I wanted to see were already booked up, but there were still plenty of tickets left to “Tantra: enlightenment to revolution” at the British Museum, which runs until January, so that’s what I opted for (you can book online on the day if there are still openings, but they will only let you book for a time at least two hours in advance, so you do need to plan a little bit ahead). Admission is £15, or £7.50 with Art Pass.

 

The British Museum still has its queuing system set up that ultimately leads you through a little security hut for a bag search, but unlike the last time I visited, there was no queue whatsoever, and we (Marcus came too) went straight into the hut. We had to get a picture in front of the museum, because I’ve never seen it without fifty million tourists crawling all over it before! The tranquility extended to the interior of the museum, and it felt good to be back in that familiar grand entrance hall. I certainly didn’t have a problem with the lack of people, though I recognise it’s not great for the museum itself.

 

You also need to book a ticket to visit the permanent collections, though those tickets are free. Currently, only the ground floor is open, and they have planned a one hour route to take you through it, but we skipped that and headed straight for Tantra. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this exhibition, because like many people, I associate the term tantra with weird sexual practices, like the days-long sex Sting claims to have, which just sounds unpleasant, frankly. But it turns out that Tantra, like many things, was perverted by the British occupation of India, and it actually started out as a practice of worship of female goddesses.

 

Tantra was developed in the 6th century CE in Southeast Asia as an offshoot of Hinduism amongst followers of Shiva, god of destruction, and Shakti, goddess of creation, and involved the worship of Shakti as mother of all things, as well as a series of rituals people could follow to invoke these deities. The word tantra literally means “loom” or “weave” in Sanskrit, and Tantra was a weaving together of new ideas from existing practices. There was a period of political turbulence in India in the medieval era that caused the philosophy to become popular with those searching for something new, especially as there was no caste system in Tantra and women were welcome to join. Tantra also led to the creation of Hatha yoga, which, whilst not a sexual practice, did involve strange contortions of the body, and some of the diagrams showing these postures may have led to outsiders construing it as somehow sexual.

 

Things carried on happily enough for centuries, but when the British took over India, they saw it as a challenge to their authority, particularly as some practitioners used it as a form of rebellion by trying to use the goddess Kali (you’ve probably seen images of her standing on a corpse and wearing a necklace of skulls, as in the above photos) as a figure of anti-colonial resistance, and fair enough, because Kali looks absolutely baller (I want a skull necklace!). This led to the British trying to paint its followers as sexually depraved and practitioners of black magic, which is why when many people think of Kali (I’m including myself in this number, since my love for Indiana Jones is well-documented on this blog), they think of the cult in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but these depictions came about solely because of British attempts to quash the religion. (There was a pretty excellent little set of figurines depicting the supposed Thug cult of bandits who practiced Tantra, which again, was just part of the smear campaign by the British.)

 

So Tantra is actually pretty interesting, and though I’m not into the hippy dippy Western interpretations of Tantra that become popular from the 1960s onward (which is where the weird Sting-esque sexual practices come from), I am definitely into all these awesome rebellious interpretations of Kali, and the attempts to use Tantra to drive the British out of India. This is honestly probably not an exhibition I would have chosen to see had there not been literally nothing else I could get tickets to that day, but honestly, I’m really glad I did, because I learned a lot, and there were some fascinating objects here.

 

As always when visiting exhibitions, I did encounter some annoyingly slow moving people (not the fact that they walked slowly, just that they paused in front of each exhibition for what felt like ten minutes), and unfortunately, in Covid times, I can’t exactly lean over their shoulder as I used to do in the old days, so I ended up doing a lot of skipping around and just coming back to areas when they cleared out. It wasn’t super busy, since it was ticketed, and it was fairly easy to social distance in all but the busiest areas, and then I just moved to another area until it was less busy (and of course everyone was wearing face coverings). Although for £15 I would have expected more content, I was happy enough with my half-price admission, plus the excitement of being in the British Museum again probably enhanced my enjoyment. 3/5.

