Body Worlds Vital

WARNING: This post is not for the squeamish or those who do not wish to look at photos of deceased humans. 

Additionally, there was strictly no photography at this exhibition so photographs have been take from The Guardian (Arterial Man’s head) and the Northern Echo (body slices & dissected head).  I’ve linked to their very interesting articles on the exhibition. 

I’ve wanted to see the Gunther Von Hagens Body Worlds Vital exhibition at Newcastle’s Centre for Life for some time now. Strangely, my longing came from an unusual source – watching Casino Royale and the scene where James Bond is chasing villains around an older Body Works exhibition, I became rather intrigued by the plasticisation of human tissue, and how Von Hagens and his team manipulate it into statuesque and remarkable poses. So when my niece Jess suggested we go this morning as part of her pre-uni visit up north to see her relatives, I agreed immediately.

Now I realise that spending time in the company of death is not most peoples’ idea of a bonding outing (perhaps a trip to Vivienne Westwood would have been more so!) but Jess & I are not squeamish, I’ve been fascinated with anatomy for a while and she is studying psychology and has at some point to dissect a human brain. This was the softer option of looking into someone’s head in some respects!

Curator Dr Angelina Whalley with the tissue slices

Curator Dr Angelina Whalley with the tissue slices

Truth be told I wasn’t quite sure how I’d react. I knew there were 12 full bodies on display; I hadn’t realised that there would also be a wealth of plasticised organs, slices of human bodies (which were probably the creepiest exhibit for us), slices of brain tissues, contrasting healthy & diseased organs (smokers really should go visit the lungs…and the slice of smokers’ leg with it’s completely necrotic tissue), beautifully detailed nerve pathways throughout the human body etc.  It was very educational (though I might not eat sausage for a while), and I actually would like to go again because there was so much I couldn’t take in.

Body Worlds Vital: a face exquisitely dissected and displayed

Body Worlds Vital: a face exquisitely dissected and displayed

The bodies and organs are all freely donated after death and are anonymous.  You can generally tell which are male & female, and they are dissected and arranged with great care and attention to detail. It’s difficult to describe their beauty, because you are always aware that you are looking at another human, one who can no longer breathe, talk, laugh, smile. But they can communicate and educate – even mundane things like identifying the large muscle that runs from my right shoulder into my neck that ofter goes into spasm and being shocked at how large it is (no wonder it hurts so much!). The dissection techniques that split bodies into 3 separate structures of muscle mass, organs and skeleton are exquisite – though I could perhaps have done without the eyelashes, toenails and navels. Jess definitely agreed about the toenails!

Of all the full bodies exhibited, I was most entranced by Arterial Man. A human skeleton on whom all the flesh had been carefully removed leaving only the bright red outline of the arterial pathways throughout the body, coloured red. It was astounding, both as a work of science and as a work of art.

Arterial Man

Arterial Man

Finally, you come to a small dark room with a warning. I checked with Jess that she wanted to go in, as it was the gestational room, and if any part of this exhibition has the capacity to distress, it’s this one. Beautifully and respectfully presented, it showed the gestational process of humans in the womb. Several illuminated glass tubes held the tiniest of forms, a human foetus at 5 weeks the size of a pea, working up to week 9 when the child was the size of a kidney bean. We were both profoundly moved by these tiny scraps of humanity. Of all the displays, I found this emotionally difficult to view- and caused me an ethical problem. The adults all gave consent to be displayed; I’m not sure how I felt about foetuses being used in this way as their opinions could never be heard. Its something I will have to mull on for a little while.

I would never push anyone else to go see this – in fact Him Underfoot has been advised not to go because he is a great deal more emotional than me and I suspect he would find it very difficult to process. I am very glad I had the opportunity to see this exhibition; we both took so much away from it. Astounding.

Random Facts

Over on Facebook a friend nominated me to come up with 20 random factoids that people may not know about me.  Just did so, and thought it may be fun to share them with you guys.

