Last weekend M hiked to the Druid’s Well in Bingley and took many wonderful photos of this holy well. The photos reveal a lush Seelie Court. It is a place of historic fairy sightings and where the destroying angel mushroom grows.
The companion well, The Altar Well, seems now buried but the Druid’s Well still swells from the earth in a sandy bed, fern-draped and lush with lichen. Also called the Druid’s Spring or Hollin (Holy) Well. M washed his face there.
Perhaps I can visit one day– though the way is quite steep and my dodgy foot often will not allow me such daring.
Who is that at the door? A horse skull for a face, with green bottle-glass eyes, covered in a sheet, draped with motley ribbons. Is there a man beneath? You almost recognize the shoes, the only human thing about him, as your neighbor’s, but not really. And now, singing. The spring hinged jaw opens and shuts. The company he keeps is familiar, you know them from the village, they carry his jingling reins. They had started out at dusk, you heard them farther out by the church, singing through the night, door-to-door. asking permission. And now it is midnight, and they are here.
In many UK folk traditions, the festival of Christmas carried on for 12 days after, and in Welsh tradition this is when Mari Lwyd, Grey Mary, Grey Mare or simply the Mare went wassailing. Though today it may be seen as some kind of artifactual party-bringer, it is not hard to see in this strange being a skeletal, ghostly remnant of the “Great Mare” Epona, the ancient Roman-Celtic horse goddess once widely worshiped on this island.
I was moved by this photo of London, taken from space in 2003. It’s an exit wound in a skrying mirror, a conflagration of angels or countless corpse-lights over the cosmic fens.
London from this vantage seems ageless, eternal. It appears as a vortex of light, but this is illusion. As the will-o-wisp lures the traveler to the marsh, so is the lure of London. This is not light but molten lucre. Crystallized greed.
What can one do but be bled dry by it, reassured only that it’s ever been so, at least as long as the land were London. I marvel at the middle-English poem London Lickpenny, which takes you through a tour of London, the narrator repeating the lament that without money he won’t prosper. Totally broke, he wanders amid all the “gay gere” for sale: fine felt hats, spectacles for reading, mackerel, strawberries and sheep’s feet. He’s jostled and cursed in Billingsgate, and he can buy a pint but can’t afford to eat in the pub, so he goes away hungry. In the beginning of the poem he has his hood stolen in Westminster, only to find it for sale again amongst the stolen goods in Cornhill, but he can’t afford to buy it back. He has no peace until he gets himself to Kent.
Yesterday I braved the den of screaming children that is the Science Museum to see what I thought was their revamped display of the Wellcome collection. I’d read about it on one of my favourite blogs, Morbid Anatomy. Wellcome’s eccentric somatic artifacts fascinate me, as does the man himself. The sample collection on display at the Wellcome museum is a very tough act to follow, and I was disappointed to find there was nothing new in the Science Museum’s History of Medicine display, save at the entrance which featured snippets from the Brother’s Quay film that uses some of the collection. There are a few fascinating objects here– a velvet-lined drug chest, elegant bullet extractors and the loneliest mummy in London. The rest is just dimly lit and numbingly chronological, with dry notations in an 80’s font.
Apparently what has been revamped is the online gallery. While missing the wonder cabinet aspect of the Wellcome’s curation, the objects themselves are fascinating, if difficult to find. (For a fun starter search, type in “amulets” or “gas mask” on the object page. If you want to see the extensive chastity belts in the collection the search will yield no joy. Maybe it’s a work in progress.)
While trying to find the Art of Medicine on the 5th floor, I wandered into History of Medicine gallery on the seemingly secret 4th floor. All the stairs to the 4th floor are roped off, and it seems only one of the numerous lifts go there. By the time you find it, you’ve left the sticky crowds of school children behind and start to wonder what the museum is hiding here.
