Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tourists + Phone box

Maybe it's because of living in a city, but it's always interesting to watch tourists taking souvenir snapshots near famous London landmarks. There are certain scenes which you see again and again... people posing next to a horse-mounted guard in Whitehall, on the lions in Trafalgar Square, by the gates of Downing Street or with a uniformed policeman. Or by a classic red London Routemaster bus (though there's hardly any of them left now, sob sob...). Or next to a red phone box.

The red phone boxes are classics, originally designed by Gilbert Scott in the 1920s and '30s. Good things to pose with, to show you've been to London. But there is one particular phone box in Parliament Square which is really popular with tourists. I think it's because from a certain angle you can also get the Houses of Parliament in the background too... I guess I should test this theory really.

But some tourists go one better with their photos ... why not be snapped coming out of the phone box, posing with one hand on the open door? That's much more interesting! An original take on a classic tourist landmark! Well, it's a funny thing, but other people have had the same idea too. I've seen exactly that pose before, hundreds of times over the years. Always the same phone box, different people but same pose, same excited look as they take the photos. There must be so many people all over the world with exactly the same picture in their photo collections, just different faces, clothes and weather. It could go back decades... mind-boggling.

I almost wish I'd taken photos of them taking their photos by that phone box. It would be a very large and quite strange visual record of tourists in London. But instead, I just watch briefly, vaguely amused to see the same behaviour again and again, year after year, and feel pleased that people like visiting London.

So in case you feel the need to add that particular pose and landmark to your holiday snapshots, here's the location. It's the phone box on the corner of Parliament Square and Whitehall, facing the Houses of Parliament, SW1. Or wait and watch ... you'll soon see what I mean!

The Blogger's Graveyard

Since I've got interested in this blogging thing, I've been reading a lot of work blogs by British public sector employees, mostly police and medical ones. The police and the NHS feature on the news often enough, and in fictional TV dramas, but you don't often get to hear individual's stories about what their day-to-day jobs entail. TV reality shows pretend to do this, but they've been through an editing process before screening.

I've been surprised by the number of police blogs that have to stop, presumably under orders from their senior ranking officers once the blog is 'discovered'.

The Police Locker Room blog said this week:

"Very sad to say the Blogger's Graveyard is expanding. Sensible Policing has simply just disappeared off the face of the earth (never a good sign) and now even the PCSO blog has joined the ranks of those found out and has deleted every post he's ever written."

He/she posts a few days earlier about a blog by 'Semper Fi', whose only remaining post is a sad goodbye... Another, The World Weary Detective , had to cease blogging in March and ends his last post 'This is The End' with a grim quote from George Orwell.

I read both police and medical blogs because as a long-time tax payer, I am a potential user of these public services, so it's interesting to know more about the trials and tribulations of the jobs behind the uniforms and the public image presented in the media. I don't assume each blog is representative of the opinions held by the whole service, just a single voice. Might be embroidered a bit for the readers, might be based on fact. I don't know. I don't necessarily always agree with what I read, but that's fine, it's their opinion. That's what blogs are supposed to allow.

It just gives a different perspective on what they do, not filtered through a journalist or TV crew. It doesn't make me mistrust them or lose confidence in the services they provide (or should it?). It has only reinforced my understanding that all public sector employees are governed by political decisions frequently out of their control, which can impact negatively in practice on the actual provision of public services. Particularly when combined with stupid misuses of emergency services by members of the public, as is often recounted in ambulance-related blogs, also Random Acts of Reality.

I don't quite understand why police blogs seem to be stamped out more rigorously than far more overtly critical medical blogs, like the NHS Blog Doctor (which I really like for many reasons, including the quirky images).

Are dissenting voices (or even just unofficial voices from the rank and file) seen as potentially more dangerous to public opinion when coming from professional upholders of law and order, rather than those dealing with life or death medical cases?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Requiem in Four Acts

I guess, like many others, I had forgotten about Hurricane Katrina, when it quickly disappeared from regular news bulletins after the immediate flooding had subsided. Perhaps it became no longer newsworthy to international media.

