Saturday, 15 April 2017

M = Medicine??

Writing these posts keeps sending me down Internet wormholes.

Remember how back at D = Death and a doodad I showed you the contents of Sir Henry Wellcome's pockets when he died? Well, that emerald ring has been haunting me. I thought I might write a fictional post giving a possible explanation as to why Sir H had it about his person, so I started researching the symbolism and history of emeralds. 
Holy guacamole.
Apparently, this stone, which is really green beryl — but let's face it, who's going to pay top drachma for a precious gem called Green Beryl — apparently, the Latin name was smaragdus. It's written on this medieval apothecary jar because they used to grind it up and administer powder of smaragdus like Pepto-Bismal as medication for stomach pains, poisoning and dysentery.
'Here you go, take this ground glass-like substance three times a day and call me in the morning.'

Ground emerald was even thought to cure plague.
Wormhole number two.

How much better do you think you'd instantly feel if these guys paid you a house call? I reckon I'd be locking all the doors, drawing the blinds, and pretending there was nobody home.

This is the garb of the medieval plague medic. His waxed robe and hood was his protection from the disease.
As if.
And what's with the long sticklike magic wandy thing? 

Deeper into the hole I fall.

It's a fumigating torch. 
Because bubonic plague leads to putrescent sores where one's lymph nodes used to be, and to stinky death breath that no mint could ever disguise, medieval medics figured the disease must be spread by stench. So, they filled these torches with scented herbs, which they burned and waved about using the smoke as protection.
As if.

Those madcap medicos often had beaky hoods on their plague-proof suits. Stuffing the beak with herbs was sort of back-up for the smoking staff.
And seeing images of beaky-hooded would-be healers made me wonder if that's how we got the word 'quack' to describe a dude who's just playing pretend doctors. 

Disappointingly, it's not.  

So I ended my journey down the wormhole as Alice did down the rabbit hole with a '...thump! thump!...' but not '...upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves...'. 
My journey ended on something far more prickly and bothersome.

Some misguided Medievals zealots believed that plague was God's way of punishing humankind for its many sins. So, as penance, they would tie these barbed bandages around their ankles and travel from town to town like self-flagellating minstrels, ever hopeful that their bleeding bodies would bring an end to the suffering.
As if.

I think I'd rather swallow powdered emerald.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Friday, 14 April 2017

L = Limbs akimbo

It felt just a little bit wrong standing staring at the case of prosthetic limbs in the Wellcome Collection. Mind you, if you've been following these posts you'll know that there are more than a few things on display there that can fairly safely be described as... well... slightly beyond the realm of ordinary. 

I confess I waited and wandered about pretending to take photos of a host of unprovocative and rather neutral objects before I summoned the courage to stroll casually up and take the close-up shots for K = Kinky bitsBut staring closely at a display of disembodied prosthetic limbs suspended in space, I felt even more like a voyeur. 
It was kind of like seeing Long John Silver in his underwear.

Perhaps my discomfort with mechanical pieces of human is because they speak of our vulnerability, and are so closely linked with the harm we cause each other in war. 

Not so my French friend in this poster. 
I call her The Most Serene Seraph of the Extra Bits.  

Graciously smiling, she floats above the clamouring throng, bestowing random extra limbs upon the needy and the legless.
I was about to say that'd be handy after a Friday night at the pub, then I realised it would be a dreadful yet totally unintentional pun. 
So I said it anyway.
You have my permission to groan.
Image credit: Wellcome Library, London

She seems to have dropped by when Saint buddies Cosmas and Damian (who are said to have performed miraculous surgery free of charge and therefore could not possibly have been the forerunners of modern physicians) were performing this medieval demi-leg-transplant. 

Her Serene Seraphness must have been in a bit of a hurry though, because not only does she appear to be wearing her nightie, but the leg she bestowed is quite clearly the wrong bloody colour.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the odd assortment of bits and bobs pictured here is the contents of the first drawer on the right in Grandpa's shed: pen and ink bottle,  cigarette lighter, spoon, fork and knife, cup holder, wooden dolly peg, scissors. 
But no.  
This is a selection of appliances used by an amputee who had lost both his arms at the shoulders. 
Say what?
How did a guy with no arms use these devices? 

Well, they are all components of the genius Mechanical Substitute for the Arms created by George Go-go-gadget Thomson in 1919. The implements were clipped to a mechanical arm that was, in turn, attached to an ordinary dining table.

Now, here's where I need your help.
How DID a guy with no arms use these devices?

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

K = Kinky bits

The clip from Kinky Boots has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this post, it's just that I thought I'd start with something upbeat after yesterday's discussion about dead stuff. 

Well, that and I figured some people might be a bit startled if any of the other images I plan to feature popped up first in their feed. 
Japanese sex aids, undated.

