The fat of the land

No, this post isn’t about the Prodigy, it’s about muck.

In 2017 a monstrous fiend was discovered lurking in the sewers beneath the streets of Whitechapel. The ghost of Jack the Ripper? No. The FATBERG *screams*

Sewers are good, and necessary, and help to reduce outbreaks of cholera in heavily populated areas like London. Sewers are also a bit smelly and dirty and full of things we never wanted to see again.

The term ‘fatberg’ was first used by London sewer workers to describe the accumulations of oil and grease and ‘stuff’ that build up in sewers, and which have to be cleared out regularly  in order to keep the channels flowing. It’s a real word now because it entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015 but in September 2017, the mother of all fatbergs was found in the Whitechapel sewer.

It was big. Weighing ~130 tonnes and stretching along the sewer for over 250 metres, so it had to go. The difficulty was its sheer mass and solidity. The usual method of removal is to blast it with jets of water to break it up, and then suck it out through pipes into tankers for disposal. Unfortunately, the Whitechapel Fatberg was, in places, so rock solid that blasting it with jets of water couldn’t break it up, so the only alternative was for the sewer workers to hack it to pieces with  picks and hand-shovels. Over the course of nine weeks, eight waste engineers, working nine hours a day rid the sewer of the fatberg.

The workers had to wear protective clothing and masks in order to avoid being poisoned by the toxic waste or infected with diseases, which can be breathed in or even absorbed into your system through your skin.

Even though they were only handling a small sample, the conservators at the Museum were also kitted out with similar protective gear. During the process of preservation mould grew on the samples and flies hatched out of them. The samples were x-rayed to see what was inside (and to check for hazards like sharps), then they were dried out, reducing the risk of contamination, and enclosed in three boxes, one inside another inside another. They are now displayed in sealed units.  That Fatberg bites.

And here it is.

I was initially (madly) expecting the chunks to be huge, sofa-sized pieces but, having seen what was involved in preserving them and the hazards they posed, I can see why that could never be.

So why on earth has such a piece of grimness ended up on display in a museum?

Well, the Whitechapel Fatberg’s ‘celebrity’ presented the Museum of London, and the ‘Curator of Fatberg!’, Vyki Sparkes,  with an opportunity to tell the story of something that is common and everyday in our city, as in all cities, waste. The enormous volume of waste generated by a big city is a constant problem that has to be monitored and managed but which we don’t all necessarily consider very often. Putting a piece of it in the museum that tells the story of London helps us to consider it. On display, we’re only seeing a tiny piece of a huge problem but it’s a way to have the conversation about how we can all help to reduce that problem, just a little bit.

We can all think about what we’re flushing down the loo. Flushable wet wipes may be marketed as easy to dispose of, but they don’t biodegrade so flushing them is just shifting the problem to somewhere else. The Fatberg, as it’s name suggests, is made up of a base of fat; oil, cooking fat and fats found in product such as hair conditioner. Some of this, at least, doesn’t have to end up down the drain. We can all make decisions about how we dispose of our waste and also make decisions about what we purchase and how that can help to reduce waste a bit.

You can read about the rationale and process for bringing the Fatberg to the museum on the museum’s own blog.

The good news is that the fat content of the fatberg is actually recyclable. It can be recycled and reused as biodiesel fuel, powering the buses. Other elements have been recycled to make fertilizer.

The Fatberg has just gone on display at The Museum of London and will be there to visit, for free, until the 1st July as part of the ‘City Now City Future’ season.

 

p.s. Is that a Double-Decker wrapper sticking out of the Fatberg?

 

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Archaeology at high speed

Visiting the Musee d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux, I made my usual mistake; spending and hour-and-a-half in the Roman galleries and only then twigging that there are about another six galleries to see plus a temporary exhibition *eyes-roll*.

In this case, the temporary exhibition in question was ‘L’archéologie à Grande Vitesse : 50 sites fouillés entre Tours et Bordeaux’ (trans: ‘High-speed archaeology at high speed: 50 sites searched between Tours and Bordeaux’) an exhibition which takes in 400,000 years of human activity along the new 340km long high-speed rail route, the “Sud Europe Atlantique”.

The exhibition is very much about the archaeology and the processes of investigation, with artefacts used to illustrate points along the way and to tell the stories of the people living in this region of France away from the main known archaeological sites. Covering such a huge time period could result in a scattergun approach but concentrating on the process of archaeology, and the work of the archaeologists gives the exhibition structure and following the rail line provides the ‘why?’ for the exhibition, as well as giving us a thread to follow.