But over the past few nights, the BBC has been screening Spike Lee's HBO film 'When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts' about the hurricane and its aftermath, several months later. It uses a good mix of footage from the period of the hurricane, combined with a broad selection of interviews, conducted months later, with people involved in different capacities, from residents of New Orleans telling their stories, to civil engineers, lawyers, politicians and news reporters. The use of jazz and blues as part of the musical background to much of the footage is really excellent, being both celebratory and mournful in different ways.

Although the Louisiana State Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team closed the Victim Identification Center in March 2006, the impact on survivors' health and in Post Traumatic Stress related deaths escapes theses official statistics. The death rate in New Orleans stands at over 30% higher than before the hurricane... serious illness, depression and suicide all different responses to what happened in August 2005. Debris was still being cleared 6 months on, while homeless residents had to wait months just to be offered temporary housing in trailers.

Apart from being obviously heart-rending in hearing peoples' experiences, the film leaves a really depressing realisation that so many deaths and personal tragedies could have been prevented, with a less inept response from various authorities involved. Presumably it is the huge price paid by those living in a relatively poor part of the USA, where political capital to be made from that area is limited, once the natural gas and oil supplies have been mined and the profits channelled off to central Federal funds.

Canadian Mounties and offers of help from Central America came within 2 days... while Bush and his cronies were shown fly-fishing, shoe-shopping at Ferragamo and attending lectures on disease control, all nowhere near New Orleans. It was pointed out that the USA mobilised aid for the boxing day Asian Tsunami within 2 days of it happening, while it was 5 days before federal involvement in one of their own States. But the Mayor was eventually summoned to a meeting with Bush on his presidential plane, Airforce 1 (or his 'pimpmobile' as Nagin called it...) and hey presto! Military help rolled into town led by 'a Black John Wayne'.

So many of the people interviewed had an incredible spirit and attachment to the city, with family roots in that area going back generations. The HBO site has links to various organisations continuing to help rebuild both the city and people's lives.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Yes, phew - I'm glad that paper's over! Not one of my best, as was still nervous and mis-timed it horribly, but at least they were interested in the topic. Nothing worse than that painful silence after someone's given a paper and no-one asks a question...maybe because it's too boring to think about, or they just can't be bothered. So at least that's something!

Still can't get used to being treated like a user by IT tech support people, though. I guess 10 years is quite a while to work in that sort of job, so I'm not likely to abandon it all mentally because I've moved on to something different.The very nice IT man told me in great detail how to open my Powerpoint file, and then how to get the memory stick out of the laptop afterwards... maybe I was like that when I was a technical support person (the only female one in the college for many years, actually...). I usually decide it's best to say nothing and be grateful for their help, because one day I won't know what I'm doing and will be glad of advice. I'm still crap with AV stuff anyway, so often need help with that! But I don't want to become one of those users from hell who think they know everything, they're as annoying as the rude ones.

Anyway, it's quite interesting to see how other people do provide technical support for their users from the 'other side'. I could identify with the geeky techies as well as the users in The IT Crowd sitcom when that was screened, but maybe identifying with the techies will gradually fade as I get more immersed in academia. Or maybe I'll always be part nerd and be interested when I come across strange Netware-related problems, or have to stop myself crawling around under the desk to fiddle with cables...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Blogs on TV Web doc

Could be interesting on Tuesday 5th December... a BBC Documentary about the web, 'Imagine', including various bloggers... (info via Random Acts of Reality blog)
Details from the Mildly Diverting blog...
"...a really excellent programme about the creative culture of the web. It's not hardcore geek - that wouldn't be right for the audience of the show - but it's a great overview of the way the MySpace generation are changing cultural consumption."

"The list of heavy hitter interviewees should give you a good flavour of how right she's got it: Tim Berners Lee, David Weinberger, Clay Shirky, Jimmy Wales, Henry Jenkins, Chris Anderson... I hope you'll agree that's a good mix of people, all of whom have really sound insights into the way the web is permeating everyday life, and how media is getting democratised."

