Prostitutes and progress: the Victorians

The Victorian era is a continuing source of fascination for writers and artists alike whether it be a steampunk science fiction angle, high class manners and repressed pennyroyal-pillaffections or the out and out seediness lurking underneath. Why don’t we have a look at the various elements that draw us to them?

1. Repression. Certain things could not be discussed, even going to the toilet (what did women do around town? I’ve read a few articles which suggest they ducked down an alley but I don’t know how reliable that is). Unlike today where you can call a friend to go down the clinic and collect the morning after pill, such things back then were treated with the utmost discretion.

However there is always a way round things as this genuine advert from the era on victorianlondon.org suggests (Pennyroyal has abortive qualities). Have a look at the others; hair removal was a concern back then too.

Women’s bodies were a thing to be feared as their own wombs could cause hysteria. This led to some … interesting inventions, advertised with the usual subtlety. Or if you prefer a more direct approach have a look at this!

The invention of the camera led to uses other than miserable family photos. If you knew where to go (ie. Holywell street in London) you could find images of those accodomating ladies of the night and maybe one or two of those well-known filthy types, actresses.

2. Bizarre cures. With marijuana, cocaine and opium (or Laudenum) all legal in the laudanum-side-apharmacies it’s a wonder anyone got anything done. Laudanum was also known as ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and certainly kept a few babies quiet.

As well as this there were a number of ‘quack medicine’ products ie. stuff that didn’t work, flooding the market, including the relatively new and exciting idea that ‘electricity was life’.

Another intriguing cure idea was mesmerism.

3. Science vs superstition. It’s interesting that, in a time of great scientific ectoplasmprogress, much of the average public were turning to Spiritualism (and trickery). Gothic fiction became increasingly popular (as well as penny dreadfuls for the lower classes) and seances became the cool new thing to do, leading to some spooky photos if nothing else, as well as these posters.

4. Sideshows. Though these still occur in some parts of the world it’s difficult for us to comprehend that not only were people displayed in such a way, but they were exhalted as celebrities. After visiting perhaps a menagerie or pleasure garden, people would go along to a show. Joseph Merrick was possibly the One Direction of his day. OK, nobody deserves that, but you see what I’m saying. The posters are a colourful testament to a very peculiar point in history.

Well, there we have it, the weird and wonderful world of the Victorians. There’s so much more to say about them but it’s a start, and certainly their legacy will amuse and confuse us for decades to come. Visit blog ‘Diary of a Victorian Surgeon‘ for a glimpse into the daily life of a man who must have seen it all. Byee!

Spirit Photography

Whether you believe in ghosts or not (sorry, not me) these ‘spirit photographs’ from The Year of Halloween blog are rather fascinating and spooky. Put your eyes on them and you won’t be disappointed. Unless you were expecting a picture of a cheeseburger, then you will be disappointed. I’m hungry.

A sideshow, a conceptual dinner, Edgar Allen Poe in circus and magic psychology

A few days ago myself and two friends got back from the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ll be using photos I found online because, rather than reflecting the beautiful Georgian buildings or lively street performers, most of our holiday pictures look like these two below:

Steve’s arm performs an optical illusion

For further details of streets and shops have a look at this previous post). For now here is a list of my favourite shows this year:

Rachel (right) and I show how we’d dance in an Amsterdam brothel

1. The Curious Couple from Coney Island. Set to a background of 30s jazz and covered with a sprinkling of sideshow history, this engaging couple swallowed swords in ever more dangerous ways, pulled condoms through noses and made me laugh lots. By the end I wanted to run off with them to form an alternative lifestyle couple.

2. Backhand Theatre and Circus Performs Edgar Allen Poe. Using poems and snippets of story from the gothic horror scribe, The Backhand Theatre company have formed a very visual and very intriguing play. I was amazed by the constantly moving sets and spooky story of a mental asylum owner willing to do whatever it took to keep the hospital running his way.

You’re being watched

3. Richard Wiseman. Psychologist, magician, author and supernatural debunker Richard Wiseman led us on a very funny journey of video clips and magic tricks. He reminded us how fascinating the brain really is by explaining our need to see faces in everything in case we miss the one hunting us in the trees, thus creating ‘ghosts’ in the darkness. He illustrated his point by showing us pictures of sneaky roofs and happy light switches.

The Curious Couple from Coney Island

4. Simon Munnery. My favourite I’ve saved to the end. Simon Munnery is one of my favourite comedians ever. Partly inspired by Andy Kaufman, he’s a delightful bag of surreal silliness. We went to both his shows this year, I Am A Fylm Makker (in which he performed the entire show off to the side, projecting his face via camera onto a big screen in front of us) and La Concepta.

Whilst I loved the songs and silly cardboard figures he’d made for Fylm Makker, nothing can compare to 8 of us sitting around a table in a windowless artist’s warehouse being served bizarre and silly concepts for dinner.

Because they only sold 8 tickets at a time, the amount of chairs available in the ‘restaurant,’ it was an intense experience and felt a bit like we’d all swallowed an untested drug, especially his final entrance wearing an enormous chef’s hat pumped up by pneumatics attached to his feet. The video I’ve added below won’t capture that experience, but here are a couple of the things we witnessed at La Concepta restaurant:

Ooh, it’s the Jeckyll and Hyde

But wait…there’s more! Along the way we visited a hippie chocolate and milkshake place with surrealist cups hanging from the ceiling called The Chocolate Tree, wandered around the book fair (missed getting tickets for Neil Gaiman though) and sat in the spooky Jeckyll and Hyde pub, as featured on eeriepubs.co.uk.

So that’s it from me. Below I’ve included the best picture of the three of us, just to prove that we are indeed human beings like anyone else.

Us at the Book Fair

A never ending story. With zombies (or how to tie-dye).

Ever since I can remember I’ve run narratives through my head, no matter what I was doing: “she picked up the leaf and held it against the blue sky. The sun sparked off the corners, blinding her.” No moment of childhood was left without some profound and hidden meaning or turning point in my character’s (me) life.

Perhaps it’s natural what with the constant growing and learning about yourself and the world at that age, but I also wonder if the ever typing words in my head were common. Did it only happen with people who wanted to be writers, or did all children do this?

My new night-dress

Even now I do it to some extent. Aside from thinking up characters and phrases that would be good in a story, I like to make the world a bit more interesting in my mind and I’m pretty sure everybody else does too. Maybe some people just wouldn’t admit to it, but I think they should.

The things I imagine are probably not the same things as other people, but everybody has their own narrative. I recently tie-dyed a couple of night-dresses (find out how below) that I think makes me look like a Victorian ghost.

When a friend drives me home late at night and no-one is around, it makes me think of towns after a zombie apocolypse. When I’m dropped at my door I feel a tiny thrill of terror and excitement as if the undead have spotted me and are coming my way. This makes me feel extra cosy and safe when I get indoors, and I can enjoy my cup of tea whilst knowing zombies don’t know how to pick locks.

How to tie dye:

1. Find something white/pale which is made of natural fibres like cotton.

2. Fill a bowl with warm water and cold water dye.

3. Twist the fabric around until it looks like a worm.

4. Twist elastic bands around it

5. Leave in the water overnight

6. Hang out to dry the next day (be careful of getting the dye anywhere, dispose of water and hang outside).