London

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.

 

 

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.

 

London: Kensal Green Cemetery

Visiting Kensal Green means that I have finally seen all of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries! I’d of course been meaning to visit for a while, pre-pandemic, but it’s a long, convoluted route there on public transport from where I live, so it was actually much quicker and easier (not to mention safer), for Marcus and me to drive there whilst we had a hire car.

 

Kensal Green is London’s largest cemetery, which I was not at all surprised to learn after visiting, because it seems to go on for miles! It was built in 1833 as a sort of English equivalent to Pere Lachaise, and is the oldest of the Magnificent Seven. As you might expect from a cemetery with over 250,000 burials, there are also a lot of famous people buried here, from Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Lady Jane Franklin, Thackeray to Trollope, and hundreds of other names of varying degrees of (mostly Victorian) fame. However, because there is no cemetery map pointing out where these graves are, the only way you’re likely to find any of them is by stumbling on them accidentally.

 

I can’t understand why their Friends haven’t noticed this glaring oversight and produced a map to sell. A digital download would be great, and low effort for them once they’ve produced it, but even a stand holding photocopies with an honesty box attached to it within the cemetery would do the job, because surely some income is better than none (assuming some people would just grab a map without paying, because people suck), but they haven’t, so you’re on your own. We did look up some of the graves we were keen on seeing on Find a Grave, but there were no directions there either, so although we knew what the graves should look like, in a cemetery with a quarter of a million burials, finding them was still highly unlikely.

 

We did manage to stumble upon the Brunel grave somehow, which was surprisingly plain. Given my interest in polar exploration, I was also keen to find Lady Jane Franklin’s (even though she sucked as a person. She tried to discredit John Rae because she couldn’t handle the truth about her husband’s fate, and was pretty damn racist) but as it was apparently just a nondescript cross like the thousands of others in the cemetery, we struck out.

  

However, I serendipitously found George Cruikshank by the side of one of the paths we walked down, which I was thrilled about, since I adore his George IV cartoons. His body was actually moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1878, but his headstone was left behind. We also encountered various obscure Dickens relations, but I’m not the biggest Dahl’s Chickens fan, and am really clueless about his extended family.

 

Kensal Green is home to four chapels, two of which we didn’t really look at as they’re located in the crematorium (where Freddie Mercury et al were cremated, but not buried). Of the two in the cemetery proper, the massive Anglican Chapel had fencing set up all around it, so we couldn’t get very close, though we did investigate the exterior of the much smaller Noncomformist Chapel.

 

Kensal Green suffers from the same neglect as the other Magnificent Seven – it is more open than some, and not quite as overgrown as places like Abney Park, where you can’t even access half the graves, but it is still very obviously in decline, despite being a working cemetery.  I would also say that because of its size, its location, and the lack of visitors/staff, other than a few workmen we encountered, it does feel a bit unsafe in places. I would be hesitant to venture to the farthest reaches by myself, because there would be absolutely no one there to help you if a mugger or rapist jumped out. I hope I’m wrong about that, and I was just being paranoid, but I genuinely did feel a bit uneasy when I wandered off on my own.

 

Despite this uneasy feeling, or maybe because of it, something about the sheer scale of it also made it feel a bit magical in places. For example, I stumbled across a beautiful tree-lined path at one point in our visit, and when I wanted to return to walk down it, I couldn’t manage to find it again. There’s lots of twists and turns and an abundance of horse chestnut trees. There is also a giant, somewhat mysterious structure that looks like a garden surrounded by columns. I didn’t try to go inside, because I didn’t realise that you could, but I happened to read Peter Ross’s excellent A Tomb with a View shortly after visiting (recommended by the always informative Kev), and learned it was a garden memorial built by a grieving father to honour his deceased son, and there is a statue of the son inside. People are welcome to enter and sit in contemplation. I honestly hadn’t realised it was a privately built memorial because it was so huge – I just thought it was part of the cemetery complex, like the chapels, but knowing this makes it much more poignant.

