Friday, 28 April 2017

X = Xerosis to the X-treme

You're going to have to allow me a bit of latitude with these last few letters of the alphabet. Shortage of material is not the problem, it's shortage of material starting with X,Y and Z that's giving me a right royal pain in the rear end. 
So, I'm hoping that if you've stuck with me this far, you'll cut me a bit of slack. And if you've only just stumbled into this carnival of words...well...

(1) Pathological dryness of a body part or tissue, especially the skin, eyes and mucous membranes  
(2) The normal hardening of the tissue that occurs with aging 
From the Greek xero, meaning dry

In my opinion, definition (2) is just plain rude. OK, yes, it might be true, but  I see no need to call the loss of a little bit of elasticity by the same ugly name as anything pathological. And while I admit to having developed a near-chronic case of lizard legs in my rapidly approaching dotage, it's nothing that a vat of industrial strength moisturiser can't fix.

As far as dried up old body parts go, they don't come much drier than a mummy — who was possibly a daddy. Some 700 years ago, this desiccated bundle was a bloke living on the north coast of Peru. 
And even though his community obviously hoped for him to have life eternal, I suspect they didn't envisage it being on display in a museum in London.

I was totally mistaken when I chose a Tsantsa (which is the formal way to address a shrunken head) for inclusion under the heading of Xerosis
When I did my homework, I discovered that a shrunken head is not made by drying out a full-sized head at all. 

Apparently, you shrink a head the same way you'd shrink a woollen jumper. In really hot water. 
Should you ever hanker to possess the soul of another human being, just follow these ten easy steps to create your very own Tsantsa:
1: Chop head from enemy making sure head and neck remain connected
2: Slit flesh at back of neck and pull in upwards motion to remove skin and hair from skull
3: Discard skull (feed to dog?)
4: Sew eyelids shut and secure lips with wooden skewers (or strong toothpicks)
5: Drop into large pot of boiling water (a pasta or soup pot would be perfect)
6: Simmer for up to 2 hours (remove before hair falls out and skin goes mushy)
7: Turn inside-out and scrape off any remaining fleshy bits clinging to the skin
8: Carefully fill skin-bag with hot sand and stones ( don't scald your fingers)
9: Rub outside with warm charcoal and hang over fire to dry, being careful not to singe the hair (because that smells awful and adding extensions to a Tsantsa is really fiddly)
10: Remove skewers from lips, sew shut.
Once complete, you can decorate as desired, but remember this is your enemy. Don't be too generous.

So, as you can see, although it's not technically Xerosis, there is a bit of drying out involved. 
Latitude taken.

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

Thursday, 27 April 2017

W = Walking

After a veritable lifetime of practice, I thought I had this walking thing under control. 
Four months of living in London has put paid to that little bit of hubris. 

To be fair, it's not all my fault. I'm more than willing to lay a large part of the blame squarely at the feet of the City of Westminster. 
And the generations of brown-brogue-wearing British engineers before them.
With no car, walking is now my main mode of transport. So, with near-GPS precision, I am locating every wobbly bit of paving, each uniquely uneven cobblestone and any crumbling piece of street gutter in greater London.
And stepping on it. 
Almost certainly with my left foot.

I am perfecting the art of what I call the half-faint-stumble. You know, that ever so elegant move where your foot (in my case the left but some of you may lead with your right) your foot spontaneously flips from horizontal to vertical, and you find that your ankle is now located where your heel should be. Indeed, where your heel was just a millisecond ago. With your centre of gravity momentarily in shock, you lurch gracefully into albatross-about-to-take-flight position in a bid to avoid the complete faint-fall-stumble face-plant.
At least, I do.
Every. Damned. Day.              

Two of Charles Darwin's walking sticks.
Medicine Man Gallery, Wellcome Collection

Perhaps I should take my lead from the eminently sensible Charles Darwin, renowned scientist and exponent of the walking stick.