"There are some real grassroots voices in there too - David Firth, creator of Salad Fingers, was reccomended by m'estimable colleague David Thair, and looks to be in the final cut. There's Dickon Edwards, Girl with a One Track Mind, and some modern beat combo called the Horrors, too. "

'Tattoo sleeves'

My attention was directed towards these things earlier... one step up from stick-on tattoo transfers, these 'tattoo sleeves' have their tattoo designs printed on sheer mesh stocking fabric, ideal for would-be tattoo fiends with a needle phobia. Or part-time subcultural rebels, who don't want to quite commit themselves with permanent body changes for the weekend, as it's back to the office job on Monday morning. Put your Harley Davidson back in the garage, wash out that temporary hair dye and take off your tattoo sleeves...

"With this incredible invention, you can get a fierce tattoo as quick and easy as putting on a shirt. Tattoo Sleeves have changed our lives. Now, when we walk through warehouse districts and dark alleyways, people see our tattoos and get out of the way. If we'd just get rid of our 'Hello Kitty' backpack we'd really be intimidating!"

It would probably be nice for the police and everyone else if it just took a few tattooed mesh things on your arms to scare people off and make you feel safe, but sadly, I doubt life is that simple, judging by the frequent knife and gun incidents you hear about on the news and elsewhere.

I did actually see someone in the local supermarket today, with arms like these sleeves, and couldn't help smiling... were they real tattoos or had I guessed his little secret? As it wouldn't be very 'hard' to be discovered with cut-down printed stockings on your arms in public, especially browsing the cheap TV soap guides and celebrity gossip magazines, I erred on the side of caution and averted my eyes. Just in case.

Thanks Paul - nice to know other people spend ages looking at really useful stuff on the internet when they've got loads of work to do too!! Still haven't finished my bloody paper... my plans change from day to day to accommodate each day's slowness and academic inactivity... it's not boring at all, I just can't make myself do stuff quickly any more. Maybe it's an end-of-term thing. Tomorrow I will start to panic and then it'll get done. Actually, probably not...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pink everywhere...and not a Barbie in sight

BritBlogs report that 'pink gifts are all the rage this Christmas'... presumably still just for the girlies though? And when you've got your pink iPod nano sorted, you can listen to it safely while lurking under the pink lighting if you live up in Lancashire. It may soon be installed in public places, in an attempt to prevent street crime, intended to have a calming effect on teenagers and supposedly preventing anti-social behaviour, but it also 'accentuates spotty teenage skin'. The Sleepy Policeman notes that even apparently stupid-sounding ideas in beat policing work sometimes. So your new hi-tech gadgets should be safe... unless you meet a mugger who doesn't mind his spots showing up, and who has no aversion to nicking stuff in a street lit up like a set from Barbie.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stolen bones and harvested tissue

The BBC1 documentary 'Real Story' tonight, which reported on the illegally harvested body parts from the USA, was quite disturbing... the story accidentally came to light about a year ago, when a funeral home person noticed that a corpse's leg bones had been replaced with plastic piping used by plumbers. Parts of corpses - skin, bones and other tissue - were harvested and sold on to biomedical tissue processing companies, for supply to medical organisations for surgical use. Consent documents were forged, along with other required legal papers needed for the legitimate donation and supply of healthy tissue for medical purposes.

A US investigator interviewed in the documentary said that a whole corpse, when 'harvested' and cut up into saleable elements, would be worth around $150,000. In this country, the Welsh recipients of stolen bone fragments found the news of the origin of their bone graft material, post-operation, disturbing (unsurprisingly). Apart from the possibility of acquiring diseases such as syphilis, HIV and hepatitis from the bone, the idea that it had been obtained without consent from someone who probably didn't want to be chopped up after death was also disturbing.

Although tissue processing companies did a 'product recall' after the story broke, it's not quite the same as removing contaminated tins from a supermarket shelf... bone chips are used in grafts as they gradually knit together with the other existing bone tissue, so the illegally obtained tissue becomes part of the recipient's own body.