These...ummm...thought-provoking objects feature in the Beginning of Life cabinet of the Wellcome Collection. 
I'm assuming that the guiding principle used by the curator to select these objects is the supposition that lots of lives begin as the end product of foreplay and titillation.
Fair enough. 

The carefully partitioned box pictured contains a selection of decidedly unflexible and undoubtedly very cold sex aids. And it strikes me that one would struggle to keep this jumbo-sized wooden chest delicately secreted in one's bedside table. 
Nothing says passion-killer more than, 'Hold on while I winch out some freezing metal balls for your pleasure.'

Cowrie shell snuff container
This next set of objects is far more discreet. 
The first is a handpainted gentleman's snuff box made from a cowrie shell set with silver. But not just any old cowrie shell — a rather seductively shaped Indochinese humpbacked cowrie shell.

Each time said-gentleman fancied an uplifting whiff of snuff, he would also get an uplifting eyeful of a teeny weeny fully-dressed bloke undoing the chastity belt of a teeny weeny fully undressed chick. 
Portrait of husband and wife, do you think?

Erotic scenes in hinged Chinese porcelain fruit.
I like to imagine that these walnut-sized naughties belonged to a very proper Victorian hottie, who kept them on a shelf just out of reach of the children.
Oh what a cheeky surprise for the new chambermaid going about her daily dusting when she flipped open the dear little ornaments, a peach, a pepper and a tiny melon, to find they contain hidden erotica. Itsy-bitsy porcelain cupie dolls engaged in foreplay. 
Such fun!

Graeco-Roman bronze amulet,
100BCE  –  400CE
Naturally, I have saved the best till last. 
See those ...ahem.. dangly bits on this ancient good luck charm? And what about the chain and ring at the top? 
Does that give you a clue about the likely purpose of this penis with legs and a tail? This, running dick, if you will.
Yes, it's a wind chime.
Ancient Roman households had them dangling about the villa to ward off potential nasties. 
This amulet clearly once jingled out the message: stay away or our rampant phallus will hunt you down!
In my alternate fact universe, however, this object would most definitely have been a door bell.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

J = Jewellery jinx

Before moving to the other side of the globe, we sorted through every drawer and shelf  at The Rock, 'rationalising' everything we owned into store, take or chuck.

Tucked into a piece of pink tissue paper inside a floral envelope at the bottom of my dressing table was a small clipping of soft black hair.

'Ewww... What's this? ...Mum, that's disgusting. Chuck it!' declared Miss Almost-17, whose head said dark fluff had once graced. 'Why would you keep that?'
I dunno.
Why would I keep that? Sentimental marking of a milestone, I suppose.

Locks of human hair were once kept to mark the ultimate milestone — death. Victorian mourning brooches, like those pictured here, which enshrine woven or artistically arranged strands of a deceased loved-one's mane, however, are Queen Victoria's fault. 

She didn't invent the practice or decree that any woman failing to wear a piece of her dead husband's hair about her person would be beheaded or anything like that. Mourning jewellery was a thing before her beloved husband Albert died, it's just that in the forty years that she outlived him, Queen Victoria turned grieving the loss of one's nearest and dearest into a fine art. And showing one's loyalty to the monarch was most definitely de rigeur in those days.

According to the bizarrely specific rules for females in mourning, a widow was permitted to begin wearing such jewellery in the second stage of mourning, which began one year and one day after the death of the spouse. Stage two lasted another year.

Queen Victoria wore black clothes and carried jewellery set with Albert's hair next to her heart for the rest of her life.

After reading about these morbid tress mementos, I began to worry about whether it would actually have been better to flip that tissue paper parcel onto the 'chuck' pile.  At the very least, I probably should have chanted some sort of anti-jinx rhyme or crossed my fingers behind my back or stashed it away in the same envelope as the four-leaved clover I found just before my final high school exams. 
But I didn't. 

When I cease to exist and my kids are sifting through the debris of my life, rationalising the contents of my jewellery box into yours, mine and chuck, they will each come upon one of those little parcels of hair. 

I know which pile those sentimental dark wisps will end up on. 
So, perhaps I should have their baby tresses set into gold. Maybe discovering delicately crafted pieces of their own hair would give my children pause to stop and think about how precious they have always been to me.
Or maybe they would just look at each other and exclaim, 'Ewww....Mum. What were you thinking? That's disgusting'.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

I = Insects ( with a tenuous link to Cary Grant)

 'Oh, you're Australian. I'd love to go there, but I'm too afraid of all the creepy crawlies and snakes and things.' 

We've only been here in the UK for a few months, and already I have heard that response, or some version of it, more times than I would care to count. Something has given people here the impression that we have bugs the size of German Shepherds. 

Most of these un-intrepid travellers cite their fear of spiders as the reason for not visiting Oz. (Yes, I know spiders are not insects, but work with me here. A bit of latitude won't hurt anyone.) 
One Australian has died of a spider bite in the past 38 years. 

