UK

London: Putney Vale Cemetery

With nearly two weeks off just before Easter, but nowhere to go since even outdoor attractions and non-essential shops aren’t reopening til mid-April, let alone museums (those aren’t opening until May), I was scrambling to find something to do with my leave other than my usual reading and watching TV, particularly as the weather was so nice for a couple of days. Fortunately, I happened to see a post on the fascinating Flickering Lamps blog on Putney Vale Cemetery, near the edge of Wimbledon Common, which I had somehow never heard of even though I lived in Wimbledon for over a decade and love visiting cemeteries. Putney Vale is about a three mile walk away from my house, and a return trip on foot would admittedly be pushing the upper limits of how far I am willing to walk in a day, especially since Marcus and I had walked to Bushy Park the day before and my feet still hurt from that, but because there was nowhere else to go locally that I hadn’t already been a thousand times before, I decided to just suck it up and go for it (Marcus is always game for a walk since he’s not a hater of the outdoors like me).

Putney Vale Cemetery really attracted my attention because of how many famous people are buried there, especially since it’s not even one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries where most of the famous Londoners seem to end up. And, unlike most of the Magnificent Seven, Putney Vale have put together an extremely helpful map marking out the most notable graves that I downloaded on my phone before we left to aid in navigation. And by the time we got there, I was certainly glad I did, because I didn’t want to have to walk one unnecessary step! It is admittedly a nice walk from where we live, as we pretty much went through Richmond Park the entire way (and got to see a road crossing for horses as we crossed over into Putney Vale, which amused me to no end) but I am lazy and prone to wearing uncomfortable shoes so it was still a bit of a trial.

Putney Vale Cemetery is right by a massive Asda that I’ve been to quite a few times over the years (it’s definitely not my supermarket of choice, but I like to look at their Halloween section in October, as they seem to have more than most other supermarkets here), which makes it even weirder I didn’t know it existed, but I guess I’ve only ever travelled to Asda by car or bus, so I’ve never had any reason to explore the area in more depth. One thing to keep in mind is that Putney Vale is still very much an active cemetery and crematorium – there was a funeral taking place there during our visit, so we gave that area of the cemetery a wide berth out of respect. Not that I would do anything inappropriate in a cemetery anyway, but most cemeteries I’ve been to here are so empty that I feel comfortable talking at a normal volume, and this was more of a whispering place, at least when near other visitors. There were also a number of family members visiting and leaving flowers on loved ones’ graves, so it was definitely not as neglected as most of the Magnificent Seven are. However, that said, many of the gravestones were clearly made out of softer rock than one would find ideal as so many of them were completely weathered beyond recognition, despite only being twenty years old in some cases!

Putney Vale is a newer cemetery than most of the others I’ve visited in London – it opened in 1891, and really seems to have expanded in the 1930s after the crematorium opened – but that didn’t stop icons of the Victorian era and early 20th century from being buried here, and those were the graves I was keenest to see. The walk marked out on the map doesn’t start until you pass a long, narrow, obviously much newer section of the cemetery, and enter the gates proper. Because of this, my initial impression was that the cemetery wasn’t all that big, and then we got inside the gates, and I quickly revised my initial estimate of its size. It is plenty big enough to still involve a lot of walking, though it’s certainly no Brookwood!

We skipped the first couple of graves on the map because I’d never heard of the people buried there (and like I said, wanted to avoid any extra walking), and headed straight for J. Bruce Ismay of Titanic fame/infamy. Ismay was the managing director of the White Star Line at the time of the Titanic disaster, and also happened to be on the ship itself, though he managed to escape, which brought horrible criticism from the public, given how many passengers weren’t as lucky (I assume they still would have criticised him if he’d died, he just wouldn’t have known about it). The incident basically destroyed his mental health and he died in 1937 after suffering from depression and ill health for a number of years. However, his grave is one of the most splendid ones in the whole cemetery. It features a large, ship-engraved stone sarcophagus, another stone in front of it with a ship-themed proverb, and then a bench at the back with another verse apparently designed to encourage reflection, though it was a little difficult to read thanks to weathering.

