London: Fatberg + Votes for Women @ the Museum of London

During the week of the so-called “beast from the east” (I know other places in the UK had actual dangerous levels of snow, but we only got what I would consider a dusting in London, and everyone was still treating it like such a big deal), instead of only working three days a week, per usual, and having some time off to enjoy the rare snow sighting (there wasn’t really enough to make a snowman or anything, but all I mean by enjoy the snow is that I would have cozily wrapped myself up in blankets in my flat and drank hot chocolate), I had to actually work a full week, which included a training course at the Museum of London. While I didn’t really want to have to bundle up and fight my way across the city (in a place where “leaves on the track” are enough to shut the trains down, you can probably guess how well they cope with snow), on the plus side, I was excited to go check out the infamous fatberg.

   

I was originally supposed to have an hour break for lunch, but in light of the snow we all agreed to only take half an hour so we could leave earlier, which meant my time looking around the museum was going to be somewhat rushed. Fortunately, the fatberg takes pride of place right by the museum’s entrance. For those who may not know (probably most people outside of London), the fatberg was a huge disgusting sewer blockage discovered in Whitechapel last September, which was ultimately found to weigh 130 tonnes, and was over 250 metres long (still haven’t completely wrapped my head around the metric system, but I get that that’s big). So naturally, the Museum of London was keen to get their hands on a chunk (who wouldn’t be?) and following a rather delightful social media campaign that was an homage to The Blob, it is now on display.
  
The exhibit contained some information about the fatberg, its removal, and what we can do to prevent future fatbergs (basically, don’t flush things down the toilet other than toilet paper and actual bodily waste), but of course the highlight was the fatberg itself, which they keep segregated in its own dark mysterious room bedecked with warning signs like “enter if you dare!” Given all the hype, the fatberg is admittedly underwhelming, but still pretty gross, and if you take all the fatberg promotion in the roadside attraction spirit in which it was probably intended, then the underwhelmingness is in keeping with that (and it’s nice to see a museum that doesn’t take itself too seriously!). They actually have two small lumps: one that has started to break apart, and another that is still largely intact (rumour has it that sometimes flies and maggots emerge from it, though there were none in evidence at the time of my visit). I’m not sure what else I can really say about it – it is just a big fatty lump with some wrappers sticking up out of it, and I think this exhibit could have really been enhanced with some authentic smells; obviously it would be a public health hazard if they let people smell the actual fatberg, but I’m sure they could have piped in some imitation rotting meat combined with stinky toilet smells (paraphrasing from a man quoted in the exhibit who had to remove the damn thing).
  
I also had time to pop down and see some of the suffragette stuff they’ve got on display to commemorate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, and though this too was smaller than I was hoping, they did have a few interesting pieces. I liked seeing the grille Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves to in the Ladies’ Gallery of the House of Commons (both to draw attention to the issue of female suffrage, and to remove the grille itself, which blocked women’s view of Parliamentary proceedings), as well as the body belt they used to do it. I also loved Kitty Marshall’s silver necklace which commemorated her three terms of imprisonment (she was initially imprisoned for throwing a potato at Churchill, which I think is amazing. Potatoes are a hilarious thing to throw at someone, plus Churchill needed to be taken down a peg or two).
  
The pendant given to Louise Eates of the Kensington branch of the WSPU was really interesting too, as was Emmeline Pankhurst’s hunger strike medal, and the letters from Winefride Rix to her daughter written whilst she was in prison were quite sad. I especially liked that the caption mentioned how Winefride did not go on hunger strike with the other suffragettes, and her husband even sent her a box of apples whilst she was in prison. I can appreciate this, because I think it makes Winefride very relatable.  Sure, I can say I would have been right up there with the suffragettes, but in reality, I don’t think I’m brave enough to endure force-feeding. I’d like to think I would at least have participated in marches and things that I could have been arrested for; but to go on a hunger strike on top of it?! I think I would have chickened out big time once they brought out the tubes. So I liked that this exhibition showed that there were a range of women out there fighting the good fight to the best of their abilities, and not just the diehards, commendably brave though they were, which I think is an important lesson, because it shows that everyone can contribute to social change in some small way, and not just those at the more extreme ends of the spectrum.
  

I also of course had a wander through the shop (since I love to torture myself by looking at all the amazing stuff museum shops can buy when they have a decent budget and the visitor numbers to back it up), and they had a lot of great suffragette stuff (sadly no sash, but I was tempted by the “Votes for Women” umbrella) and even better fatberg souvenirs, so I succumbed and bought a badge and a totebag (and a t-shirt for Marcus) reading “Don’t Feed the Fatberg” which I suppose is an environmental message, but thanks to the campiness of the design, feels more like merchandise for a B-movie, which is honestly why I was drawn to it in the first place. I don’t know if I can rate these exhibitions because they’re both very small, but they are free (as is the rest of the Museum of London), and though the fatberg is not all that impressive, I’m still glad I saw it. Not as glad as I would have been to have the day off, but it was better than actually being at work.

9 comments

  1. Wow, I’d heard about the Fatberg but didn’t realize it was enjoying its own exhibit (or, at least, that chunks of it are.) That T-Shirt and tote are really fun – I couldn’t have resisted either.
    And it’s really great to see the suffragette items! If it weren’t for you, I don’t know when I’d get a look at these things. I particularly love the contrast between the lacy grille and the heavy-duty belt they used. Made my heart swell for them. And I’m with you on the hunger strike thing. I’d definitely have marched and chained myself to anything – and even considered throwing a potato – but I think I’d wimp out at hunger striking. Unless I was in with a chunk of the Fatberg. The photos, and very idea of that thing, put me right off my sunflower seeds.

    1. Ha! Fatberg would definitely put me off my food, although I imagine prison food is already pretty unappetising without Fatberg there, so I can see why you’d have apples shipped in! It’s not so much the not eating that would get me as the prospect of being force-fed. I’m sure I could go without food for a few days, but any threat of that horrible force-feeding device, and I’d be pouring that prison gruel down my throat right quick before they could resort to it. I sense there will be lots more suffragette stuff to come this year, so I’m glad you’re enjoying it – I actually just wrote a post about another exhibit I saw recently, and even at the tiny museum where I work, we did a very small panel display, and I got to write one of the panels (it’s not really that big a deal, but it was exciting for me)! And I think potatoes are just a funny thing to throw. I actually used to be fairly obsessed with the idea of throwing them, and even hatched a plot to throw one at this kid I didn’t like in high school (which is funny, because we’re friends now) that never came to fruition.

      1. That’s wonderful – congrats on your panel! And I’m looking forward to more suffragette action this year.
        It’s nice that your would-be potato victim is now a friend, but I’d definitely love to hear if you come across someone worthy in the future.

  2. I would have been much more interested in one of those exhibitions than the other! I’ll leave you to guess which ….

    I’ve read too many graphic descriptions of force feeding: I don’t think I could endure it.

    1. Hmmm, I wonder! The force-feeding is what put me off watching Suffragette (the film). I’ve read enough about it to know that I don’t even want to watch it happening, let alone have it done to me. I had to have a layrngoscopy (the kind that goes up your nose and down your throat) done once and that was bad enough!

      1. Actually, the film is very good about that, the way it’s filmed. You sort of see it, but blurred and fast. Same with the violent bits.

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