Apparently, Mr Darwin did his best thinking on foot. Such a strong believer in the power of the walking stick was he that a distinctive tappy-tappy was, reputedly, how others knew he was in the vicinity. But I'm afraid that, today, the approach of the great Grand Pooh-Bah of natural history would also be accompanied by a great deal of tut-tut and tsk-tsking. 
His favoured aids-de-walking are made of whale bone, ivory and animal horn.

I have nothing but admiration for all those gorgeous young things teetering about the streets of London on their spike heels, playing peak-hour footpath chicken in stiff-soled wedges and dashing down to the Tube in their prodigious platforms. 
My days in high heels are long gone. On those rare occasions when I break them out, I invariably find my night's sleep pierced by my own screams as cramp to rival the Hulk trying not to let Betty Ross slip through his grasp grips my calves.

Indian fakir sandals, Wellcome Collection
iPhone pic edited in Snapseed

But do you think maybe I could cultivate better balance by giving the world's least flexible sandals a go?

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

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

V = Votives... not the glowing kind

Admittedly, I wasn't raised in a religious household, but I had no idea that a votive isn't just a little candle in a schmancy holder of some type. 
I did not know that the word votive is derived from vow, and so is used to describe an object or an act offered up to honour or thank a god. Now I think about it, that makes perfect sense — all those candles on altars are lit as vows, votives. 
Back 2500 years ago, the Etruscans were more hardcore about their conversations with the gods. Not prepared to risk their vows being snuffed out or lost in the afterglow, they made thousands of votives from long-lasting terracotta and apparently left so many of them lying and hanging about temples and holy places that pits full of them have been uncovered. 
And the most common of those votives are body parts. The academic jury is out about how these clay bits and pieces worked. Or didn't.

Perhaps they were a request for help, with a statue of the bit needing the most attention in case the deity got confused and answered the wrong prayer: "Please help me overcome these splitting headaches. And here's a replica of my head to help you find your way to me through the white-noise of the clamouring throng. Please, don't worry about my cleft chin. I can live with that."

Or, votives may have been a way of saying something less seriously medical in nature: 'Thanks for my awesome dandruff-free curly hair. I gave it a run at the Full Moon Feast last night and was the envy of every flaky-skulled centurion in Rome".

Or, they may even have been a sort of pre-emptory strike, a symbol associated with a completely non-health related request: 
" Oh great gods, it has been decreed that I must sit beside Dullius Volumnius at the Forum next month. Please help me to ignore the boring droning old fart, and give me the strength to speak up against his daffy old-fangled notions."

A tray of Etruscan penis votives.
 Image credit: Wellcome Library
Here's a museum tray of what, at first glance, appears to be fossilised lumps of doggy-doo. 
But of course it's not. 
In fact, this carefully labelled storage drawer leads me to speculate that, perchance, many votives may have been little more than bad Etruscan selfies. 
Well, not selfies so much as pecker pics. 

Fashioning an effigy of a boy's bit out of clay is not a quick process, I'll grant you that, but... like...well... you know... graffitiing on the side of a chariot with ... you know mosaics takes... like literally a lifetime. 
An Etruscan lad's gotta do something for a giggle.

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

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

U = Uncomfortable underwear

"Could you pass the water, please?"
How would you feel if the person on the other side of the dinner table responded to your polite request by handing you this antique hand-decorated jug?
Look closely.
It's a picture of a guy giving another guy an enema with what looks to be one of those vintage pump-action fly-spray thingamyjigs, or perhaps only marginally less distressingly, one of those whatsits you use to blow up balloons.
Almost as uncomfortable as the poor bloke on the receiving end of the implement, who appears to be attempting to hang onto the tiniest thread of dignity by not baring his butt cheeks.
But it'd be hard to know where to put your fingers, wouldn't it? On the jug I mean. 
And let's not think even think about drinking the contents.

While we're at the dinner table, ladies, have you ever succumbed to the devil that is the wearing of Spanx to flatter and smooth your shape for that special function? You will no doubt have found yourself standing pretty much all night
French  illustration of the non-benefits of corset-wearing
because the moment you bend, the many squooshy bits being confined into a space that's way too small for them become unflatteringly unsmooth and either bulge out over the top or press uncomfortably on your wee-bag. 
Am I right? 
Plus, you have to pretend that you're not really hungry or have allergies that prevent you doing anything other than nibble on a single hors d'oeuvre because there just isn't enough space for anything else.