 

Singleton, West Sussex: The Weald and Downland Museum

Remember Amberley Museum, which feels like a very long time ago now, even though it was just in late August? Well, Weald and Downland Museum is also an open air museum, and is also in West Sussex, though they’re not quite the same sort of museum. I went here back in September with Marcus and the same friend I went to Amberley with, since we were still allowed to be inside with people from outside our household at that point, and I thought it was a better option for spending time in close proximity to someone I don’t live with than a traditional museum, though we had chosen a day with absolutely awful weather and ended up having to shelter inside at various points to get away from the driving rain.

 

The Weald and Downland Museum is set on a forty acre site in the South Downs, and contains buildings from various eras in the last thousand years, the idea being that they all showcase the culture of the Weald, an area of South East England including the North and South Downs (basically chalky ridges through the countryside where middle class people like to go walking, if you’re not familiar). Similar to Amberley, I had to pre-book tickets for a timed slot and we had to turn up at some point within that slot, but we were welcome to stay as long as we liked once we were inside. Tickets are £14 – no Art Pass discount.

 

Once we entered, we were free to wander as we liked, though we often had to queue if we wanted to go inside the buildings, as only one group was allowed in at a time, which led to a lot of awkward conversations with staff/volunteers to try to pass the time whilst we waited (awkward only because I hate thinking up questions to ask, so it’s lucky my friend is a lot more talkative than I am). As you can probably see, there were a good assortment of historical eras represented here, though my issue with most of the houses is that there wasn’t much inside them, and since I’m far more into period furnishings than architecture, it kind of negated the point of waiting to get in, so we did start skipping some of them if there was a queue.

 

However, we were absolutely cracking up when we spotted the “workers’ cottages” above left, built in the 1860s, because we were essentially going inside my and Marcus’s house, which was built in 1864, and is made of brick, but is otherwise very similar indeed to the house above. When we got inside, we realised the layout was the same too (although my house has a small extension on the back, and the upstairs has been divided up a bit differently over the years from the traditional two up two down (we’re more of a four up three down if you count the bathroom and the tiny depressing box room that I never go in as rooms)) right down to the beams overhead, which looked exactly like the ones in our loft. I don’t know, there was just something amusing about going to the trouble of visiting a museum and ending up basically walking through your own house.

 

The Weald and Downland Museum is also where The Repair Shop is filmed, and though I haven’t watched the show in ages (I get why people like it, but it’s just too boring for me), Marcus was quite keen to get a picture with the building where they film it. As you can see, you aren’t allowed anywhere near it, but I think they might have been filming that day, as we could see people waiting to get in way off in the distance.

 

We ended up having to hang out inside a building full of tools of various local trades for quite a while to avoid a torrential downpour (fortunately, no one else was waiting to get in, though I kept running to the door to check since I didn’t want to be a jerk), and by the time we emerged (after spending far more time studying bricks than I find ideal), I was ready for a tea and a snack, so we headed over to the cafe/shop area so I could grab a tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake, as well as a bag of flour from the on-site mill (it’s a fairly coarse wholemeal, but I mixed it with strong flour to make some wholewheat pita to go with hummus and fried halloumi with sesame seeds and honey, and it was very delicious), and ended up buying a bag of duck feed as well for the ducks that had been following us around throughout our visit. As you can see, I did not socially distance from those ducks, but fed them right out of my hand, and I have no regrets (other than the awful face I’m making in the photo. It’s not a good angle for me). It was easily the highlight of my visit (I felt terrible for this one duck with a twisted leg who was being bullied by the other ducks, so I was basically feeding him directly by the end).

 

My other favourite part was in a building we stumbled upon when looking for the toilets (which I had entirely to myself, as I was advised to lock the main door when inside (it was what would normally be a multi-stall, multi-occupancy deal), and there was a women waiting outside to clean as soon as I left, which was a bit awkward but impressively proactive), that contained a temporary exhibition full of the objects collected by various volunteers and other people associated with the museum. The woman working in here was very friendly and told us all about them, plus I just enjoy seeing what other people collect (I have a lot of crap, but I wouldn’t say I’m a collector of anything specific per se, other than Presidential Pez dispensers).