I found the film of 'bone chips' being processed in a UK plant rather gruesome, with frozen human body parts being fed into a industrial equivalent of a food processor and coming out finely minced... but all perfectly legitimate for medical use. I really don't want to minimise the seriousness of the original issue, but visually the footage reminded me of Jamie Oliver's attempt to put schoolkids off eating over-processed meat products last year, by showing how meaty bits ended up reshaped as 'Turkey Twizzlers'...

Service with a Smile!

Here's a photo of a lovely Metropolitan police mug my mum got from a charity shop, because of the strange slogans on it.

It might be a bit annoying sometimes, to be reminded by a rather chunky mug of 'Service with a Smile' when you're at work. Especially if you feel more like 'serving with a snarl.' It's quite difficult to be nice all the time in jobs where you deal with 'the public'. Such as working on an IT Helpdesk...listening to people complain about their computer problems all day, every day, with varying levels of exasperation and rudeness. Paid to be moaned at, about stuff out of your control....

I had a really crap temp job once, working on a BT freephone line, every workstation in the office had a notice telling you to 'speak with a smile' because people could apparently hear it in your voice. Good customer service. Even when the ubiquitous telephone sleazeballs rang, asking about your underwear or more explicit streams of obscenities...all part of the job, but you still couldn't be rude to them. The sort of job where the door had to be specially unlocked for you to go to the toilet and then they timed you, to stop you taking the piss. (oops- bad pun, but very appropriate.)

Only stayed there 2 weeks, surprisingly enough, I walked as fast as I could every lunchtime in the opposite direction but then had to go back again, until I begged to be moved to another temp job. Well, not quite begged...I don't do that, but you get the idea. But some people do jobs like that every day, so don't be horrible to them on the phone, they don't deserve obscenities or rudeness.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Eyes without a face

The French woman who recently had a full face transplant is now 'able to smile and looks more like herself'. Or more accurately, herself, with addition of a nose, lips and chin from a brain-dead donor's face. Although it's a fascinating medical development, the ethical and psychological aspects of carrying out this type of surgery remain to be seen.

So much of a person's identity is invested in their face when alive. Would the the newly bereaved be comfortable in donating the facial tissue of their 'loved one', in the knowledge of the physical disfigurement to the body it would incur, and the awareness that those features, albeit in soft tissue form, will be transplanted onto a stranger? Even for potentially less emotive organ donations, the health service is unable to match donors with needy recipients - at present over 7000 people are registered as needing transplants of various organs, with less than 4000 registered as potential or actual donors (living or deceased). (UK Transplant statistics).

What might the potential psychological effects be on someone, knowing they have 'received' part of the face of a dead person? How might this affect one's perception of individuality and personal identity? The man who had the world's first hand transplant eventually asked for it to be removed, as he wasn't happy having someone else's hand. But a face?

George Franju's elegantly dreamlike black and white film 'Eyes Without a Face' (1960) is about face transplants, from a classic horror perspective... so many haunting images remain with you long after the film has finished, of the heroine gliding around in her white gown and mask (in pic above), waiting for yet another a 'donated' face procured by her monstrous surgeon father... Yes, I know it's fiction and intended as horror, but still interesting for different ideas about current issues... nothing's really new, is it?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Dragon tattoos

I really miss my little sister today, not sure why this particular day, as she's been dead for years (a sort of freak accidental death from taking ecstacy). I guess I wouldn't have minded a chat with her about stuff at the moment... if you could have a catch-up with someone dead, I wonder what they'd tell you...anything...or nothing? Also, I found her autopsy report a few days ago when I was looking for something else. The doctor photocopied it for me, as I knew I'd forget everything that happened at her inquest (the same thing happened the previous year with someone else's inquest and I couldn't remember what was said, which was quite upsetting...)