 

I would absolutely recommend visiting, because it is a fabulous crumbling old Grand Dame of a cemetery, but maybe bring a friend and don’t come too close to dusk. Our visit was actually on an unseasonably hot September day, but I would have definitely enjoyed it more with an autumnal chill in the air. I think Brompton Cemetery is still my favourite of the Magnificent Seven, but Kensal Green is probably third on that list, behind Highgate.

 

I’ve realised that although I have visited all of the seven, I have only actually blogged about three of them: Abney Park, Brompton, and now Kensal Green (which I guess gives me something to do if we go back into lockdown again). I’m saving my spookiest October post for next week, so hope you’re ready! By the way, this is the first post that WordPress has forced me to write in the new Block Editor, at least until I figured out you could select Classic Editor from the drop down menu when you start a new post (I didn’t discover that until after writing most of this post though!). Does anyone hate it as much as I do? There’s not even a word count on the bottom (is there a word count at all? I haven’t found it yet!), which I usually rely on to know when to shut up.

 

Deepdene, Nonsuch, and Cissbury Ring: A Medley of Walks

Since we’ve had use of a car on various occasions over the past month, we’ve used it as an opportunity to explore some of the countryside within an easy drive from SW London. Back in mid-August, I had taken a day off work (I’ve actually been off for a lot of August and September, since I was saving up all my annual leave in the hope things would improve enough that we’d be able to travel safely at some point in the summer, and when that didn’t happen, I found myself with an awful lot of “staycation” time to use before October), and had made up my mind the night before to go check out Deepdene Trail, near Dorking, without bothering to consult the weather, which is always a mistake. Sure enough, the day dawned exceptionally cold and rainy, but I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to go somewhere, so I grabbed my big parrot-handled umbrella (purchased at the Mary Poppins musical last year), Marcus took a waterproof jacket, and off we went.

 

When we left our house, it was only drizzling, but by the time we got to Dorking, it was absolutely pissing it down! And the only parking we could find was in the middle of town, about a mile away from the start of the trail, so I was already pretty cold and unhappy by the time we got to it (we subsequently discovered numerous places we could have parked that would have been a lot closer, so don’t be like us). Deepdene was at one time a grand estate owned by the Hope family (of cursed diamond fame), containing a manor house, a variety of follies, and other delights, but all that survives today are the gardens, the family mausoleum, and a few other random bits and bobs that I’ll get to in a minute. We first headed for the mausoleum, and I was not pleased when we followed the signs to the top of a hill only to be led straight down again when we reached the top. Due to the relentless rain, the hill was very muddy and slippery, so I had to take teeny tiny steps so I didn’t fall on my ass and ruin my giant purposely ripped goth sweater (I actually bought two of the stupid things in different colours because they’re really comfy).

 

Unfortunately, the mausoleum was more than a little underwhelming – I just didn’t find it all that aesthetically pleasing, and given the awful weather, I didn’t think it was worth the effort it took to get there. But I still really wanted to see Coady the lion, who is a replica of one of the two lion statues that used to sit in the gardens, mainly because they’d bothered to give him a cute name (he was made of Coade stone, so kind of a pun), so we then had to walk back in the opposite direction (back up mud hill again) to find the gardens, which were at the bottom of the most uncomfortable set of stairs I’ve ever walked down. For real, they were made up of pointy stones of all different shapes and sizes that literally hurt to walk on, even though I was wearing sneakers. Marcus was a fair way behind me, so I don’t think he heard the full extent of my complaining, but I was bitching to myself the entire way down. And they were slippery because of the rain, so trying not to slip whilst still walking quickly enough to minimise the pain stressed me out even more.

 

But Coady was pretty delightful, albeit a lot smaller than I was expecting. I was picturing a full-on Trafalgar Square sized lion, and got one only about two feet long! Fortunately, the gardens were also home to the cute tower you can see me standing on at the start of the post, and a crumbling, graffiti-covered folly of some sort where we hid out from the rain for a bit, since the sound of the drops pattering on my brolly was starting to give me a headache. Unfortunately, the gardens now look out on some kind of unattractive yard full of building materials surrounded by fencing, and we ran into a couple of dead ends before we found the way out (since I was NOT walking up those stairs again).