I can heartily recommend finding it. Why fork out £20 quid at the London Dungeon whilst being crowded by hoards of tourists when you can totally get vibed out for free at the History of Medicine dioramas? I guarantee you that you will be alone whilst taking in the “Dentistry in the 1930s” wax tableau as well as the seen-better-days Modern Operating Room circa 1978 (just what are they doing to that poor wax sod? Why is the blood transfusion bag all brown and crusty?). Don’t forget the dimly lit amputation. It’s hard to make out much beyond the tarred wax leg in the foreground. And in the center of the floor: a cavernous Victorian sweet shop of a chemist, where the mustachioed wax man leans over the counter to help two wax girls with giant bows in their hair, his old timey jars and bottles obscured in shadow.
I should really mention the most soulful of the exhibits: the neolithic trepanning diorama. Call me crazy, but those hirsute dudes look a lot more comforting than the wax doctors in the other exhibits. (Insert need-a-hole-in-the-head joke here).
The exhibit’s timeline makes an unintentional argument. Despite all the advances in modern medicine, the cures and curers are often no less terrifying than a caveman with a sharpened rock.
If I leave Vagabonds (a goth club near London Bridge) after midnight these are my travel options according to Travel for London. The last tube is a few minutes after midnight. For a cosmopolitan city, London really does shut up early. Some clubs like Vagabonds are open until 3, but how do people get home? I suppose they wander the streets for three hours until the first trains leave in the morning? When I put in “show me routes with the fewest interchanges” the first return routes began at 5:30 in the morning, even though I put in midnight. So basically TFL is telling me to stay in the club until 3am and then sit on the banks of the Thames, etc. until 6? There aren’t even 24 hour diners in London where you can nurse some coffee and greasy eggs at 3am. If you have a group of friends I suppose you could split a cab, (last time I shared a cab the ride to Hanwell was £75.) Or brave the night buses as a posse, but as a woman traveling alone it’s just a bit impossible. The last time I braved the night bus it never showed up. I waited for over an hour in an abandoned Sloane Square at 2am for the N11 which never came. I finally hailed a cab which cost me £28.
Today I received a threatening email from Flickr HQ claiming that I had violated the Flickr terms by posting this video clip of the World Naked Bike Ride in London. It said that if I continued to post questionable material my account would be suspended. I find this totally absurd, and it would be laughable except that increasingly Flickr has become a place of low-grade harassment for me. Other women must also experience this– smarm-spam in your inbox, asking you for pictures, or your own pictures favourited by someone who is collecting women’s bodies. Through looking at these sites one can see all manner of amateur porn, which is often quite voyueristic and disturbing. I don’t wish this content to be banned– I just click away. But I find it very ironic that there is so much of this on flickr and yet my super-low-res footage of nude people riding bikes is deemed so inappropriate that they are threatening to suspend my account. When I was a women studies major we often debated the idea of porn. Since I never looked at porn that often it was totally academic– that is until I started exploring the idea of nudity in my artwork. Suddenly the pro-porn feminist argument that said that anti-porn laws are used first against women doing body-positive things rang true. This is an example of just that. On a cursory level, it’s just (American) stupidity. But go a bit deeper and it becomes obvious this is indicative of a culturally-determined body hatred. It is easy to find pictures of women naked and subjugated on Flickr and across the web. Often women’s bodies have been concocted unnaturally for this kind of display. They are not “real”– they are coded for consumption– tanned, shaved, surgically altered, posed. The images I uploaded of the bike ride are human, playful, fun. It would be a stretch to even claim they are sexual. But looking at them you can’t help but feel the infectious happiness of the event, and even, as one of my friends put it, a little better about your own body. If Flickr is trying to save children from nudity, they are failing. What children will see on flickr are pornographic images which, to a sensitive child, will be disturbing not because of the lack of clothing but the demeaning/voyueristic/taboo aspect of the image. Healthy images of the human body, like the one I uploaded (which you can’t even see the ‘naughty bits’ frankly) are a violation of their code. No wonder children (especially little girls) grow up to hate their bodies.