What a lovely day. The weather was great (eventually) and I spent a wonderful hour and a half with my wife for lunch. And then, to top it all off, I visited the Hunterian Museum at the College of Surgeons. A marvellous day.
While the day started grey and gloomy, the clouds vanished as I arrived at Waterloo. The day looked so good, I decided to forgo the Tube and walked up to Holborn. The Thames looked gorgeous as I crossed Waterloo bridge.
Waiting outside for Mirinda (so I wasn’t accosted by the security guard like last week) I spotted Ruby Bentall walking around the corner and right by me. Ruby plays the hilarious Minnie in Lark Rise to Candleford and, as I discovered tonight, she was Mary Bennett in Lost in Austen. Anyway, it was one of those moments when you see someone you see a lot on TV and, at first, wonder who she is because you’re sure she’s someone you actually know, and then suddenly realise and almost burst out her character’s name. Fortunately I couldn’t remember she plays Minnie and so didn’t say anything. She’s very small and looked like she’d just been to the gym.
For lunch we went for a wander around Covent Garden again and decided to taste the wares at the Crusting Pipe. I’ve not been able to find out anything about the place or what the name means but they have a website here. It is downstairs with outside (and inside) eating where your meal is accompanied by buskers. Today we started with a classical group and ended with a wonderful contralto singing opera – including Ave Maria, which reminded me of our wedding.
Not that we ate outside. No, we sank deep into the Victorian depths and sat, surrounded by intriguing pictures from Victorian London. We had a lovely meal, washed down with an interesting pale ale (cider for Mirinda). I recommend it both for the food, the ale and the price, which was surprisingly reasonable for such a tourist spot.
After lunch (one of the best things is that you pay when you order, like in a pub, so there’s no waiting around for the bill) we took a wander through streets both wide and narrow, down lanes we’d never walked before. We spotted a marvellous hat shop that looked very old fashioned and Mirinda wondered how it remained a going concern. I was tempted to go in and try a bowler hat but the shop was closed for ‘a minute’ according to the sign on the door.
Lunch was all too soon over and we walked back to Holborn where I kissed Mirinda outside the building before leaving her. It was then off to Lincoln’s Inn Field for a visit to the Hunterian Museum.
The Hunterian Museum is inside The Royal College of Surgeons of England which lies just the other side of Lincoln’s Inn and is an impressive building. All imposing columns and a long sweeping driveway. I wasn’t sure I was in the right place until I saw the tiny laser printed sign pointing me in the direction of the museum.
Getting a special pass from security, I mounted the staircase and entered the museum.
John Hunter, born in 1728, was a surgeon who, after serving as an army surgeon in France and Spain, became well known for being a very handy chap with a scalpel. He started collecting specimens from everywhere. And he bottled them. Actually he quite often cut them open THEN bottled them. He had nearly 14,000 preparations! Sir Joseph Banks even sent him a kangaroo following his little holiday with Captain Cook in 1770.
Sadly, a lot of the collection was lost when the Germans decided to bomb the building during the war but even so, it’s pretty impressive. Over two floors, glass cabinets house many things in glass jars in, I assume, formaldehyde. These things stretch from bits of diseased humans to the ovaries of pregnant rabbits. It’s all quite amazing…and slightly eerie.
I wasn’t specifically there for the bits though. I’d come to see the new exhibition called ‘Extinct’. It promised to have examples of extinct and nearly extinct creatures. And it did, though the single display case was a bit disappointing. Still, what there was, was great.
There was the incomplete skeleton of a dodo made up of bits of many dodos. An old photograph of a grizzly looking man with a dead Tasmanian devil hanging from the ceiling, his gun between his legs – the grizzly man’s gun, not the Tasmanian devil’s. Clearly had the Tasmanian devil had a gun, the photo would have been very different. There were lots of interesting bits and pieces like that which were intriguing but just not enough!
Still, the rest of the museum more than made up for it. I particularly liked the giant skeleton. His name was, apparently, Mr Jeffs and John Hunter paid a lot of money to get it. Poor Mr Jeffs was suffering from myositis ossificans. This disease fuses the bones together making it more and more difficult to move. I was trying to imagine how difficult it would be for a man who looked to be about 8 feet tall to have little mobility. He’d bump his head all the time for one thing. Poor Mr Jeffs. He was only 39 when he died.
Upstairs at the museum is a walk through the history of surgery. The modern bit wasn’t as interesting as the gruesome early stuff. My eyes widened at this little beauty.
The label is hard to read but, basically, this thing was wound up tight and then released. The big blade would go like the clappers and cut through anything but particularly bone. Great for those quick amputations. It never really took off though because there was no way to stop it. It just kept spinning until the clockwork unwound. Scary.
I concluded my tour of the museum with a short visit to the gift shop (actually it was short because it’s very small) which, sadly, did not have a book on John Hunter or the museum generally. I did manage to buy mum a present though, so a surprise may arrive from Mr Postman soon, mum.
I then wandered down to Waterloo for the train back. In Farnham, the sun had vanished and the grey clouds had returned. But, all in all, a wonderful day.