 

You will notice that I look wet and miserable in every photo, which pretty much sums up the experience of the walk. Neither one of us could wait to get home and change into dry clothes, but we did stop at the M&S in Dorking to grab some crisps, since I was starving and didn’t want to get carsick on the way back, as I’m wont to do on an empty stomach, and I was really not impressed to see that not a single member of staff was wearing a mask. Dorking’s a cute town otherwise, though there isn’t much to do unless you’re into antiquing, and I was perfectly happy to be on my way. As you can see, Deepdene Trail is not without attractive features, and I think it would be a perfectly fine walk in nice weather, but definitely don’t try it in the rain like we did!

 

We had slightly better weather for Nonsuch Park, which is located in Ewell/Cheam. Those are not places I would normally visit (no offence if you live there, but they’re not exactly tourist attractions), but I’ve always been intrigued by Nonsuch Palace (pronounced none-such, despite the spelling), which originally stood here, and was built by Henry VIII to be the best palace ever. After Henry died, it went through various owners before eventually passing to Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II, who had the place demolished, but honestly, it was probably falling apart before then, since I remember reading somewhere that most of Henry VIII’s palaces were crappily built. He tended to want things built quickly that looked impressive, but they ended up having shoddy workmanship. The only reason Hampton Court is still standing is because it was built by Cardinal Wolsey, who did value quality over quantity! Poor construction aside, I bet the palace did look amazing, and I would have loved to have seen it, but all that’s here now is a park and a Georgian manor house that they rent out for weddings and such, though I don’t think you can go inside unless you’re attending an event.

 

Most of the park is just grassy fields – to be honest, I think Richmond Park is nicer – but there were formal gardens near the manor house that contained some nice topiary and trellises and things, and I was relieved to not have to keep my distance from scary deer for a change. Most importantly, I found the memorial bench shown above left, which I thought was adorable and funny and certainly a cut above the normal boring “in memory of” or “he loved this park” benches. We walked around for about an hour and then the wind started to pick up and the rain clouds were a comin’, so we headed back home to avoid a repeat of Deepdene, especially as I was wearing my I Love Lucy replica dress that would have become real see-through real quick if it got wet (Lucy definitely wore petticoats and a slip with it, but I wasn’t!). I’m glad we checked it out, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way for it again.

 

Finally, I wanted to go to the seaside at some point on a day when the weather was nice, and since I knew I would be eating ice cream (my main reason for visiting the seaside), I thought we should probably go on a walk first, so we decided on Cissbury Ring, which is managed by the National Trust and is located not far from Worthing, in West Sussex. The carpark is free, which is unusual for a National Trust property, but I guess you get what you pay for, because there were no maps or signage of any kind, and we were just left to make our way up the hill, assuming that was the right direction to go for a hill fort. But we definitely took a wrong turn somewhere, because we found ourselves hiking up a really steep bit through a poo-filled pasture, though we made it in the end. Maybe this is my own ignorance of neolithic sites coming through, but when I heard “hill fort” I was picturing ruins of some sort. Nope, it is literally just the top of a big ass hill that you walk around. Apparently there used to be flint mines here, but you wouldn’t really know it to look at the nothing that is here today.

 

Well, I shouldn’t say nothing, because they had wild ponies! For some reason, these didn’t intimidate me as much as farm horses do, I guess because they were intent on eating and paid me no attention whatsoever, but I did feel bad for them because all their heads were being completely attacked by flies. If you watch TV in Britain, you’ve probably seen that Lloyds advert where all the horses go running up to the people on a beach, and they get to shower them with sugar lumps, etc. Well, I bank with Lloyds, and I’m still waiting for my free horse to show up, who I will name Bill Withers (because horses have withers…it’s a pun!). So I thought maybe this was my moment at last, and Bill Withers was in that field waiting for me, and he’d run up to me and we’d be together forever and I could ride him to work and have him kick people who pissed me off. In case he needed help finding me, I started walking past the horses calling, “Bill Withers, Bill Withers,” but didn’t get a response. I guess he might still be out there somewhere (because a Lloyds advert wouldn’t just lie to me, would it?), but sadly, he wasn’t at Cissbury Ring. So I cheered myself up by singing “My Lovely Horse” instead. I’m sure the other people there thought I was strange, but they shouldn’t have really been standing close enough to hear me anyway, frankly.