I think all her tattoos stretched the autopsy writer's powers of description a bit, just logged as 'dragon on left foot', 'dragon on right shoulder' etc., but I guess they don't need that much detail for their purposes. She spent lots of money on her tattoos, very spectacular and quite exotic, many of which were designed by her artist boyfriend at the time, who is now apparently a 'cult figure' according to someone at work (the Cult Figure and I found that quite amusing, as Sarah would have too). She liked dragons as tattoos because of their symbolic meanings, as in this stuff by Don Ed Hardy... (apparently it's quite a rare book about tattoos)

"The Oriental dragon represents the awesome pure force of Life itself, a composite creature of magical dimensions that is a study in the balanced negative and positive forces - yin and yang - believed to underly all existence.

"...As tattooing transforms us, so the dragon as symbol of metamorphosis, power and mystery is a particularly apt image. Dragons continue to live and breathe on bodies worldwide, fantasy projections for daily contemplation of the larger energies contained within our transient forms."

So now dragons remind me of her, but they're quite appropriate really...Victor did the coloured one for her funeral booklet.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Official Irish Dirt

A new business website importing bags of 'official' Irish dirt into the USA, to sell to nostalgic Irish Americans have a special Christmas offer on now- buy 3, get 1 free! At $15 per 0.75 lb bag, a bargain not to be missed!

Alan Jenkins, one of the company founders, realised that there was a large market for second, third and fourth generation Irish in America to buy a handful of real Irish dirt to throw on their caskets when they died - a token handful of 'auld sod' from the mother country.

The firm has already received an order from an elderly New York businessman, originally from the west of Ireland, for $100,000 worth of dirt.

"He was in two minds about his final resting place, but now he's decided to be totally immersed in a full grave of Irish soil -- in Manhattan," Pat Burke, the other company founder, said.

(from CDAS November newsletter)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Not 'flying rats' back then...

A large pet cemetery in Ilford, East London, with graves of more than 3,000 animals, is waiting to find out today whether they have got money from the Lottery and ITV 'People's Millions' funds to help restore its site. The PDSA charity (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) is looking for money for its Cemetery Restoration Project, to maintain and repair existing graves, make it more accessible to visitors and to tell the stories of many of the animals buried there.

12 animals buried there were awarded medals for outstanding services to people during the Second World War... dogs sniffed out people buried under bombed buildings during the Blitz; 'Seacat' Simon, (above, with his crewmates), helped the crew of HMS Amethyst by catching the rats that were stealing their meagre rations while they were all held captive, following a bomb blast which killed 17 men and also injured Simon the Cat.

The special Dickins Medal for animal bravery was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949. 32 recipients were pigeons, valued for delivering messages under difficult circumstances to troops and frequently contributing to rescues being carried out. The same creatures which are popularly regarded as 'flying rats' or 'vermin' by many Londoners today... reminds me of the arbitrary nature of 'The Inequality of Being'...

Sunday, November 12, 2006


It's Remembrance Sunday, with the annual ceremony and march past the Cenotaph in Whitehall, to commemorate the war dead of too many conflicts. It seemed more sombre than usual, perhaps because of the ongoing situation in Iraq...

The Shot at Dawn Pardons Campaign also marched as part of the procession today, having finally won a posthumous conditional pardon a few days ago from the British goverment, for all the soldiers executed by their own colleagues during the First World War. Over 300 young men were shot by firing squads following a tersory Court Martial process, which has now been acknowledged as being a contradiction of justice for those who were executed, for offences such as desertion, cowardice or simply falling asleep in the trenches. Many were very young, some under-age boy soldiers, others with years of military service behind them. Intended as a disciplinary measure by the army, the Campaign has offered evidence of class and race bias in the often arbitrary legal processes used to execute military 'justice'. All aspects of war are horrible, but it seems even more brutal when officers order the death of their own colleagues at the hands of their friends. 90 years on, the reasons which led to many of those being shot at dawn would be recognised today as 'post-traumatic stress syndrome' or 'combat fatigue'... at least some views have changed...