In the same amount of time, some twenty Brits out walking their dogs have been crushed, trampled or butted to death by cows. I seriously doubt that a single person has ever cited bovinaphobia as a reason for not travelling to any country anywhere. Nor can I imagine that cow-killings have ever stopped anyone from walking their dog.

Mather's Fly Paper plate, England 1863-1900
On display Medicine Man gallery, Wellcome Collection
Besides, the Antipodes hardly has exclusive rights to insects. The dinner-sized china plate pictured, its border jauntily decorated with flies, ants, wasps and mosquitoes, was once a practical advertisement for Mather's Fly Paper. It's also proof that Brits have been dealing with annoying insects for a bloody long time. 

I imagined such crockery was strategically placed in the kitchen and dining rooms, indeed any place where hygiene is critical, so that the tacky-surfaced flypaper could snare unsuspecting and unwanted arthropod. Cooks, diners and serving-staff could then watch gleefully on as bugs failed in their many attempts to extricate themselves from their sticky predicaments, perhaps parting ways with a leg or a wing or two in their struggle.

It seems I was only half-right. Mather's Fly Paper wasn't actually sticky. It was yet another product that depended on arsenic to do its job. You had to soak the arsenic-impregnated paper in water before you popped it onto the special-purpose plate.
Mmmmmm... Arsenic at the dinner table
Wouldn't old Aunts Abby and Martha have loved that?

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

H = Hair apparent

From a royal haircut sometime between 1738 and 1820.
My photo edited with Color Effect
Set in a wall-case all its very own in Wellcome's Medicine Man gallery is a wisp of wiry hair: a lock reputedly snipped from the bonce of King George III, Britain's longest serving—and arguably craziest—king.

Do you think some enterprising court coiffeur made a few farthings on the side running a hush-hush under-the-counter business dealing in tiny packages of His Highness's crowning glory? 
Psst... wanna score some sovereignty? 

However and whyever it was acquired, (and letter J may reveal all, so stay tuned) the existence of this peculiar souvenir has allowed modern scientists to investigate just exactly what ailed the mad monarch.

According to current opinion, records of his erratic behaviour indicate the king was bipolar. He is also likely to have suffered from porphyria, a genetic condition that can lead to the sorts of episodes George experienced. A genetic condition that Mary,Queen of Scots, apparently introduced to the bloodline.

A very hairy King George III
Drawn by M Wyatt & engraved by W Lowry
November 6th 1817
And according to his hair, the poor guy had enough arsenic in his system to poison a small elephant: 300 times the recommended safe level.
Arsenic levels amplify the effects of porphyria.
Guess which heavy metal was in the substance that physicians of the day administered to treat his manic episodes? 

Arsenic was also an ingredient in the powder liberally sprinkled on the wigs that were the shit in the G-man's day. Powder could be pleasantly scented with lavender or orange oil to hide that certain 18th century-lack-of-bathing funk. 

So, a big-wig like our boy George would employ a minion (such as the aforementioned coif peddling candyman) to regularly shave his skull and look after his hirsute big-wiggish needs. 

You see, you could send your head-piece off to have it boiled until it was vermin-free. Not such a good idea if your hair is attached.

Of course it's also altogether possible that the hair is not George's at all, and this is all part of an H for hoax.

During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

G = Good grief

I may have been leading you on just a little bit with the title of this post. 
I was going to call it G = Girls' bits, but  Mayim Bialik telling me why I shouldn't kept playing on my internal monologue mixed-tape. 
The most descriptive title would have been G = Gynaecology. But who's going to click on a blog link titled G = Gynaecology and expect to be entertained? Right? So the politically correct, slightly misleading, not-very-descriptive title G=Good grief won by default. 
I don't really even have much to say today, because in two out of three cases, I'm going to let the Wellcome's own interpretive text speak for itself.
And I have every confidence that you will be entertained.

Here's the first (I left my thumb in the picture for authenticity).

I'll wait while you read that again.
Now, you can't deny that's a pretty impressive example of good grief girls' bits gynaecology. 

These next two images are extracts from a book. I took close-ups of the pics for you. Now here is the actual entry:

L0029311 Credit: 
Wellcome Library, London
Gynaecological texts, including information about conception, pregnancy and childbirth - Woman who died in childbirth on operating table, with doctor holding knife after delivering baby by Caesarean section, a nurse holding swaddled child - Seated woman (unnecessarily shown with caesarean section) talking to standing, dressed woman. 
Ink and watercolour. 1420? 

I love how the cataloguer has added a little bit of editorial comment, but I think s/he missed the key issue.

The woman on the right of both images looks like the same person, so I'm tipping she's the midwife... or maybe the wet nurse. And what I really want to know, is why the hell is the dead chick high-fiving her?

The final image for today is, without doubt, 
one of the most good grief-est of all the good-grief things  that Sir Henry collected.

No woman can stand in front of this glass case without wincing.



During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.

My posts will all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.