Well, spare a thought for oh-so-many of your sisters from yesteryear. 
How comfortable do you reckon a brass corset would have been?
Talk about pinch-in the waist!

Image credit: Wellcome Library
So now, what's this pinchy-looking thing, all neatly tied with a bow? 
A napkin ring perhaps? Or a ponytail keeper?
Think again.
This, my friend, is a 'Four-pointed urethral ring'.
Say what?
That's right, this device was designed to encircle a penis.
A human penis.
With the aim of discouraging the nasty undesirable habit of masturbation.
Are you fully uncomfortable now?

And here is a close-up of just such a device on display. Clearly a technological advance on the one in the illustration, this beastie is a clip-on version, with an expanding ring in the middle, which seems to allow a slightly more realistic space for... shall we say... swelling... before the organ makes contact with the spiky metal bits. (I can't bring myself to call them teeth.)
I imagine this model was readily adjustable, rather than one size fits all.
It's not as pretty as the one with the bow, though, is it?

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.

Monday, 24 April 2017

T = Tattoos

You may need a magnifying glass to read the print on this screenshot,
or you could just take my word for it. But the Wellcome Image website
home page actually has a link to take you directly to 'Tattoo designs".
It's the one with the image on the right.
Awesome, yes? Told you this was not your average museum.
I once read a really cool article about tattoos  prepared for by an archaeologist, so it totally has street cred. 
It suggests that tattoos pretty much began as a female thing in ancient Egypt. Women had constellation-like tattoos on their stomachs as protection from evil. The pattern would expand with their bellies during pregnancy, encircling the unborn child, keeping it safe. I love that idea. That article created an image that has stayed with me. 
Not so much that I would ever let anyone imprint a constellation on my person with a needle and ink though. 

Historical tattoos can be seen in the Wellcome Collection. Yes, actual pieces of human skin that bear drawings. Not photos of the tattoos, the tattoos. Diembodied. 
The museum entry about them explains: 
The tattooed skin was purchased by one of Henry Wellcome’s collecting agents, Captain Johnston-Saint, in June 1929 from Dr Villette, a Parisian surgeon. Villette worked in military hospitals and collected and preserved hundreds of samples from the autopsies of French soldiers. In the late 1800s, tattoos were often seen as markers of criminal tendencies, or ‘primitiveness’. Medical men tried to interpret common images and symbols. Tattoos were also used as a tool for identification, a practice that continues today.

What do you think we can surmise about a soldier who chose
to have a sailor and a flower tattooed on his bicep?
That bothers me. 
What Dr Villette did bothers me. 
Surely, these soldiers chose tattoos that represented something of significance to them, something that formed part of their sense of self, something that became integral to their identity. Didn't they?
Then, after they died, Dr Villette saw fit to cut those images from their bodies and send his patients off to the afterlife with patches of exposed flesh where their tattoos should have been. Stripped of identity.
Or am I being over-sensitive? 
Are tattoos just permanent jewellery?

Back at letter S, I mentioned that Michael C Hall (the actor who plays Dexter) has a tattoo. Long story short, I was sitting in the front row at a recent performance of Lazarus (in which he stars as the aged Man Who Fell To Earth) and Michael C had bare feet for much of the production. 
The play is suitably mind-bendingly-David-Bowie-esque. With fab songs. But I found myself fixated on Michael C's foot. More specifically, on the tattoo on Michael C's instep. It's sort of like an Egyptian eye and a pyramid. 
I even did a crappy drawing of it in the notebook I carry everywhere in case I run into a celebrity with a tattoo I need to draw.
What is that thing?

At the time, unravelling the mystery of the symbolism of Michael C's Egyptian-looking sun and pyramid tattoo didn't detract from the enigmatic show, it seemed a sort of bonus conundrum. 
But now it's bugging the shit out of me.
What IS that thing?
And why would Michael C Hall have it tattooed on his foot?

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