I came across the Shot at Dawn campaign a few years ago. The image (above) is of a statue by sculptor Andrew DeComyn, based on a 17 year old soldier who was blindfolded and shot; the wooden posts behind the statue represent each of the other soldiers who were also tied to a post and shot. It is just one long-concealed story from one war; there are so many others...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fashion rant(ers)

Why do some people get so bothered about others taking an interest in fashion? Do they get as agitated by an interest in other visual and applied arts, which involve comparable levels of creativity, skill or technology in their production? Fine art or product design don't seem to attract the same reaction... Maybe it's based on a narrow definition of fashion offered by the glossy magazines, apparently drawing in helpless victims of slick advertising campaigns... Or is it tainted with negative connotations of gender - isn't it just frivolous, feminine frippery, after all? What's the alternative - fashion co-existing with intelligence, whatever that is...? And maybe a social conscience? Surely not! Oh dear... it looks like it's back to the old brainless bimbo cliche again... do you decide what clothes to wear each day?

It's not decided in a cultural vacuum, funnily enough. All levels of fashion, from couture to high street to anti-fashion, reflect the cultural milieu in which we live, as does clothing in its wider sense. So that includes economic, political, practical, religious, social and sexual influences then. No different to other aspects of material culture, except it's wearable. I was kind of hoping that all the academic work on gender, identity and the body over the past few decades might have had some impact outside the world of fashion theory, but maybe not...

Why do clothes matter? Or do they?

Chris Breward's 'The Culture of Fashion' (1995:1) suggests that the potency of clothing as cultural evidence can be tested by simply criticising someone's clothes; the reaction is much more intense than that aroused by criticising someone's TV, car or house, suggesting a high correlation between clothing, personal identity and values. The recent debate in England about Muslim women's veils is an extreme example of this. Hardly a life or death situation, obviously, but lies at the heart of who we think we are. Or want to be. Fashion is unlikely to change the world overnight, but is not some dreadful evil or completely irrelevant either...

So... what did you wear today... and why?

Goodness... my first big blog rant! Only 2 weeks and I'm already 'venting my spleen' in public...

Monday, November 06, 2006


Too ill to write. Too ill to watch Ironside. Blimey, that is bad....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Stewed Tripe and Toast Water

I know we're supposed to be a 'creative constellation for the arts' since the last University rebranding exercise, but sometimes it feels like working in a giant arty petri dish, where new and exotic varieties of cold virus are created too... it seemed deserted last week, so many SICK cancellations, and those who came in looked quite GREY. So now I've got a cold, the 2nd one this term - cotton wool for a brain again, and 2 lectures to rewrite and a paper for an ESRC funded thing at Goldsmiths coming up...and a PhD to finish before the funding runs pressure there then. Huh! Pressure? Never heard of it...

Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookbook has got a few suggestions for nourishing recipes, to satisfy the 'cravings of the sick'...hhmm maybe that'll help. She was, after all, the Finest Housekeeper in The World during the Victorian period....

Stewed tripe.
Ingredients: 1/2 lb of tripe, half a pint of milk, spoonful of flour, chopped onion, salt and pepper.
Method: Boil, drain and cut into small squares; simmer for 2 and a half hours and serve.

Toast water.
Ingredients: 1 crust of bread, 1 pint of cold water.
Method: Toast the bread very brown and hard, but do not burn, or it will impart a disagreeable flavour to the water. Put it into a jug, cover with the cold water and soak for 1 hour. Strain and serve as a drink.

Sorry, Mrs B,
It's not for me...
I'll end up in A&E (yes, really!)
I'll just settle for a nice cup of tea.

I saw some tripe once on a meat counter - all grey and undulating, what you might expect from a cow's stomach... I felt quite sick. Sicker than looking at the trays of pig's nostrils in Brixton Market. But I'm sure they all have their connoisseurs...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Frozen Tights

Brr! It's cold today in London - only 3 degrees c., but enough to get the winter clothes out.