This reminded me very much of the excellent Crossrail exhibition presented by the Museum of London (and MOLA and Crossrail) in London last year. The major engineering works are the rationale for the excavations with the archaeology uncovered being the main focus of the exhibition. Of course, Crossrail took us through mostly urban and industrial sites whereas the Sud Europe Atlantique takes us through swathes of countryside where there has been little or no urban development, as well as rural settlement sites.

The exhibition includes films from the excavations and some pretty nifty interactive screens where we can see into tunnels and 360° around inside sites. I liked the way that the screen view was also projected onto the walls.

There are sections on sites representing different time periods from the paleolithic to the modern, with models showing how the sites may have looked, with interpretations based on things like visible wall-lines, the positions of post-holes, pits, wells, and so on. The finds on display range from whole burials, through to pottery, incised gems, stone tools, coins, part of a Roman pulley (my favourite) and a mystery object (the last 2 images below), listed as “objet indetermine (antiquite)”. It’s ~6-7cm long). Know what it is? Answers on a postcard to Musee d’Aquitaine.

Speaking of site models, the exhibition also included these stunningly realistic models of life on a construction/excavation site.

Every details is accurate, careful excavation of articulated skeletons,

site photography,

section drawing and plotting points using a dumpy level,

 

the finds tent,

and more.

There’s even a naughty-but-cute Site Dog.

‘L’archéologie à Grande Vitesse : 50 sites fouillés entre Tours et Bordeaux’ closes on 4th March 2018.

2017 and all that

Some of you, if you are Facebookies, may have been inundated with ‘Year in Review’ videos which are, frankly, rubbish. Facebook is crap at picking the images that tell the story of your year and always end up with old, reposted pictures, your ex who just dumped you or that one from where you saw an old mattress dumped in the street. The only way to do it is to chose your own images and tell it your own way. So here’s mine.

Around the world

In 2017 I’ve mostly been interested in Northern Europe. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it was. So, here’s a whistlestop tour through my whistlestop tours.

Boom!! Cologne

Bang!! Paris

Wowee!! Rome, with The Couple Formerly Known As Trowelsworthy (TCFKAT).

Kablammo!! Orvieto

  

Crash!! Mainz

 

Kapow!! Bad Durkheim

Badabing!! Frankfurt

Bazinga!! Bavay

Wow!! Paris (again). Thanks for the cheapo tickets Eurostar.

Bang!! Senlis

Crash!! Leiden

 

Whoopee!! Amsterdam

Other places are available.

Tourists at home

It’s fantastic to visit far, or not so far away places, but home is best and being a tourist in your own home is great fun. On many of my touristic days out, Craig has been my travelling companion but I started the year, in traditional style, at the Twelfth Night celebrations on Bankside.

Then nose-hunting with Craig

And I also visited the London Lumiere with Pete and Dayna.

Me and Craig went to Freemason’s Hall.

And to the ‘Glad to be Gay: the struggle for legal equality’ exhibition at LSE. This celebrated 50 year since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain.

The City of London Police Museum.

 

We went to Banqueting House for ‘Long Live Queen James’, an evening exploring LGBT stories from the court of King James I/VI.

And we had a poke around the restoration works at Ally Pally.

 

The Supreme Court, with Jeremy

I went to Highgate Cemetery with Sacha and Stuart.

And with Craig and Jeremy to the London Transport Museum.

(“Exchange stations shewn thus”)

Plus loads more. Seriously, London is very cool. Go and look at it.

Moosic, moosic, moosic

There have been some stonking gigs this year. This isn’t all of them, but it is some of them. How many can you name?*

 

Random Romans

There are always more Romans about, so I went to have a look for some. I popped up for a quick visit to Newcastle and Carlisle to see some of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions.

 

I went to Hull! I’ve never been to Hull before but they have a fantastic Roman mosaic collection so I decided to make the effort and go and have a look. Well worth it.

I managed a couple of short trips up to Glasgow and Edinburgh, taking in Bothwellhaugh Roman bathhouse in Strathclyde Country Park with Ellen and Simon,

 

the bathouse and Antonine Wall remains at Bearsden,

and finally made it to Eagle Rock at Cramond.

 

Back in town, the eagerly awaited opening of the London Mithraeum didn’t disappoint.

When I was in Germany, I popped down to Speyer to see the Roman Collection at  Das Historische Museum der Pfalz (The Historical Museum of the Palatinate).

What else? What else? Volunteering on a schools’ project at the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive (Me! Working with children!!), and I spent half the year working at Tower Bridge (actual paid employment!). This is surely enough to pack into 12 short months.

So that’s 2017 from me, and from my boys, Archie and Bertie. I hope you’ve had a good year and roll on 2018.