1. My first name is actually Victoria, but I have always been called by my middle name, Jane. Even now I find it strange when I go to appointments and they call out Victoria
2. I am an April Fool
3. I’m a natural redhead but I have naturally black eye lashes and eye brows (which have a tendency to take over my entire forehead if left unchecked). This causes no end of interrogation from hair dressers etc, who are always amazed that I don’t dye either my hair or my lashes
4. I spent several of my early years living above a pub in Winlaton, a small northern village, where I suspect I lived on a steady diet of coke and salt & vinegar crisps. I used to love the leek shows, the cheese and pickles on the bar, the fact that if I snuck downstairs at closing time I could scavenge fish and chips that were always bought in for the staff. I was also small enough to get under the fixed seating where I used to find so much money people had dropped that I managed to equip my Sindy doll’s house with a splendidly awful yellow and brown bathroon suite.

The Crown & Cannon - my bedroom was in the odd corner above the red door

The Crown & Cannon – my bedroom was in the odd corner above the red door


5. I bought my first pair of Doctor Martins aged 18 and have been a DM whore ever since. Still can’t do heels, despite being a shrimp. I currently have 4 pairs, including my cherry red shoes, standard black boots, my beautiful heeled Darcy dancing boots and a long pair of patent leathers that are beyond comfortable.
6. I may love goth / rock music, but I also have the guilty pleasure of loving female orientated bubble gum pop which I sing frequently & loudly in the car (Little Mix, Britney, Christina, Girls Aloud, Rihanna, J-Lo, Enrique (he’s an honorary girl))…
7. Ditto Spandau Ballet’s back catalogue. My big brother took me to see them when I was 13 and just getting into music – my first ever concert. I’ve adored them since.
8. You all know I write short stories, but I am also a dreadful poet!
9. After having ME / CFS as a teenager for 2 years I find it difficult to stay up past 9pm on a night time, I crave my bed and can barely function past this time unless fuelled by alcohol.And then I get 3 day hangovers..
10. I am obsessive about how the dishwasher is stacked and frequently have to re-organise rogue items (Him Underfoot can get a little indignant about this!)
11. I LOVE doing surveys & questionnaires and having a good whinge to government / political canvassers, and indeed have just done a doorstep one this morning, for which I rather surprisingly got paid £25.
12. Chocolate may be the food of the gods, but it’s cheese I couldn’t live without!
13. I can’t stop buying inappropriate frocks on Ebay…
14. I always seem to get monumentally hammererd when my big brother David is in the building….! Though of course I take full responsibility for my prodigious libations..
15. I always swore never to have a Kindle but secretly I love it…
16. Roses are my favourite flowers, blackbirds are my favourite birds, so both are encouraged in my yarden (along with a world of weedage)

Mrs Blackbird terrorised by great tits!

Mrs Blackbird terrorised by great tits!

17. My entire life revolves around Miss Sally Robert’s feeding & walking schedule!
18. I hate scratchy sheets and use flannelette even in summer. And my bedding is always white, which is a pain with a black hairy dog in the building.
19. Rather surprisingly, I though both Dracula & Frankenstein were dreadful books to read (as were the two 1990s film versions of each to watch), though I like the story themes.
20. I turn into a screaming howling banshee if ever I come into contact with wasps. There is no rational reason for the existence of wasps, other than to terrorise me. Death to wasp kind!

Random, I know, but did make me (and my brother) smile :)

Interlude: Isabella & The Pot of Basil

I’ve been in a bit of a snit recently, hence the radio silence. I had to take myself in hand at one point and force myself out of the house. Many of the local libraries and galleries local to me are currently running small but very well constructed World War 1 exhibitions, so I headed to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle to see their petite but interesting selection of original art produced by artists local to my region. I particularly liked lithographs by brothers Philip & Robert Spence from North Shields, and an imposing post war picture by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevison‘s Twentieth Century that was based on Rodin’s Thinker and somewhat taller than me!