 

Prior to this, all the houses had been relatively close together in a village type formation, but after we left the collections building, we were just wandering through the woods looking for the other properties, including a re-creation of a Saxon long house (most of the other buildings were original, albeit moved from their original locations to this museum). This was quite nice, actually, since no one else was back here, so we didn’t have to worry about avoiding other people, apart from a man we encountered wearing the very unaesthetically pleasing combination of long shorts and wellies.

 

The final couple of properties we found were also the best ones, even though we had to wait for ages to go inside, since they actually had furniture in them, and, in the case of the medieval hall, had a garderobe so I could make my pooping face (my favourite pose of all). I did worry somewhat about the structural integrity of standing on something that was just jutting out the side of the house, but I guess if it’s stood for this long…

 

I also enjoyed the chickens we encountered at the end of our visit, though I was sad I had given all my food to the ducks, so I didn’t have any left for them! I did feed myself, however, with another piece of lemon drizzle (to match the ongoing drizzle outside), since Marcus had eaten half of my first one, and I was still hungry. Although I wish that more of the properties had furniture and other things inside to look at, I think I liked the variety of buildings here better than the ones at Amberley, which tended to be from the same era and more industrial in nature, but I did really enjoy all the excellent quirky museums of Amberley that didn’t exist at Weald and Downland, so they’re ending up with the same score in the end. 3/5.

Nottingham: The Haunted Museum

As promised, I’ve got something full spooky for you today: The Haunted Museum! This is what sold me on visiting Nottingham – even though it sounded like kind of a tourist trap, I still very much wanted to go. I suspect The Haunted Museum is a relatively new museum, and it is meant to be a home for various “haunted” objects, as well as some horror film props. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but I love the idea of them, so I was completely on board.

 

Admission to the museum is £7, and there is no prebooking required, probably because it’s not that busy; we were the only visitors the whole time we were inside. Despite this, there were about five members of staff hanging around the entrance area (which is a lot for a museum this size, especially on a Sunday!), most of them not wearing face coverings, which was frankly one of the scariest parts, though we were careful to avoid coming too close. I think at one point the museum was doing guided tours only, on which you could not take photos, but it is now self-guided and you are welcome to take all the photos you wish, and I wished to take a lot, because it was creepy in there!

 

If you are afraid of clowns, you will not like this museum. Ditto if you are afraid of dolls, because there are a lot of both, including clown dolls, which I guess is the worst of both worlds. I’m not overly keen on clowns, but they’re pleasingly creepy, a level of creep I can handle, rather than downright terrifying, so I was enjoying myself. The museum was basically a random collection of crap, some of it grouped into tableaux, with a laminated (and often poorly spelled) fact sheet accompanying each object/scene to tell you where it was from and why and/or how it was haunted. So there were some dolls from a Haunted Doll Island in Mexico, a bunch of “crying child” paintings allegedly taken from houses that had burned down whilst the paintings themselves remained untouched, and some other painting of creepy children that was meant to suck the viewer into the painting somehow.

 

One of the freakiest areas was “Hattie’s Room”, which you can see at the start of the post. This was filled with clown dolls that moved and played music, and the story of the ghost they belonged to, which was roughly that she was happy as long as she could play with her toys, but if she couldn’t, bad shit happened (which basically serves as a synopsis of every ghost story here). I honestly could have sworn that there was nothing written on that “Play with Me” wall when I was standing in front of it, but I could have just missed it in the poor lighting…

 

The smaller upstairs rooms were definitely my favourite part, since they felt a bit like walking through a haunted house (though we had been assured beforehand that nothing jumps out at you, maybe because Marcus looked a bit nervous – he HATES haunted houses), but most of the objects were concentrated in the auditorium area, which had little exhibition spaces coming off either side of the staircase leading into it. I liked the collection of Ouija boards along with the descriptions of the “spirits” that had been contacted with them – my favourite was the story about how a bunch of kids were playing around with a board and getting a kick out of spelling words like “poop” and “fart” (totally something I would have done) until things took a more sinister turn.