Vesta Tilley was next on the list, which is the stage name of Matilda de Frece (nee Powles), a vaudeville performer who was known for being a male impersonator. She is buried with her husband, and their grave isn’t as elaborate as Ismay’s, but I did like the bits of art deco detailing up the sides.

I’ve read enough about the Russian Revolution to have heard of Alexander Kerensky, so I also checked his out, though I actually spotted what I think was his son’s grave first, realised he wouldn’t have been old enough to have been the Alexander Kerensky I was looking for, carried on searching, and then eventually realised I’d overshot and found the correct Kerensky right next to the younger Kerensky. Anyway, he was president of the short-lived Russian Republic for a couple of months in the period after the February Revolution but before the October one, and ended up having to flee Russia for Paris once the Bolsheviks came to power. He moved to the US when WWII broke out and lived there for the rest of his life, but all the Russian Orthodox churches there refused to bury him because of his role in the Russian Revolution, so they ended up sending his body to London where Putney Vale Cemetery found a place for him.

I’m not at all a sports person, with one exception – I absolutely love World’s Strongest Man. I look forward to it all year, and watch pretty much any kind of strongman competition I can find, including all the qualifying rounds and weird WSM off-shoots. So naturally, my workout room (aka the spare bedroom I keep all my exercise stuff in) is strongman themed, with Victorian strongman wallpaper and a poster of Eugen Sandow, actual Victorian strongman, who is buried in Putney Vale! This was definitely the grave that completely sold me on visiting, if I wasn’t already sold, and it took us a minute to find it, because sadly, it didn’t have a statue of a flexing Sandow on it as I was hoping, but it is actually quite a striking stone, especially compared to the others around it. Apparently, he was originally buried in an unmarked grave by his wife, who was angry that he had cheated on her (fair enough!). He finally received a marker in 2002, after a fellow strongman fan bought him one (though obviously a fan with lots more money than I have), but it was replaced in 2009 by Sandow’s great-grandson, and that is the stone that currently stands here.

I confess I am not at all interested in motor racing (see above comment on my lack of interest in sports), but I do have such a juvenile sense of humour that I had to see the grave of poor unfortunately named Dick Seaman, who died after crashing his car in the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix. Personally, if my last name was Seaman and my first name Richard, I think I’d probably go by Richard or Rich, but at least he must have had a sense of humour, and his grave was still well-tended, with a crop of blooming daffodils.

I also love cooking shows, and though I’m not the biggest fan of the Two Fat Ladies, mainly because their food always looked super meat-heavy and gross, and I didn’t care for Clarissa Dickson Wright’s antipathy towards vegetarians, love of hunting, and seemingly reactionary views, I did want to see the grave of Jennifer Paterson whilst we were here since at least I knew who she was, and she seemed less objectionable than Clarissa, though I could be wrong about that. Her grave is all the way in the back of the cemetery and is rather hard to find, because even though she only died in 1999, the writing on her tombstone is almost completely worn away (though you can just about make out the Paterson in person, so I’m pretty sure it’s the right one). Jennifer Paterson’s grave aside, the back part of the cemetery generally houses the more ornate Victorian style graves with angels and Jesuses (Jesii?) and stuff on them and a few mausoleums, so I would hazard a guess that this is the oldest part.

The final grave I was interested in seeing, and honestly the one I was most interested in, apart from Sandow, was that of Howard Carter, of Tutankhamun fame. I suspect his tombstone was replaced relatively recently, because he died in 1939 and his stone was in much better condition than those of a similar vintage. It proudly proclaimed that he was an Egyptologist, which made me think that I’d like a similarly prominently displayed title on my grave, though obviously not Egyptologist. I’ll have to come up with something appropriately descriptive of my eclectic interests!

There are certainly other famous people buried here (including an actor from Allo Allo but I’ve never watched the show so wasn’t bothered about seeing his grave), including some famous-adjacent people not on the official map, like one of Dahl’s Chickens’ (Charles Dickens’s) sons, and even more famous people have been cremated here, including Clement Attlee, Clementine Churchill, Donald Pleasance, Jon Pertwee and many others, but they don’t have memorials to look at or anything, so you wouldn’t know unless you’d had a look at the online guide. On the whole, I’m glad we did visit, since not only was it something new to see, it gave me something to blog about, plus the weather turned the next day, so at least I was able to feel that I made the most of the brief warm spell. Almost made it worth literally feeling like I was walking on needles the whole long three miles back!