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

I like the Laing, I often used to lurk in there on my lunch breaks as it’s a pretty building and has a nice shop. I know very little about art, but I do like to visit the John Martin paintings there, my favourites being The Burning of Sodom & Gomorrah (which was a commentary on the hell of post industrial revolution factories) and Clyte, where she almost seems to float off the canvas with her own inner light (sadly not captured in a photo).

However, the picture that completely lifted me out of my gloom on this particular visit was one I’d not noticed before – William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil – it had previously been hung up high on the stair walls. Quite rightly it is now more prominently displayed in the permanent collection. It is absolutely stunning. The canvas is massive, I felt dwarfed standing before it.  I’ve seen the Titians at the National Gallery in Edinburgh – this for me actually rivalled them for beauty. The picture I am inserting into this post doesn’t do it justice – it absolute glows from the wall and the intricate details, such as the skulls on the post, are exquisitely rendered. It in turn was inspired by the John Keats poem Isabella.

Holman Hunt's Isabella & the Pot of Basil

Holman Hunt’s Isabella & the Pot of Basil

I just sat and admired it. Didn’t want to leave it. Actually wanted to steal it. Still do. It’s amazing how something painted over 150 years ago can still be so fresh, so vivid – and yet the artist will never know how it continues to reach people. A melancholy thought perhaps. But fitting to my current frame of mind.

Bellini Bliss

This time last week we were checking into the gorgeous Hotel Du Vin in Newcastle, sitting on a private outdoor terrace drinking wine and contemplating much cake-age and gig fun to come. I don’t think I’ve recovered from that one night of excess yet. Afternoon tea at Du Vin was as always lovely – some reviews I’ve read complain about the ‘sparseness’ of the portions. Really? We had sandwiches, a scone each and 3 cakes, tea and a complimentary cocktail.

Bellini Bliss & chocolate eclair heaven

Bellini Bliss & chocolate eclair heaven

For us the portion sizes were perfect; indeed we couldn’t finish our 3rd cake each.  This was my first ever Bellini cocktail, and boy was it delightful?! I don’t generally drink cocktails but this was bliss. Him Underfoot meanwhile had something called a ‘Stormy Weather’…hmmmm!

There were photos taken of me, but I had basically been eaten by the corner of a squishy leather settee and look like a munchkin woman so I am preserving my dignity by deleting the evidence for all eternity!  We stayed overnight at the hotel, and I had to be pried out of bed for breakfast – it was like sleeping on a cloud.

Cloud Bed

Cloud Bed

We trundled off to the gig at 6ish – doors opened at 6pm, so they told us. They lied. Doors opened after 7. I have to say, goths form a generally very orderly and non whiney queue. There was a little bit of glitter throwing at one another but it was all very civilised. On entering the bar / venue / low ceiling’d hovel the barkeep fastened ‘age verified’ bracelets to us – the place had just been raided for underaged drinking, Turns out parents are taking their kids to gigs and plying them with beer so we were also not allowed to buy more than one beer at at time. Given it’s horrifically inflated price this was not an issue.

So. On stage trundles Acoustic Boy (I’m sorry, can’t remember the poor lad’s name). Played like Ed Sheeran with his balls in a vice. Then got progressively shriller. Think he’d been electrocuted, again in the gonadal area.  Hats off to him for the entertainment though.

Then the lovely Bad Pollyanna. Sigh. If you read this blog you’ll already know I love them. Well, they were better than ever and I got a great big girl hug off Olivia. So now I can die happy. Well, perhaps after Whitby where I get to see them again.

Followed by AshestoAngels. Bloody hell! On record they sound a bit like Green Day. In person they are quite extraordinary. The lead singer Crilly appears to be on a rocket powered pogo stick. Except it’s just his legs. So much fun and energy – I so want to see them again. And again and again. I laughed and smiled through the entire set. And found my own bit of pogo power.

So, William Control. I had no real expectations for his set. I noticed there were many teenage girls getting rather excited at his presence. Then he came suaving up on stage and they all started screaming….dear gods! I’d forgotten how shrill adulation could get. There was this rather beautiful man singing like the bastard child of Depeche Mode and New Order….if I’d been 15 years younger I suspect I’d have been screamaging along with the youth. I confess myself both a little shaken AND stirred. And that doesn’t happen to these crusty old bones very often these days (well, unless I’m watching Gannicus in Spartacus…IGNITION!).

