Happy belated Halloween everybody! I probably should have mentioned Halloween last week, but even though I try to live in a state of readiness for Halloween year-round, it still has a way of sneaking up on me! Now that my favourite holiday has come and gone, I have two recent Halloween-themed events I attended to tell you about, but first, I have some exciting personal news I’d like to share with you: I am now a British citizen, having attended the official ceremony last week! I can’t pretend I’m as happy about it as I would have been pre-Brexit, but this is still a fairly big deal for me, because I’ve been living here for eight years, and it’s nice to finally feel like I can’t be suddenly booted out on the whims of the Home Office, not to mention the joy of never having to wait in the non-EU passport queue at the airport again! And now, on to the Halloweening (or should I say Hallowienering? You’ll see what I mean further into the post)!
The first event was “Delicious Decay: The Edible Body Farm,” held at St. Bart’s Pathology Museum. I’ve attended a number of lectures there over the years, some of which I thought were really pretty good, and others…not so much. I think this last event might be the last straw for me and St. Bart’s though, as it was a real damp squib. One of my (many) pet hates is having to pay to attend a market or festival where you then have to pay for everything inside said market, which is exactly what this was. It’s not quite so galling if the entry fee is fairly modest, but if I’ve parted with £10.99 (which is essentially the same price as one of their lectures, where you’re at least given a drink + hear a lecture, of course), I expect to get something for my money.
I admit being initially enticed in by the promise that we’d be able to view the second floor of the museum, which is not normally open to the public, and also by the opportunity to “excavate edible soil for as many consumable body parts as you can eat.” Well, I’ll get to the second floor in a minute, but first I’d like to talk about those consumable body parts, because it was one of the most irritating parts of the whole experience. If you promise me all-you-can-eat cake, you had damn well better deliver, and this certainly did not. I think perhaps the cake wasn’t exactly what they were envisioning when they wrote the event description, because instead of being body parts that you had to excavate, it was just a big decomposing corpse cake, surrounded by some rocks, soil, and white chocolate maggots, as shown in the picture on the right. So there was really nothing to excavate as such, but I was perfectly fine with just shoving my gob full of body cake. We were told we could only eat from the legs, which was a bit annoying (especially because the girl ahead of me licked her spoon before sticking it in the cake, eurgh), but I could understand that they wanted something left for the later sessions to look at, so fair enough. However, I was then told we could only have one spoonful of cake each, so there would be enough for everyone, even though the edibles were meant to be “replenished” throughout the day. Now, I don’t know about you, but one small spoonful of cake is certainly not “all” the cake I can eat. I mean, jeez, at least give me a whole piece (obviously I can eat more than one piece of cake, but I would have felt better about it if I’d had a whole piece)! The woman working there did say we could have as much of the soil and chocolate rocks as we wanted, but when I grabbed a second small handful of rocks (literally three rocks, and they were only the size of Minstrels), she gave me a dirty look, so apparently I was only supposed to want one spoon’s worth. I REALLY don’t like it when people toy with me where food is concerned, so this event was already off to a bad start.
A quick wander around the museum floor confirmed that all the other stalls there were full of items you had to pay for (some of the cakes and stuff were cool looking, but I cannot justify spending £7.50 on a single biscuit. Especially as it was more than likely a case of style over substance), and some of the sellers were fairly aggressive (some guy kept trying to sell us candy made from honeyed pig, even after I said I was a vegetarian), so we headed up to the second floor to escape. The ground floor of the pathology museum is somewhere I’ve looked around many times, and it is full of many cool specimens, so I was eager to get a look at the second floor. Unfortunately, though there were undoubtedly many interesting body parts up there, none of them had labels yet, so it was hard to tell what some of them were (I think knowing what the person died from is half the fun). Also, only half the second floor was actually open, the rest being blocked off with various carts and other curatorial tools. I can see why it’s not normally open to the public, is my point.
However, before just outright leaving (we’d only been there for 15 minutes, even though our session was for an hour), there was a mini lecture to attend. Only one, as far as I could tell, even though the event description said, “there will also be mini lectures to educate on what each of the unusual consumables represents and how they relate to decomposition.” Perhaps the fact that there weren’t really many unusual consumables free to eat put the kibosh on that. But there was a lecture on the chemicals used to train cadaver dogs, and I never pass up a chance to experience authentic smells, even gross ones. The talk was basically fine, albeit brief and a bit hard to hear, but because of the large number of people in the audience who apparently didn’t understand the concept of passing something on to the next person once they’d finished, not everyone got to sniff every chemical. Anyway, it certainly wasn’t good enough to justify that outrageous entry fee, and this is definitely the last time I’ll be attending this sort of event at St. Bart’s. I get that they need money to preserve the museum, but they either could have offered more free activities (there was a face painter doing corpse makeup, but I really hate having my face painted, plus there was a big queue for it. That was it, activity-wise though) or charged a more modest entry fee to reflect what was actually available.
And then there’s the Hunterian Museum, one of my favourite museums in London. The Hunterian is a free museum, and this event was also free, though you had to pre-book (for once I was on the ball, and booked it in August, so I’m not sure if/when it sold out). Therefore, after the disappointment of Bart’s, I reckoned that if this event also sucked, at least I hadn’t wasted any money. Fortunately, it did not suck.
The Halloween Late not only offered the chance to explore the museum after-hours, which in itself I probably wouldn’t have bothered attending, because it’s much less crowded during normal opening hours, but there was also a pickle your own part activity, and a short lecture on the anatomy of a hanging. Not being the kind of person who enjoys waiting, I ran straight into the “pickling” room for my chance, though the set-up seemed fairly good in that they’d chosen a large room with long tables, and had lots of materials out, so quite a few people could work at the same time. Basically, you got to model a body part of your choosing out of clay, and then stick it in a “specimen jar” for preserving. All materials were provided, except the jar, which we were asked to bring from home, though there were a few jars there for people who forgot. Marcus made a fetus, as you can see above, and you can also probably guess what I made…it certainly attracted a lot of attention (see, I told you Hallowiener would make sense)!
The lecture was also pretty good; it was given by a retired surgeon, and he discussed what happened to the body during various methods of execution, including a hanging, beheading, and hanging, drawing, and quartering. A bit grisly (especially the latter method), but thoroughly enjoyable! I should emphasise again that this was all free! There was a cash bar (though I didn’t imbibe), and they had five special creepy pins available for a donation of a pound (I got two, a skull and a glass eye), but it certainly wasn’t anything like the shake-down we were given at Bart’s, plus I’m happy to donate a bit to a museum that is always free and always excellent. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed at the Hunterian, due to the medical nature of the specimens, which is the main reason why I’ve never done a full post on it previously, and why I’m not really doing one now, but I do urge you to visit it if you’re ever in London. Their specimen jars are exquisite, they have some excellent skeletons and paintings of medical oddities, and though their WWI section is small, I’ve always been a fan of it (the story of one of the men who had a pioneering facial reconstruction operation is really sweet, and makes me tear up a little).
Well, that more or less covers what I did for Halloween this year, other than baking far too much cake (to make up for all the cake I didn’t get to eat at the first event), and of course watching Hocus Pocus, The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror I-VII, and a few other select cheesy horror films (starring Bruce Campbell), so I’ll leave you with pictures of the pumpkins we carved (the elaborate headless horseman one is Marcus’s). Hope you all had a suitably spooky day!