Fed up with news reports constantly indicating a looming apocalypse and filled with paranoid fears that the recent loss of, Bowie, Prince, and Ali, may well indicate the rapture. Last week I decided to partake in a day of pure undiluted whimsy. To this end I lined up a series of London curiosities that all invoked the spirit of silly and set forth on another whirlwind adventure.
The Cartoon Museum
The Cartoon Museum is located near Holborn station. As a person who absolutely adores comics and satirical cartoons in particular, this place proved well worth the trip. I dare say it was super fantastic wunderbar! It should be noted that this place has a clear focus on British comics, is fairly small, and due to the fact that it receives no funding has a seven pounds entrance fee. However I would urge you to support this fine enterprise as it really is a unique and marvellous addition to a brilliant part of London. The exhibition I went to see was a collection of satirical Punch comics that ran from 1841 all the way up to 2002. The style of humour in these pieces was for the most part a light gentle ribbing at the crazy events of the day as opposed to a full on roast. To give an example one cartoon has two ladies seeing the Beatles and the blurb that her doctor has suggested that from now on she mimes her screams. (Sadly this is another museum with a no photo policy). Occasionally however this light demeanour does give way to the incredibly macabre, such as a ‘funny’ from WW1 in which a young boy is training a toddler for the front line. It was truly amazing to see so many silly comics over an incredibly long period of history, each gently playing with the insane situations of the day, with many problems repeating over the century. It certainly gave one a sense of perspective with respect to the mad behaviours that humanity wilfully engages in. Yet it also left one hopeful both in the finding of the funny and the fact that against all odds many past blunders have been overcome. I left with dreams of one day starting a comic of my own and the intention to visit again at the end of January when they’ll have a 2000AD exhibition.
The Museum of Comedy
After the high of the brilliant cartoon museum, I walked for thirty seconds and arrived at my next destination which was sadly to prove more than a tad disappointing. Quite frankly, if this place was located in a hamlet with three residents atop a mountain in Nepal, it would still have trouble in claiming itself to be a museum. The truth is that this is a room filled with some insanely cool trinkets that will take all of three minutes to absorb. If you’re wondering whether I simply rushed through without reading any of the info blurbs, you’d be right, but only on account of the fact that they weren’t bloody there. I hate it when cynicism intrudes within these pages and I reveal a thoroughly grumpy side to myself, so allow me to mention a few positives. Firstly it’s free and in one of the most interesting parts of the city. Secondly this place is packed with obscure books about comedians that you can sit and read; this is undoubtedly a fantastic feature. Finally I have heard that they do some truly excellent comedy nights which are well worth seeing but unlike the trinket room this costs money. All of this is great. Nevertheless as a member of the secret order of anoraks I can’t help but feel that this place is a serious instance of false advertising. The fact is it’s a comedy venue with some very interesting touches and not a museum. If you go in the day you’ll be seriously disappointed. If you go to a gig at night I feel certain you’ll be blown away by a brilliant show in a place with awesome touches. Sadly I went for a day trip.
The Play That Goes Wrong
In the evening I found time for a trip to the theatre to see ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. This proved to be the perfect end to a day in which I was hell bent on achieving flights of fancy and uproarious bursts of whimsy. I do not wish to spoil a single thing about this play for my readers, as its construction is wonderfully meticulous and the plot twists are ace. I can honestly say that this is one of the best damn farces I’ve ever seen, I would put it right up there with comedy greats such as, Jeeves and Wooster, Le Diner de Cons, and the magnificent Fawlty Towers. The show as the name would suggest is essentially a terrible production of a murder mystery in which all rhyme and reason to the play slowly goes out the window. It has a fantastic slow build up, an amazing set which allows for all sorts of stagecraft wizardry, and a brilliant cast. I was laughing along like a maniacal super villain from start to finish, as layer upon layer of new inventive angles of pure ridiculousness were added to the plot. At the end I skipped out of the theatre, cheerful, carefree, and with an indefatigable joyous demeanour sure to bring much irritation to those of an overly serious persuasion.
How do you find the light hearted side of life?
London is filled to the brim with public parks and they may well be its greatest asset. In a chaotic city in which hustle and bustle are to be found in abundance, one finds that no matter where you are there is always a secret garden available to provide a much needed reprieve. The Kyoto garden is a particular favourite of mine, a tiny patch of tranquil Japan that can be found at the centre of Holland Park.
The last week has been blooming mental. In the middle of it I found myself experiencing crippling fear in the face of complete life overload. I was chained to the oar of my work, running on empty, as the slave drum beat out an incessant rhythm of drudgery. Occasionally I looked out to the wider world in search of hope, only to find constant and irritating reminders that the world is absolutely insane.
Suddenly remembering that I’m a wistful imaginative fellow with a penchant for the overly dramatic, it crossed my mind that I might be blowing everything out of proportion. Surely not I said to myself. Thankfully I gave it a second thought and quickly realized that all I needed was a break. Thus I hopped on the tube and was whisked away for a brief change of scene. In an instant I was experiencing a resplendent autumns day in a serene environment that came complete with dazzling fish and majestic peacocks.