William Con - uh, ok gratuitous Gannicus picture

William Con – uh, ok gratuitous Gannicus picture

I was utterly foot sore and just a little bit merry as we walked back to the hotel (feather bed…aaahhhhh!). Him Underfoot proposed a pint in the bar where I ordered possibly the most expensive glass of Pinot Noir I’ve ever drank. Who cares? It was awesome. And the sofa ate me again. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

Read the small print

Ice bucket challenge. All for charity, right? Nope – originally it was created to get out of donating to ALS, a bloody awful disease that deserves every penny it raises for research and support for people with this awful disease. Now ice buckets are being dumped from high on the great and good. Has the message been lost? I suspect so. Macmillan have rather naughtily suggested it was their idea in the first place. I’m not getting into the politics; what I will say is that I worked with some brilliant charities, and the ones that I choose to donate to are not the ones that give me the highest social media status.

So Mine and Him Underfoot’s current status to anyone even remotely considering “nominating” us for the ice bucket challenge? The House of No Seasons and it’s grumpy gothic residents are saying ‘BUGGER OFF’.
Computer Says No

Computer Says No

It’s great that social media can raise awareness. It’s great that it raises money. But the cynic in me watches people strip to their soggy short and curlies with no intention of donating, just to flex those perfect pecs, and thinks, no thanks. This mass produced self gratification just ain’t for me. 

 

The Professor’s Monthly Homework Assignment: Vintage Heavy Metal Music

So this is the first of these assignments I’ve carried out, and a great place to start because I can’t imagine my life without it being filled with music.  Beware the nostalgia wallow to follow…! My father loved Neil Diamond, my mum Cliff Richard (this apple fell quite far from that particular tree!). Before they split they ran a pub in which there was a solitary turntable that cranked out late 70s singles, including the phenomenal Gordon is a Moron by Jilted John, and Ian Drury’s Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick.

Aged 17, post Jesus & Mary Chain gig

Aged 17, post Jesus & Mary Chain gig

At the same time my big brother was falling in love with metal. AC/DC, Led Zep, Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Slayer, Black Sabbath, The Scorpions – the first posters on my otherwise pink bedroom walls were his discarded Rainbow pics (‘it’s been only an hour, since they locked her in the TOWER!’ – 20th Century Greensleeves). I was designated his personal slave at this point of our relationship and every Saturday after the night before he’d lie stinking in bed and I would have to change his records for him (he cringes when I remind him of this now!). He also loved the theatrical – Meatloaf, ELO and Queen. Through him I had a solid metal education which stood me in good stead with the long haired boys of my clubbing years – whilst my personal tastes were decidedly goth, I could talk Ozzy with the best of them.

House Party Era: Oh Dear!

House Party Era: Oh Dear!

As I am the only person left in the family with a turntable I have now inherited his entire vinyl collection. At Christmas last year Big Bro turned up with several boxes, and his lovely wife also gifted me her alternative 80’s (including most of the Smiths back catalogue). Christmas Day 2013 then became an epic sing off in the dining room, much to my mum’s horror. All was going well until my brother and I decided to have a duel to ‘Whole Lotta Rosie‘…

During the late 1980s and early 1990s I spent time in my bedroom wearing black, fingerless gloves indoors in summer and listening to the Cure, All About Eve, Jesus and the Mary Chain, The Mission etc etc like a proper baby bat. These years didn’t have a great deal to offer for the local goth in Newcastle, so we all mushed in with the metallers in Trillians rock bar and then the Mayfair nightclub. My best friend Heather was – and still is – an uber-rock babe. I’d be swathed in black cotton or velvet, she’d be strutting about on podiums in faux leather hot pants and bustier. All the boys in sixth form were into Guns and Roses, Anthrax, WASP and the Kings of Hair Metal – Motley Crue. It was as if the 1990’s grunge era bypassed Newcastle – like me it was stuck firmly in the 80s though I did an impressively bad dance floor stomp to Smells Like Teen Spirit.