 

 

8 Years of Blogging + A 2011 Coastal Tour of England

Last Saturday marked eight years since I began blogging, so I thought it was probably time for me to emerge from hibernation and do a post again. I wanted to celebrate by doing a throwback post to just before I started blogging in 2013; however, I was so desperate to try to populate my blog with content at the start that I was posting nearly every day and working my way through every museum I had visited even semi-recently. This means I had to go all the way back to 2011 to find a trip that I hadn’t already blogged about, so here we are! Back in April 2011, Marcus and I embarked on a coastal tour of the Isle of Wight and southwest England – I seem to recollect that this was because Will and Kate got married then and everybody got an extra bank holiday, so we decided to spend ours heading to some parts of England I hadn’t yet been to at that point in time. Because it was so long ago and we didn’t take nearly as many photos as we would on a trip now, some of my memories are vague, so I’ve decided to do it more as a pictorial tour with captions rather than my usual lengthy review. Not to worry, as the bad bits are vividly seared into my mind!

We started by driving to Portsmouth to catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight so we’d be able to take our car with us. Based on subsequent experiences with the Isle of Wight, I would say this was definitely the way to do it, as their public transport system is unreliable at best, and downright terrifying at worst (the bus driver on the Osborne House route was a complete maniac).

The first stop of the Isle of Wight was the surprisingly excellent Donald McGill Museum. McGill was an illustrator who created many of the iconic saucy British seaside postcards, which lined the walls of this small museum. I was clearly quite taken with his novelty scales, which showed me to be somewhere between the weight of a sickly old man and a bathing beauty.

Here is me and my terrible hair at the time (reminder to self: this is why you should NOT cut bangs again) at the Garlic Farm, one of the many “must see destinations” on the Isle of Wight (said only semi-sarcastically). This is basically a glorified farm shop selling garlic-related products, and we never even got to try their “world’s best” garlic bread, since it was the take and bake kind and what with being on holiday and all, we didn’t have access to an oven until after it expired. The rhubarb, pear, and garlic ice cream was actually quite alright though.

We stayed in Shanklin, where you can see me doing what is clearly my standard “grimacing whilst holding up food” pose with some seaside treats (Mr. Whippy and a “green” flavoured slushy). This was memorable solely because of how revolting our hotel was. It was a particularly grim traditional British seaside hotel with ancient floral coverings on everything and dubious cleanliness – Marcus had to pull out a clump of some previous guest’s hair clogging up our sink that was so large I still gag thinking about him touching it with his bare hands. It was enough to put me off seaside “resorts” for life, and I genuinely think I have not stayed in another such hotel since this trip, though I have stayed in many awful British non-seaside hotels.

After that charming hotel experience, we headed up to the Donkey Sanctuary, which is THE place to see big donkey dicks (if you’re into that kind of thing) as we found out. I decided to spare you by not including the photo of the giant black erect donkey penises (they were so obscene I was legitimately worried my post would get reported), but it was essentially just us walking around and being annoyed that you couldn’t feed or pet the donkeys, though we admittedly didn’t much want to once we noticed their visible arousal (in retrospect, considering the degrees of tumescence on show, this may have been more for our protection than the donkeys’).

Then there was Alum Bay and the Needles, where I was freshly annoyed by the inability of everyone on the boat except us to follow basic instructions designed to keep them from falling overboard. Oh, and we made a sand bell (which involves filling a glass bell with layers of different coloured sand, though they also had more modern (ugly) designs like teddy bears), which is apparently an Alum Bay tradition dating back to Victorian times. We still have the bell, so that’s something.

We spent the night in Weymouth after this, I think because they had some sort of artisan bakery where we could get breakfast (Marcus knows me well) but I seem to remember it being underwhelming. However, this statue of George III is nothing short of fabulous. I’m not sure what he did for Weymouth to deserve this honour, but it must have been amazing!