 

Oh, and here’s that one from where I saw an old mattress dumped in the street.

From the ashes

I’m certainly not the first to post a ‘first look’ review of the newest museum space in London, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t be the last, but here I go. Just a quick look.

By now I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story of London’s Temple of Mithras. Discovered during the clearance for redevelopment of a bombed out site near Cannon Street (1952-4). Saved for the nation (sort of) due to intense public interest. Relocated to the wholly inappropriate site on the concourse of Temple Court, Queen Victoria Street. And there it sat for 50 years do so until…

Now, finally, returned and restored to (more or less) its original site following the re-redevelopment of the site by Bloomberg for its new European headquarters. So, after much waiting and with high expectations, I was finally there.

Oooooh, it’s good. It is. It’s good. I mean, it’s Bloomberg, who have all the money in the world, so it’s a bit ‘corporate sleek and shiny’ but that’s ok. It’s nicely done. Understated rather than flashy. On entering, visitors’ first encounter is with the modern as the entrance hall, Bloomberg Space, holds (at the moment) a tapestry and sculpture by Isabel Nolan but we’re soon into the Roman, which is what we’re all here for, with a wall of finds from the 2011-14 excavations.

This collection is just a tiny proportion of the ~14,000 artefacts excavated from the site and includes a representative sample of everyday objects, as well as a few star finds.

This is the sort of display that could be a bit frustrating as the floor-to-ceiling format means that many of the objects are way above eye level. But, never fear, visitors are provided with ipads giving close-up views and information about the objects on display. This can also be accessed on your phone, which is handy.

From there, visitors begin to descend down to the earlier street levels, with a timeline running down the stairs for orientation. You can see how far back in time you are travelling, the lower down you go.

At the next level down we’re starting to get into the mithraic mindset. Three interactive stations give information about mithraism, about the cult in the Roman world, its iconography and possible meanings and about the London Mithraeum specifically.

I was particularly interested in the info on the London Mithraeum. This is also, basically, a waiting area as the visit to remains of the mithraeum itself includes an av presentation which gives visitors an impression of the atmosphere and sounds of the mithraeum in use. This runs about every 20 mins and then there’s time to stay and have a proper look at the remains too.

And here it is, finally, the London Mithraeum.

The presentation is, again, quite understated. Nothing too flashy. Even the av atmospherics aren’t over the top. They just give an impression of what a mithraeum would have been like, subtly filling in the spaces where the walls and columns would have been and bringing just enough life into the space. Looking at the remains themselves, this reconstruction is much more sympathetic than the 1960s one. Nuclear cement bonding…gone. Crazy crazy-paving…gone. Instead we have, as far as possible, the original remains, including the timber risers for the steps, the well and (look closely by the entrance) the door pivots.

So, all in all, this new museum space is a bit of a triumph. I could probably have done without Joanna Lumley’s breathy delivery on the voice-over, and I’d like to see some more detailed info about the recent MOLA excavations and the actual process of reconstructing the remains. Maybe just the addition of the MOLA publications for reference or printed copies of the  excellent (and free!) downloadable booklet. But these are minor points and personal preferences.

The London Mithraeum is free to visit but you do need to book a slot. Get booking because it’s proving popular. You get a free booklet when you visit and the use of the aforementioned ipads for info onsite.

Three days in May

Loop. Three nights of Loop. Three consecutive, ear bashing nights of Loop. 😀

Ear bashing night 1: Bristol Exchange

Bristol. The scene of past Loop disasters and past Loop triumphs.

I met fellow ‘enthusiast’ Dave in Bristol and we went for a nice cup of tea before the gig. Then we trolled along to The Exchange, running into Soundhead Martin and guitarist Dan in the pub.

Support for the night was by Salope (Gareth out of Anthroprophh, Big Naturals and Kuro), which consisted of a drone of electric cello and theramins. I rather liked this.

When Loop came onstage to their usual drone-intro, which is when I always get a bit excited, they launched straight into The Nail Will Burn. The set included several older tracks and two tracks from the most recent Array 1 ep, Precession and Aphelion but, alas, not the groovy Radial.

Collision sounded great and Arc Lite was spot on 😀 Ending on Burning World is a lovely way to go out too.

I’d say that this was a good solid Loop gig, very enjoyable and a great start to the weekend of Loop gigs.

Set list:

Ear bashing night 2: London, Raw Power Festival

Baba Yaga’s Hut, one of the best London promoters, also presents one of the best London weekenders, Raw Power, now in its fourth year. At The Dome (Boston Arms) in Tufnell Park from Friday to Sunday evening various levels of psych heaviosity is hurled out onto an expectant audience. This year included some Loop heaviosity.