I still love this music. It reminds me of a time when life wasn’t so complicated.  It was light in world that was otherwise swathed in shades of black. It was my openly guilty pleasure. It brings my family and friends together, bonded under a common thread of nostalgia.

Pre-clubbing photo: several ozone layers were damaged in the taking of this picture

Pre-clubbing photo: several ozone layers were damaged in the taking of this picture

This music has also wound it’s way into my writing. Each book I’ve written, or story I’m plotting, has a playlist. The metal era informs my 1980’s coming of age novel, Poison Prince, where every chapter heading is a song from the 1980s. I have I-Pod playlists set up accordingly – for novels each one has a total of 31 tracks for no reason that I have yet fathomed. I’m currently researching music of the Great War which is taking me into completely uncharted territory – hymns, classical music, war ballads etc. The playlist isn’t complete yet but it begins with Vaughan Williams Lark Ascending, which was written on the eve of war.

Tonight I’m off to an alt / goth gig. Right now I’m off to crank up my old turntable again, and shake my ass to a Queen crescendo. Have a great weekend, people.

Recovery

Recovery…has been slow. This chest infection was a great deal harder to fight off than normal. I suspect this is a sign of my overall lack of self care recently, and my generally low mood. Well, today I need to snap out of it.  I haven’t posted any Bat Fit updates, because frankly I haven’t moved either an inch or a pound from my original position!  Even a short walk has been outside my capabilities for the past 2 weeks. The good thing about this is that I have generally been inhaling badness (sugar, alcohol, dairy) whilst unable to exercise at all and haven’t actually gained any weight – though next week I need my ‘sense’ chip to kick back in before the creep begins..

The joys of my throat infection, neatly illustrated by Dave McKean

The joys of my throat infection, neatly illustrated by Dave McKean

However, this has now passed, and whilst (*my constant use of the word ‘whilst‘ really irritated my tutors in Scotland!) I am very much on the mend, I look dreadful! Him Underfoot and I have decided to pick ourselves up this weekend, and have booked the dog in with her grandparents for a night, whilst we swank off to a deluxe suite in Newcastle’s Hotel Du Vin, with afternoon tea booked for 4pm tomorrow. This coincides with the William Control ‘Punishment’ tour being in town, so we are off to see him, Bad Pollyanna and Ashes to Angels whooo!

This may seem like a major indulgence (actually it is!), and it comes courtesy of my lovely brother & his wide who gifted us a Du Vin voucher for Christmas. We were supposed to use it in February for Him Underfoot’s birthday, but sadly that was the week my Dad died, so everything was cancelled and we’ve not had the inclination to use it until now.

So I’m planning a mega self pampering session this afternoon. I’m awaiting an Illamasqua delivery (scheduled rather precisely between 12:17 and 13:17) – they are having an epic sale and I really needed to update my precision ink, lip glosses and satin primer (sadly the one thing not in the sale). Cue spending frenzy and much anticipation, plus a real clear out of stagnant make up.

Also, I never quite know what to wear for gigs. I’m staying in a posh hotel, fancy wearing a frock for tea – but it’s not suitable for the gig. So I will no doubt look like a pack donkey when I troll up at the hotel as I will be unable to leave home without 3 dresses and several pairs of boots. I know the venue, skinny black jeans are by far the most appropriate attire (though there was a fairy there when I went to see Ayria). I do suspect we will be the oldest swingers in town at this particular gig, but never mind!

A face full of blueberry goodness

A face full of blueberry goodness

WHOO! Delivery goodies just arrived, so now time to go soak, shape eyebrows, slaver on Lush’s blueberry catastrophe face mask and then have a major wardrobe argument when I pack for tomorrow. Things can only get better!

 

Slump

Call it post holiday blues.