I swear this trip gets much less phallic after this, but here is a cock rock from the incredible Museum of Witchcraft in beautiful Boscastle. This place was dark, creepy, old school, and all about witchcraft, so what’s not to love? I very much want to go back here when they reopen and do a proper post about it, because this place deserves one.

After this, we drove out to Penzance to spend a couple of nights there in what was probably the only nice B&B I have ever stayed in (very plush carpets and one of those really high comfy beds). Unfortunately, the niceness of our room was marred somewhat by the literal crappiness of Penzance. We happened to be staying there at the time of the 2011 MasterChef final, which I was very invested in, so we set out that night for an earlyish dinner in town to be sure to be back in time to watch it. Our B&B was a couple of miles from the centre of town, so it was quite a walk. As we were walking down the road in the middle of town, nearly at the pizza place we had decided to dine at, I obviously strayed too near the overhang of a building, and the world’s largest, nastiest plop of bird crap fell on my head. I say bird, but part of me thinks it might have been someone doing a “Gardez l’eau” with a chamberpot, because this shit looked human. I have never seen brown bird crap before, and this most definitely was, but maybe it was just from an unusually large seagull who is a fellow IBS sufferer. The poop was everywhere – in my hair, in the hood of my hoodie, down the side of my face, everywhere. Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I am not unfamiliar with being covered in crap on the streets of a city, but it’s normally my own and in my pants, where it (sort of) belongs. However, there was no shitting way (pun intended) I was walking two bloody miles back to the B&B and then two miles back into town again, so we pressed on, figuring I could at least rinse out my hair in the restaurant sink. Only guess what? This establishment didn’t have a bathroom, and they directed me into the exceptionally disgusting public toilets down the road, which had a sharps bin, but not a proper sink. It was one of those wall mounted dealies with the integrated extremely weak water pressure sink, thin watered-down hand soap, and an ineffectual hand dryer. I couldn’t even stick my damn head in this thing, not that I much wanted to from the looks of it. I did my best, but in the end, I confess that I 100% ate a pizza pie with poop crusted bangs (another reason not to get bangs!) and a smelly jacket with a turd in the hood, had as long of a shower as I could manage without missing MasterChef when we returned to the B&B, and never went into Penzance again (this photo was pre-poop, obviously).

This is the Lizard, and the photo at the start of the post was at Lands End, respectively the most southerly and westerly points of Great Britain (as in, the big island, not all the little ones like the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles and junk). We went there the day of the pooping incident I think, and were too cheap to pay for a photo with our specific hometown in, as you can see at the start of the post. We did hang around for a bit hoping some fellow Londoners would show up and we could sneakily grab a picture of the sign once it was changed over, but no dice. They have pasties at the Lizard (because Cornwall) and not much else, but I hate pie pastry, especially in savoury applications, with the exception of empanadas, particularly my homemade seitan empanadas, because the masa does something to the dough that is *chef’s kiss* (fact: the only kind of sweet pies I ever make are cream or ice cream pies with crusts made from ground up biscuits and butter, because Oreo and digestive biscuit/graham cracker crusts are eight million times more delicious than crappy normal pie crust), so the lack of non-pasty food did nothing for me or my mood.

This is the seal sanctuary in Gweek, which we presumably chose to visit because the town was called Gweek (hilarious, obviously), because I don’t even like seals. I find them to be gross amorphous blobs (see exhibit A, above). Given a choice between this and the donkey sanctuary, I’d pick the donkey sanctuary, because donkeys are at least cute, even with huge disturbing erections.

The Eden Project! I remember this being mega expensive, even ten years ago, but we undoubtedly had some sort of 2 for 1 deal or we wouldn’t have gone.

The tropical biome was the hottest place I’ve ever been within Britain, so I was thrilled when I spotted a baobab smoothie stand. Unfortunately, said stand was cash only, so we had to make a very long trek back to the front entrance to obtain some whilst I was dying of thirst the whole time, just to get my hands on a refreshing smoothie. I would hope they would have changed this policy by now. We also made garlic breadsticks in the Mediterranean biome (also cash only) which were undoubtedly the highlights of the whole experience. I’d go back sometime though and blog about it properly.