A great deal calmer and just getting over the fact that life had once again shown me to be the bigger banana head. I made my first few walks around this small perfectly formed gem with my camera in hand. In no time at all I got myself into a full blown tourist frenzy taking photos of everything. The Kyoto garden has so many hidden perspectives to find and many of them are spellbinding in their beauty.
Many would criticize the modern day tendency to instantly grab a camera when beholding something wonderful. Such people undoubtedly have a point but I think they miss something as well. In my photo frenzy, it is true that I was in a mind-set that was both narrow in its focus and at a distance from its environment. Nevertheless there was something meditative about this intense search for an interesting perspective, the attempt to capture a moment and find something special and unrepeatable within it. In short the activity has a singular nature to it that in its own way was harmonizing.
Of course I eventually put my camera aside and spent a full hour just taking it all in. It was here that a different form of harmonizing magic took place. The kind where the very structure of an environment somehow starts to anchor your state of mind and with nothing impeding it a silent joy just creeps in. The Germans have a wonderful word waldeinsamkeit, which has no equivalent in English, but refers to a state of deep solitude in the woods where you nonetheless feel deeply connected to nature. In its own way, the Kyoto Garden gave me a brief glimmer of this. I returned to the great hustle and bustle of the city with renewed vigour.
I really hope I’ve inspired you to visit this beautiful park. It is best to go very early before it fills up with London’s very own Tibetan singing bowls, aka screaming babies in prams. Finally I wish to thank Marry at Still a Runner for inspiring this post, be sure to check out her article and blog here.
The royal college of surgeons near Holborn station contains one of London’s hidden gems the Hunterian museum which tells the story of surgery from the past right up to the present. The museum contains the remaining specimens of John Hunter, the founding father of scientific surgery. It is a fascinating if somewhat small museum, which is definitely not for those of a squeamish disposition. The décor is essentially Swedish minimalism meets Dr Frankenstein. On the one hand you have a series of slick crystal clear glass displays. On the other, you have a bazillion gruesome jars all filled with disease ridden body parts. As such it’s awfully popular with goths. In May 2017 this wonderful purveyor of the macabre will close its doors for three years. Having never previously visited, earlier this week I hopped on the Piccadilly line and went to investigate for myself.
There were so many highlights to my trip that it is hard to know where to begin. Starting with the serious, it was fantastic to see one of the first anaesthetic inhaler’s. On the whole, the museum gave one an incredible insight into the development of surgery and left one feeling grateful for the ingenious work of the past. On the uncomfortable side, for me the small collection of portraits of unusual people gave an unflattering sense of the past as it does have an air of the freak show about it. On the striking side, the centre piece of the museum is the skeleton of the Irish Giant Charles Byrne which stands at a mighty 7ft 7 inches tall. I would recommend reading the Wiki entry on this poor fellow who feared John Hunter wanted his body for dissection. As such, he made plans to be sealed in a lead coffin upon his death and buried at sea. Unfortunately as the skeleton on display at the museum makes clear his plans were thwarted. Finally to top it off, they even have Winston Churchill in here, or to be more precise his dentures. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to check this place out before it’s too late (hammer horror music plays out).
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10-5, and has a strict no photo policy.
Life is all about the little things, those inexplicable experiences that somehow mean the world to you, it’s an odd one I’ll admit but at this time of year I truly appreciate the joy of explosives. As a child I just loved the idea of blowing things up, I haven’t got a clue why, though it could have something to do with Looney Toons. I am now officially a grown up but against all odds this childhood passion is undiminished and remains wholly intact. Give me some fireworks plus one functional lighter and I’m a guaranteed happy lunatic. Bonfire night begins each year in the same way with a trip to the local newsagents. Every year I buy an assortment of fireworks there and every year they throw in a ridiculous amount of freebies. I’m always most grateful for such kindness. The venue is a tradition too, for well over a decade now I have spent it outside of London with my Mum and a wonderful family who used to live locally. The family in question had three little kids when I first started going, but now we have a graduate, a university student, and a teenager. I must say their company is a hell of a lot of fun but thankfully each and every one of them is a tad more sensible than I am. I do not wish to dwell on the overly serious as alas it’s not my style but it has truly been an honour and a privilege to watch these incredible little people turn into awesome big people. The parents are pretty darn wonderful too.
I’m particularly gratified to be surrounded by such upstanding adults, given that safety was not and still isn’t my forte. Its mind boggling that anyone would trust me with fireworks. It’s positively ludicrous that anyone would conceive of giving me young charges to boot. The fact that no one under my supervision has been blown to kingdom come, comes only by the grace of sweet Fortuna. Previous wisdom on my part has included, packing a hamster cage full of rockets so as to launch more of them (nothing was inside I swear), several attempts to launch a rocket without a stick, and finally the trusty motto ‘if it don’t work throw it on the bonfire’. I don’t feel too bad however given that the father of this hearty brood, has on several occasions attempted to throw a lit rocket at the last second, the results to date have been mixed to say the least. This year I had a fantastic time as always and truly appreciated the fact that every year proves a most welcome dose of heartfelt fun.
To sum it up I had an absolute blast, pun wholly intended!!!