I’ve got major slumpage going on. The respiratory infection I’ve picked up along the way isn’t helping much.  Add to this the fact I have asthma which is often affected by weather and the wind outside is 50-60mph, then my cup is definitely less than half full. I can’t leave the house because I find it hard to breathe, and if I don’t get a daily walk I get majorly crabby.

Time to crank up the music and re-energise whilst house cleaning. There’s much to look forward to next week – goth gig on Friday (Bad Pollyanna + Ashes to Angels + William Control), followed by a free local music festival on Sunday headlined by the amazing Bridie Jackson & the Arbour. Him Underfoot invariably cries when he sees Bridie, I invariably cry when BP play Invincible Girl. Oooh that’ll cheer us up!

I suspect part of the downward mood is caused by my recent research for my current writing project based in World War 1. There are nights when what I’ve been reading renders me incapable of sleep. I’ve had to put all research to one side after 6pm and switch to innocuous urban fantasy (currently reading Anne Rice’s Blood and Gold). I’ve also been visiting various WW1 exhibitions which are leaving me an emotional wreck. I’ve scheduled a year’s work for this project, and if this is how it leaves me in month one, then heaven help me by the end. Still, I believe in the story I’m crafting; when the bones of something you’ve written make people cry then you know you are onto a story that deserves to be told.

There’s something quite soothing about blogging these thoughts out of my system (though the reader may not agree!). It’s been a bugger of a year, and emotionally I’m only just beginning to deal with some of the fallout. Scotland helped me to see a way forward; I think I underestimated just how much of an emotional journey it would take me on.

Take care, gentle folk.

Moniack Mhor

So, I’m back in the land of reality today. Back from a little slice of paradise, a beautiful place called Moniack Mhor near Inverness.  The road to Moniack takes you winding up into the highlands past Loch Ness, gleaming silver disc in the glorious sun. As the minibus drew into the farmstead where my course was to take place there was a collected ‘Wow!’ from our motley crew.

Morning view from my room

Morning view from my room

Main accommodation is in a converted barn, with a comfortable communal dining / sitting room and a large kitchen where you can eat yourself silly if you so wish. I ate so much fish I nearly turned into a mackerel. 

First night nerves had really kicked in – utterly dispelled by Friday night.  I’m not going to go into specific regarding the course (‘The Nuts and Bolts of a Novel’); however the tutors Richard Mason and Betsy Tobin were exceptional and worked our brains from the moment we arrived, then from 10am to 10pm (ish) every day.  My technical knowledge and ability to spot issues with my own writing (particularly regarding register) has improved immeasurably. 

The fire pit reading circle

The fire pit reading circle

You can just about spot my teeny head on this picture. This was the perfect spot to end the day with readings, banter, wine and song and I surprised myself by unleashing my unlovely voice over the hills, belting out Bat out of Hell to a mandolin as the Friday Grand Finale. 

My fellow course mates could not have been a nicer, more generous bunch of people. Seriously, it turned into a great big literary love in. I even found my my inner hugger, usually firmly controlled behind my ineffectual patting mechanism. 

Looking demure pre-wine!

Looking demure pre-wine!

This retreat has the potential to be life changing. From Betsy I learned the value of controlling every word and finally made up my mind which audience I want to write for (literary fiction. My register is way to high for Young Adult), and where to place scenes by cutting out unnecessary exposition (and submissive clauses are definitely a no-no!).  From Richard, well our last tutorial has probably just defined the next six months of my sabbatical. I am turning my study into a story bunker and embarking on a period of intense research where I am basically going to be wearing my main character’s skin for the next 3 months. Rather bizarrely I am no longer writing a YA murder ballad but a World War 1 li fiction tragedy. I am going to smell a bit musty after secreting myself in various historical institutions over the next few weeks! 

Tea at Moniack: Helen Lederer at the head, me in the middle on the right

Thank you Moniack Mhor. Thank you Richard & Betsy (and the lovely Helen Lederer whose very funny visit I haven’t even touched upon). And a great big hug to my fellow wonderful creatives who entertained, nurtured and made me laugh harder than I have in months. It was the time of my life.