As is the way with me, I didn’t go for the whole day straight through. The Dome is not far from where I live so I can pop in and out. This time I popped in for Japanese New Music Festival (brilliant and hilarious), Qujaku (scary wailing), Cosmic Dead (very hairy) and, obviously, Loop. I think that Loop worked really well in the context of this event. They’re heavy enough to hold their own in the assembled line-up but also dancey enough for people who don’t really know them to just have a good old frug. The sound at the Dome was pretty well spot on so we were getting all the volume and distortion as it’s meant to sound without any mess or superfluous fuzz.

The audience was upbeat and totally went with the band on this journey into sound 😀 Robert was pretty jolly too so there was a nice level of banter: audience member, “play Fix to Fall”,  Robert, ” we can’t play that. It’s too hard” and (while tuning his guitar) “I’m having trouble with my g-string” (how we laughed!).

The setlist was the same as in Bristol.

Ear bashing night 3: Manchester, Transformer Festival

Ooh, controversy. When The Victoria Warehouse announced the ‘too good to be true’ line-up which included Swans, The Fall, Royal Trux and, of course, Loop, the gig-hivemind drew in its collective breath and said, “smells like Barry Hogan”. Barry Hogan; he of a swathe of ATP triumphs and disasters. This assumed connection, together with a couple of, frankly, disastrous and heavily criticized events at the Victoria Warehouse seemed to really put people off buying tickets, despite the hilariously cheap price.

Sure enough, when we got to the venue it was nowhere near full. On the plus side, this made it a much more comfortable experience than friends of mine have had there in the past; no queues for the bar or loos, no crushes getting into the different rooms, plenty of space to just hang out with friends and we were able to actually see the bands. On the minus side, the lack of bodies may have contributed to the extremely echoey sound, rattling around inside this giant box. The Fall sounded (from the back of the main room) like they were playing in a tin can and Loop’s set was definitely affected by an eerie echo.

It sounded like they spent the first couple of songs battling valiantly with the sound onstage before giving up on subtlety and wacking everything up to 11. I think that Wayne (drums) in particular, was having to work extremely hard to hold it all together.

Nevertheless, Loop playing a ridiculously loud, ridiculously heavy set in a disused warehouse is a scenario that I can happily get behind and I enjoyed the gig enormously, despite the problems. And I wasn’t the only one. New best occasional pal Rob was seeing Loop  for only the second time and responded with a level of joie de vivre that is to be applauded. He was giving out badges!

So, of the three nights, I enjoyed all of them but the London gig was the best. A great atmosphere, pretty heavy playing and excellent sound all worked together to make this the best one. Lots of Soundheads were out and about over the weekend so it was also nice to see people and catch up with them (you all know who you are. Thanks for being great company x).

And now I’m looking forward to Liverpool Psych Fest in September for some more Loop action.

PLAY RADIAL!!

Open Doors at The People’s Palace

Yesterday I was out in North London, visiting a site that has always been a visible part of my life. Literally visible; from my school, from my parents’ house, from places I’ve worked, from my balcony at home…

Alexandra Palace. The People’s Palace of North London.

It’s a lovely place, even if it has that rather bonkers Victorian/Edwardian nuttiness about it. Norf Landan’s version of the Crystal Palace, cursed by witches*, plagued by financial woes and fires (I remember being stood on a table in my classroom at school, watching it burn down). By rights it should have been demolished years ago but we just like it too much so we just keep trying to make a go of it, and this time it actually seems to be working. There’s an ice rink and a playground (that I played in as a child), a boating lake, it was the site of the first regular TV broadcasting studio in the UK. There’s a barely-known ‘hidden’ theatre (I saw a highly inventive production of the Odyssey there), crazy golf and, in the grounds below the Palace, a million zillion blackberry bushes (there are some serious blackberrying opportunities at Ally Pally).

But today I wasn’t here for all that, but for an Open Doors Construction Tour. I’ve been on these before at a few different building sites, and they’re a great way to get a nosey at some of the most interesting construction projects going on in London**. Craig also managed to bag a ticket at short notice. This project is the restoration of the East Wing, where the theatre is situated, and the ongoing works are restoring the structure and decoration improving access, renovation the East Court, building in areas for a new museum of the the early history of television, cafes and function rooms, and generally making it an even better place for visitors.

 

We got to visit some of the area that were used by the BBC as studio, recording and staff spaces.

I was delighted to get out onto one of the balconies overlooking the view of London.