 

We headed to Worthing after, which was fortunately nothing like the horrible extremely non-socially distanced pictures I’ve seen of Bournemouth, where people were packed so close together on the beach they could barely move. It wasn’t really that warm, and it was a weekday, so we had a large stretch of coast to ourselves where I could dip my toes in (only a bit though, the water was cold!). Sadly, despite what the internet said, the Worthing branch of Boho Gelato didn’t open until 4, so we ended up having to drive all the way to Brighton so I could get my fix (which is farther than you’d think because traffic) from the main branch of Boho Gelato (the one in Worthing only has half the amount of flavours anyway, so I can’t say I regret going to Brighton in the end, even though finding parking was a nightmare, and I had to queue for half an hour to get my gelato). I can’t see any reason why I would ever go back to Cissbury Ring, since I am totally not a fan of walking up hills (or walking down them for that matter. It hurts my knees), and it didn’t even have a Coady the lion to keep me entertained, but at least I saw it once!

Too Many Cherries!

Enough with the throwback posts for now – here’s what I’ve been doing recently, and it mainly involves dealing with too many damn cherries. I know things are opening back up, but I haven’t been on public transport since March, and I’m still not super comfortable with the idea, which means museums are out of the question for the time being, since the only one I can walk to is the one I work at, and we’re fortunately not opening for at least another month or two. But Marcus and I did have a commitment in the form of the cherry tree we rent in Sussex that needed to be picked, since ripe cherries wait for no one. Since it was an outdoor activity (obviously), and the orchard said they would enforce social distancing, it seemed like a safe enough outing, so we rented a car last week to make this happen.

We rented a tree in the same orchard last year, and it was such a miserable experience that I told Marcus to never rent one again. It decided to absolutely piss it down the whole time we were picking (and of course the rain stopped as soon as we stopped), so we got drenched and covered in mud, and since we were planning on spending the rest of the day in Brighton and I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, I had to walk around wet and cold for the rest of the day (and with a swollen face, because we visited Marcus’s sister right after we finished picking and I was so allergic to her cat that half my face swelled up).  As if that wasn’t bad enough, we then had to spend days pitting all the bloody cherries, because the problem with renting a tree vs. pick your own is that you can’t just pick what you want, you have to pick the entire damn tree whether you like it or not (and because cherry trees are at risk from an invasive fruit fly that breeds in the cherries themselves, you also have to pick up all the horrible mashed rotting cherries from the ground with your bare hands, which is no picnic). But Marcus clearly didn’t listen to me, and went ahead and rented one anyway, so here we are. This time I was smart and packed a raincoat and a change of clothes because I knew if I was prepared, it wouldn’t rain. I was not wrong.