We spent an awful night at a Travelodge in Torquay where some louts were yelling up and down the hallway all night long and kept rattling the lock on our door, so I was terrified they were going to break in and spent the night creeping on them through the peephole armed with whatever weaponesque thing I could find (god knows what that was in somewhere as bare bones as Travelodge. Even the hair dryers are attached to the wall). I did complain to the front desk the next morning, and they completely ignored me so I later sent a strongly worded email to Travelodge, only it turns out I accidentally sent it to the US chain which is apparently not affiliated with the British one, so that got me nowhere. At any rate, I have not stayed in a Travelodge since, in either country. Cheesy chips were the only good part of the whole Torquay experience. North Devon is lovely, but I am really not a fan of South Devon.

We couldn’t head home without detouring through Dorset to see Cerne Abbas (oh shit, I said there wasn’t anything else phallic on this trip. Totally forgot about this one, but who doesn’t like a chalk giant’s dingdong?!).

Also Buckfast Abbey, though I couldn’t tell you whether this was before or after Cerne Abbas as I’ve forgotten where they are in relation to each other and can’t be bothered to look it up. It was clearly undergoing some sort of restoration, but I seem to remember the shop full of monk-made products being quite good, and we picked up a bottle of the famous Buckfast Tonic Wine for a friend, though I certainly wouldn’t drink it myself. It’s caffeinated fortified wine. Deadly.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through a small portion of England’s southern coast, since it’ll still be a while before we’ll be allowed to go see it in person (though remembering all those awful hotels has not made me particularly keen to spend a night away from home any time soon anyway). Museums aren’t due to reopen until at least 17th May (I am so not excited to go back to work in person, but I am excited to visit other museums! I’ve already booked tickets for two different exhibitions at the end of May, so fingers crossed they’ll be able to go ahead) so I think blogging will still be patchy around these parts for a while, though maybe I’ll surprise myself and find some other old, almost-forgotten trip to write about. Thanks for sticking around with me for eight years (or however long you’ve been reading)!

February Update

Here’s a (not particularly flattering) photo of Marcus and me in a cold and rainy Richmond Park, which is really the only place I’ve been in the past couple of months.

Well, February’s almost over, we’re still in lockdown, and I have been exceptionally boring this past month, so I really have nothing of interest to blog about (and my brain is feeling too blah to come up with anything creative), but I thought I should throw up a quick post just so you don’t think I’ve dropped off the face of the earth! I’ve been pretty busy with work (from home still) – I’m finishing up with getting the rest of our NLHF project research online and we’re hosting a day-long conference over Zoom next month, so I imagine I will spend most of March trying to work out the logistics of 16 different speakers from all over the world who haven’t all used Zoom before joining the webinar and delivering their presentations as seamlessly as possible (fun times…). Other than that, I’ve mainly just been watching TV, reading, and baking a lot, and Marcus has taken up knitting (he’s really good at it!) so I’m the proud owner of a lot of new handmade knitwear, including a sweater, a pair of Bernie mittens, and a beret (ugh, sorry this reads like an exceptionally boring Christmas letter). I doubt I’ll have anything much more exciting to talk about in March, but I’m hoping to take a couple of weeks off right before Easter, so maybe I will have the inclination to do more writing then since travel will still be off the cards at that point (not that I’m desperate to hop on a plane or stay in a hotel any time soon (I miss exploring new places, but I really really DON’T miss flying or staying in hotels. Just thinking about that strange bedding of questionable cleanliness and those times you’d find a clump of someone else’s hair in the shower drain makes me gag a little), but it would at least be nice to do a day trip to another part of England or something). Stay safe, and see you in March!

London: Christmas at Kew

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

 

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

 

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

  

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

  

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

 

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

  

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

 

Merry Christmas!

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

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

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

London: “Unfinished Business” @ the British Library

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Cobham, Surrey: Painshill Park

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

 

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

  

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

  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

London: Bruce Nauman @ Tate Modern

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Recent Events: Wedding + New Job!

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

  

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