 

Here, a small section of an earlier decorative scheme. And someone has scrawled on the wall in pencil:

“The wages of sin is death. The wages of a carpenter is worse”

As the works have been ongoing, a number of artefacts have been unearthed and are on show, including a copy of the Haringey Star with the front page highlighting the “yes” vote from locals to the renovation of the recently-burnt Palace. And look, the man from the ministry said “no”.

A lot of the documents and images have been scanned by Google so, I guess, they’ll be available online at some point.

Outside of Islington, North London isn’t exactly flush with theatre spaces, despite its reputation for showbiz lovies, so the renovation of the beautiful theatre at Ally Pally is pretty exciting. We went into the theatre via the backstage passageway and ended up standing on the stage.

This is the view out into the auditorium.

The raked floor is being levelled up and the stalls area will have flexible seating so that the space can be used for a range of different types of events, including plays and concerts, maybe cabaret and, I’d guess, weddings. This would be a stunning place for a party.

There’s something delicious about visiting a place that is really really familiar (I’ve lived within sight of it virtually all my life) and getting to see bits of it that I’ve never seen before, or from angles that I’ve never seen before.

The Friends of Ally Pally Theatre have been campaigning for donkey’s years to make this possible, so kudos to them. The renovation has also been funded in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Local Authority. http://www.alexandrapalace.com/about-us/regeneration/masterplan/

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* The whole witch thing is completely made up 😀

** These open days aren’t only in London. Check out their website to find tours near where you live.

Caught by the fuzz.

Another day, another London outing with pal Craig.

London is an interesting city, it’s not all bankers and luxury flats and Russian money laundering, you know. Talking of money laundering (and tenuous connections), our latest London day out included a visit to one of those off-the-beaten-track relatively little-known sites that London is so good at. Today it was the City of London Police Museum, a fairly new addition to the London museum-scape.

5

Truncheon made by the Worshipful Company of Bakers, 1737.

Since 1839, the City of London Police force has been policing the Square Mile and that’s what this museum is about; the force itself. How it came into being, how it has developed, its methods, successes, setbacks, it’s role  in counter-terrorism, and in the financial frauds that have tainted the City. The exhibits are used as prompts to highlight how the cases were cracked using careful investigative method and science, and how the investigation of crime has developed, rather than going for sensation and gore.

That doesn’t mean that it’s boring though. There are installations; there’s a view into a police cell containing a rather huffy hologram of one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Catherine Eddowes.

She was banged up for being flat out drunk in the street, and then later released and sent on her way, only to be murdered shortly afterwards. Whenever I see that there’s a Jack the Ripper display, I start to roll my eyes but, for once, in this display the victim is a person not just a prop in a gory story.  The display is actually fairly low key and looks at the police officer’s beat, the murder spot, and how the unfortunate Eddowes ended up where she ended up.

There is a larger display on The Houndsditch Murders of December 1910, and the associated Siege of Sydney Street in January 1911.

‘City policemen murdered by alien burglars’

Three officers were killed in the line of duty, and another two wounded while attempting to capture members of a Latvian gang who were robbing a jewellery shop in Houndsditch. After the robbery and murders, members of the gang were captured or killed but the last two suspected members were holed up in a house in Sydney Street, which was besieged by the police, and a shoot-out ensued. The building in which the miscreants were hiding then caught fire and, once the fire was damped down, the bodies of the two were found inside.  Some of these events were actually caught on film by Pathé news and the whole kerfuffle was immortalized in the 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much and again in 1960 in The Siege of Sydney Street.

In the museum there’s quite a lot about this case and they really reflect on evidence and detection techniques at the time. These small jars contain bullet fragments carefully collected and labelled as evidence and a replica of the murder weapon.

There are also mugshots of suspected gang members and an image of the ‘Wanted’ poster, which was printed up in Hebrew and Russian as well as English (Sydney street is in what was the Jewish East End).

The museum also contains a range of items and images to do with the history of terrorism in the City. Interestingly, and perhaps controversially, Suffragette action is included in this section. The point made is that the actions taken by Suffragettes could today fall under the modern definition of terrorism:

The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

This innocent looking tin of Keen’s mustard is, in fact, a bomb!

And there are images of the destruction caused by IRA bombings in the City. I remember this stuff.

I loved the rather alarming display of weapons used by criminals, some improvised, including this crude but effective rock-in-a-sock.

Right at the end, as is so often the case in museums, there’s the opportunity to dress up. Craig, as always, obliged 😀

This is actually a really good little museum (it is actually really little, but packs a lot in). It’s also free to visit so go and have a look.

The City of London Police Museum can be found at The Guildhall. Go towards the Guildhall Library entrance on Aldermanbury and follow the arrows.

https://www.cityoflondon.police.uk/about-us/history/museum/Pages/default.aspx