London: Bat Skeleton Mounting Workshop @ Kensal Green Cemetery

I promised you something more Halloweeny this week, so how about a bat skeleton mounting workshop inside a cemetery? Way back in August (you have to be on the ball with these events), I booked places for Marcus and myself at a workshop taking place in early October at Kensal Green’s Dissenters’ Chapel as part of London Month of the Dead for the incredibly extravagant price of £50 each. What can I say – I felt like a splurge and it’s not as though I’ve exactly been to loads of events in the recent past. And surely two bat skeletons are better than one? The only thing that gave me pause (other than the price) was the fact that there was a butterfly mounting workshop taking place before the bat workshop, and as regular readers will probably know, I am absolutely terrified of butterflies. I realise it’s an incredibly stupid phobia to have, but phobias aren’t exactly rational. And because it’s specifically the wings that freak me out, dead ones are frankly just as bad as live ones (maybe worse, because a live one will eventually leave). However, I reasoned that the butterfly workshop was meant to end well before ours started, so all the nasty butterfly parts would be cleaned up by the time we arrived and I wouldn’t need to worry about it.

Unfortunately, like at almost all London Month of the Dead events, my hopes were swiftly to be dashed. When we got there, we couldn’t go into the chapel because it was still full of people working on dead butterflies. I could see the disgusting things still pinned to the tables, so I moved so they were out of my eyesight and waited for everyone to finish, desperately hoping that someone would thoroughly clean everything between sessions (especially because of Covid, but especially especially because of butterfly guts). However, when they finally finished and we were allowed in the room, nothing had been cleaned, there was still one clearly damaged butterfly sitting out on a table, and the woman leading the workshop asked us to sit at the table right next to it, which was still covered in disturbing looking smears that I’m sure were butterfly-related (you can see some of them in the above photo), so I tried not to touch anything for fear an errant scale or antenna would stick to my hand. She then launched into a thirty minute lecture on bats that I was absolutely unable to concentrate on because I spent the whole time staring at the butterfly on the next table. A piece of its wing had fallen off, and the breeze was kicking up outside the chapel’s open door, so I was convinced the wing was going to blow across the room into my face and the thought made me want to vomit. I wasn’t totally wrong, as the wing did blow off, but it landed on the floor near Marcus instead of blowing into my face. As I watched the remaining butterfly bits on the table continue to violently flap in the wind, I finally broke down, accepted I was going to look like a crazy person, and briefly explained my phobia and asked the woman running the workshop if she could please move the butterfly corpse to the other side of the room. She complied and I breathed what turned out to be a very short-lived sigh of relief, because, after she passed out the bat skeletons (they were from painted bats, which, ironically, are sometimes called butterfly bats, but they look nothing like butterflies. They’re actually cute), she announced that there were extra butterflies and we were welcome to use them to create a diorama with our skeletons. In fairness to her, she did ask people not to work near me if they wanted to use them, but that meant the woman at our table who wanted to use one moved right behind me to the same spot where the other butterfly had been, and she just put the butterfly down loose on the table (after touching it with her bare hand – barf) whilst she started working on her bat, with the windy storm still brewing outside. I genuinely had a bit of a freak out where I jumped up, backed away from it, and started jabbering on about how it was going to blow into my face if she left it there. Despite her attempts to reassure me that it wouldn’t, I refused to sit back down until she hid it under a box. Basically, I was THAT person, you know, the sort of person I would normally be complaining about, and there’s probably someone else with a blog out there talking about the insane woman in their bat skeleton workshop, i.e. me.

Even without taking the butterfly incident(s) into account, I have to say I was disappointed in the workshop. To me, “workshop” implies that some instruction will be provided, but the “instructor” handed us an intact bat skeleton, a piece of card, a shadow box, and some super glue, told us to glue the skeletons down to the card and stick them in the box, and then left us to it. Going into it, I had imagined that the skeleton would be individual bones that we were stringing back together rather than simply gluing down an intact skeleton, so this was definitely a bummer. She said that we could pull the wings out if we wanted to (because the skeletons were all folded up with their wings crossed across their little chests and it would have looked like crap if we’d mounted them like that, not to mention that it would have only taken about two seconds rather than the two hours allotted for the workshop), but she had never done it before so didn’t really know the best way to go about it, despite apparently selling mounted bat skeletons on Etsy for years, which was super helpful. Then, after we muddled along as best we could which involved breaking the wings into pieces to get them to open and messily supergluing everything back together, she came over and said “oh, it’s too late now, but you really shouldn’t use that much glue because it will show. You should glue the bones to each other instead of to the card. But it’s too late now.” Awesome, thanks! She had spent quite a lot more time with the other table (probably because I seemed dangerously unstable after the butterfly freak out) which meant that she hadn’t really seen what we were doing until it was done. I do like my bat, but one of the bones is in the wrong place, which I didn’t realise until after I mounted it (I know it looks obvious in the picture, but at the time I kept saying, “I think I’m missing a bone,” and no one thought to point out that it had broken off and was attached to the wrong wing until after I put it in the frame, not that I’m annoyed or anything), and there is totally glue everywhere, because my solution to the pieces not sticking down to the card was to smother everything in even more glue. Since no useful guidance was provided, I could have bought the materials for half of what we paid, and done it at home just as badly, except for the potential difficulties of sourcing my own bat skeleton. It is illegal to kill a bat in the UK (which I would never do anyway. I love bats!), or even to preserve a dead wild bat (which I would consider, especially because I found a poor dead little bat on the way to work the other day, and it would have been very easy to take him home and harvest his skeleton, but I didn’t). We were told the skeletons were ethically sourced when we signed up, otherwise I wouldn’t have signed up at all, and she told us in the workshop that she’d gotten them from a source in Asia about ten years ago, but didn’t specify how they’d died. So now I have a nasty suspicion that they were killed for their skeletons, which makes me really uncomfortable with the whole thing. I will keep my bat as it’s already long dead and it would be even worse to throw it out at this point, but I feel a bit gross about having it now. Overall, this was another disappointing event from London Month of the Dead – the magic lantern show is the only event I’ve really enjoyed in all the years I’ve attended, and the guy who ran that is dead now, so that’s off the table – I would stop going but there’s really no one else doing adult-specific Halloween events of a gothy, non-clubbing nature, so I keep trying in hopes I find another good one. In case this wasn’t obvious from the 1400+ preceding words, this was not it.

8 comments

  1. What a terribly expensive disappointment! You’re the third person I’ve known to have a butterfly phobia, so it must not be all that uncommon.

    1. I don’t think it is. Another woman at my table claimed she was glad I spoke up because she was afraid of butterflies too, but obviously not as afraid as I am or she wouldn’t have been able to sit there so calmly!

  2. Good grief, how awful! I’m really sorry for the butterfly fiasco and that it wasn’t the restful, enjoyable workshop it should’ve been.
    Yeah, from the initial description, I would have thought there’d be more you were to do with the skeletons – like putting together a puzzle. Pretty crummy. Boo London Month of the Dead. I think you ought to be hired to create the events – you’d be a dynamo.

    1. It was crummy, but that’s the way the bat skeleton crumbles I guess. Having been on the periphery of event planning in various jobs over the years, and sometimes having to take an active role in the actual planning, I don’t know if I would want the responsibility of planning the whole schedule. It’s a lot of work and stress! I think I’d be better off throwing a few ideas out there and maybe running an event or two myself, rather than having to do all the boring organisational crap!

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