 

There were also a lot of film props in here, and I could have done without those, to be honest. Not that any of it was real, but something about them seemed to detract from the alleged realness of the “haunted” objects, which were much eerier, mainly because so bloody many of them were dolls! I guess the real message of the museum is don’t have dolls in your house if you don’t want paranormal activity to happen.

 

Being from Cleveland, the most interesting item to me was the “dybbuk box” from Franklin Castle, otherwise known as the most haunted building in Ohio (they refer to it as Franklin House in the museum, but everyone in Cleveland calls it Franklin Castle). Dybbuk box was a term that popped up a lot here, and it apparently originally comes from a box auctioned on eBay in 2009 by a writer who had cleverly crafted a story about the ghost that haunted it to go along with it (which is a brilliant idea – I’d love to do something similar!), but The Haunted Museum appeared to use it as a general term for any box meant to contain some sort of evil spirit. I talked a little bit about Franklin Castle in an October post last year, along with a photo, so I’ll link you to that if you want to see it, but long story short, it was a house built by a German immigrant who had various family members die young in unpleasant ways, and it was said to be haunted by subsequent owners. There are rumours that the guy who built it was involved in more sinister goings-on, like murders, which is why the house is supposedly haunted, but I don’t think there’s any actual proof of that. Anyway, it was neat to see something from Cleveland in a random museum in Nottingham!

 

The museum has been used to film several of those lame ghost hunter type reality shows (in fact, I think the owners appear in one of those shows) that I hate watching because they’re so phony and badly acted, and these were playing on a screen in the back of the auditorium. The museum also hosts ghost hunting evenings of its own, although I assume any ghosts are attached to the objects themselves rather than the actual building (again, I don’t think ghosts are real (though I would describe myself as more of an agnostic where ghosts are concerned, but an atheist where religion is concerned), I’m just going along with the vibe of the museum here with my ghosty musings), since it was what would otherwise have been a rather nondescript building in a random shopping parade just outside of Nottingham if it hadn’t been tarted up to look a bit gothy on the exterior (I read it was originally a cinema, but I don’t think it was a haunted cinema).

 

After experiencing everything the museum had to offer, I genuinely have to say that the scariest aspect of the visit for me was actually these creepy-ass bollards around the corner from the museum, on a random residential street, pictured above right. Seriously, this is what nightmares are made of. They were so unsettling, especially because they weren’t supposed to be. I think the museum could take a lesson from that – the scariest things are often organic, and not trying too hard, like this museum was. I do love a bit of cheese, and I did genuinely enjoy the upstairs rooms with their haunted house-esque atmosphere, since they were just good fun. But the auditorium part seemed to be taking itself a bit too seriously, and I did have a bit of an issue with the death mask of Joseph Merrick exhibited here – I’m super interested in Joseph Merrick, but I think displaying something relating to him in this context, with a bunch of “haunted” or otherwise creepy items, seemed to imply that he was something to fear, instead of just being a man suffering from an awful genetic condition outside his control. I also definitely wasn’t impressed by the lack of face coverings amongst staff; at least make an effort when visitors are in the building! Although I did enjoy my experience overall, and was really happy I got to do something at least a little bit spooky this year, since most Halloween events were cancelled, I think I have to downgrade it because of some of the issues, so I’ll give it 3/5. Happy Halloween – hope you can all still find a way to enjoy the best holiday of the year! I’ll be spending it inside watching Hocus Pocus surrounded by the warm glow of multiple jack o’lanterns, undoubtedly with some kind of Halloween themed cake, which isn’t any different from what I do every year!