When we arrived at the orchard, the woman working there greeted us with a cheery, “your tree under-performed this year, so we’ve given you two trees to pick!” as though it would be a treat for me to have to pick a second bloody tree. I was not happy. But we didn’t really have a choice (well, I wanted to go back and tell them we didn’t need the second tree, but Marcus was gung-ho), so we got picking. Normally, if I have to do manual labour with other people, I kind of fart around and do as little work as possible until I’m allowed to leave, but in situations where the work’s not going to get done unless I do it, you better believe I am a fast worker (when I used to work in a brewery, I would occasionally get told I could leave early once I finished a certain amount of work, and I usually finished so much earlier than they thought I would that my boss would attempt to renege on the deal. I hated that place). So I was probably a bit rougher on the trees than I should have been in my haste, but we easily picked the first tree in half an hour and moved on to the second one, which was right next to an older couple picking, despite the promise of social distancing (we were outside, and we were still two metres apart when picking at opposite sides of our respective trees, but I would have been more comfortable with more space). We had picked the other tree first in hopes they would have finished by the time we moved on, but they were clearly taking their time, so we just masked up and got on with it (this did allow me to eavesdrop, and I overheard the woman saying that the cherries keep for three weeks in her pantry, since she doesn’t have a fridge. Who has a pantry but no fridge?! You must be fairly wealthy to have a house big enough to have a pantry (I certainly don’t have a pantry), so why would you not have a fridge too? So bizarre). Unfortunately, this tree had WAY more cherries on it than the first one, and even though about a third of them were rotten (which makes me suspect the real reason we were given it to pick was because the renters didn’t turn up this year), we still had to pick every bloody one, which took about an hour and a half. I suppose at least it didn’t rain this year, but it was too sunny, so even though I slathered on the sunscreen, I was still paranoid that I could feel my skin crisping (as it turns out, I didn’t even slightly tan, because I am really keen on sunscreen. I like to maintain my pasty glow). Towards the end, I felt something drop onto my neck and then down my arm, which I initially thought was just a leaf from the tree until I looked down and discovered it was a daddy longlegs (what British people call harvestmen), which really really freak me out, so it was lucky we were pretty much finished, because that was it for me. I will never be a fan of nature.

Having made it through that ordeal, we then had the fun of processing what was at least 15 kilos of cherries. Last year, I was at least able to pawn some off on people at work, but since I’m working from home at the moment, I couldn’t even do that (I did give some to my friend when I met her to play tennis, but she only wanted a small bag. We offered some to our neighbour, who said he would check with his partner and get back to us, and then never got back to us. Why don’t people want free cherries? They’re delicious in reasonable quantities! I did check to see if we could donate them, but our local food bank doesn’t take fresh fruit, which is understandable). We ate some fresh, but obviously you can only eat so many before doing a Zachary Taylor (who died from stomach troubles after eating cherries and milk on a hot July day), so that meant a whole hell of a lot of them had to be pitted, and we were working against the clock, because no matter what pantry lady says, fresh cherries only last for a week tops, and even that’s pushing it. Because I had to work the day after cherry picking (and I’m lazy), Marcus took on the bulk of the pitting operation, and then froze most of them. I still don’t know what we’re going to do with kilos of frozen cherries, but at least once they’re in the freezer I’m not actively stressed about them rotting (though I am stressed about the lack of freezer space for more important things, like ice cream. I guess I could make cherry ice cream, but I prefer unhealthier flavours like cookies’n’cream).

It doesn’t help that although I love fresh cherries (in moderation), I don’t actually like cooked cherries much (I find they stay too firm, and I don’t care for the texture. I hate cherry pie for that reason), so we have gotten creative with some of the fresh cherries (the variety we picked is Regina, which is a sweet, medium firm burgundy-coloured cherry that makes your hands end up looking bloody after you’ve pitted a bunch). We made cherry jam last year, and I might do it again (though we still have a bit of last year’s, since we’re not huge jam eaters. I tend to prefer blueberry or blackberry if I am going to eat it, but my allegiances primarily lay with peanut butter and lemon curd (though not together, blech)), but for now I just made a small amount of compote that I used in cherry crumble bars (though I should have pureed it, because it still has a bit too much texture for my liking, even though I mashed the cherries. I am very weird about textures).

As mentioned above, I LOVE lemon curd, so Marcus made some cherry curd, which weirdly tastes more like key lime pie filling than cherries, though that isn’t really a problem since I also love key lime pie. And I made some cherry syrup, which we mix with fizzy water to make a very delicious cherry soda. Marcus is also soaking some in gin, but I’m not much of a drinker, so I’m not super keen on that (or any of the other things to do with cherries that involve alcohol). Last year, I just ended up throwing most of them into smoothies (if you mix them with chocolate protein powder and milk, they make a fairly tasty chocolate covered cherry flavoured smoothie. You can toss spinach in to up the nutritional value if you don’t mind it turning a disgusting colour (you can’t taste it, it just looks gross)). Despite all this, we still have far too many cherries, and I’ll probably be trying to use them up until next cherry harvest, since no doubt Marcus will book the tree again regardless of what I say about it!