My Swedish Aunt told me once, when I was very young, that it got so cold in Sweden during the winter that if you didn't wear sensible clothes, very bad things could happen... she painted a grim picture of women whose tights became frozen to their legs and had to be surgically removed in hospital. As it was the 1970's when she mentioned this, I had hideous visions of the curiously popular orangey-brown American Tan coloured tights being painstakingly (and probably painfully) picked off womens' legs in A&E departments, recklessly suffering in the name of fashion.

I mentioned this dubious memory to a Swedish person recently, probably revealing a terrible naivety on my part (or just a very strange memory). I should really investigate this frozen hosiery thing further, to see if there's any truth in it, in appropriately rigorous PhD style....but maybe tomorrow....

Apparently, American Tan tights were popular in the 1970s, according to an enthusiast's fully-fashioned hosiery website. So at least that ghastly memory is correct.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Spectacular Bodies indeed...

Less dead bodies left to medical schools for dissection these days, according to The Guardian. It's partly attributed to the changing attitudes about what happens with our bodies after death, since the unauthorised retention of deceased children's organs at Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool. The often controversial press coverage which followed Bodyworlds, Gunther von Hagens' travelling collection of preserved dissected corpses, is not cited as an influence on why less people are donating their bodies to medical schools.

Quite the opposite, it seems...if you haven't quite made celebrity status during your lifetime, why not go for immortality the plastinated way? Travel the world and attract awed attention wherever you go... you just have to be dead and dissected first, and no-one will actually know it's you, but it still gets you more than the proverbial 15 minutes of fame - a lot more than being a humble medical school cadaver.

Alternatively, why wait until you're dead to give your internal organs a media airing? Reality TV shows like the BBC's 'City Hospital', filmed at London's St Thomas's and Guy's Hospitals, might broadcast your operation, if you've got a particularly spectacular illness or something which affects a lot of people. Educational. Not recommended viewing if you like a late breakfast though...

Do surgeons ever stop to think how weird it might be for patients, to have a chat with someone who was grappling (in a very skilled medical sense, of course) with their innards, hours earlier? Unpleasantly intimate. Conjures up visions of being the unfortunate dissected person in Hogarth's engraving 'The Reward of Cruelty' (1750-51), with the obvious difference of not being dead or dissected, but having undergone major surgery instead. Maybe it's the drugs they give you... Or maybe it's the downside of studying death...odd snippets of information and images sometimes pop into your mind, at times you'd really prefer them not to...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No trip to Sun Hill tonight...sigh...

I bumped into an ex-student yesterday at work. She was wearing a special Halloween outfit - black, straight-cut trousers and a black polo-neck jumper with white ribs and arm bones knitted into it, so her top half looked like an X-ray. A very stylish X-ray, though. Made me smile.

But sometimes work is just tiring... today I'm very, very tired. I thought a nice dinner, followed by a trip to Sun Hill would fix that, but my plans have been thwarted at the last minute by a change of TV schedule. No 'Bill'* tonight (some old awards thing instead). Some people think I have very dubious taste in televisual viewing matter (my mother...). But a scene from 'The Bill' has been featured in a Galway Film Festival exhibition, reinterpreted by an artist, so it must be ok....

As it's not on telly tonight, here's that drawing instead, by artist Robin Whitmore: it's 'Mad' Margaret the Cleaner From Sun Hill After Stabbing DC Perkins in a Bathroom, as a reminder of their strangely enduring storylines...

* 'The Bill' is a fictional TV cop show set in Sun Hill, an imaginary part of London, for those who don't know. It can become quite...addictive. But not to my mum.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Soapy demises

Lots of death stuff in the British TV soaps over the past week, or 'continuing dramas' as they are sometimes more grandly called. No challenging storylines, but good dramatised reflections of current popular debates about death...good to watch when you need a break from doing serious PhD work (it's amazing how you can justify almost anything as research-related if you try...)

EastEnders (BBC): Johnny Allen's death. London-based East End gangster died from heart attack. Should have had a grand East End style funeral 'send-off', to show how much everyone loved him - grandeur and conspicuous consumption in working-class funeral styles is often equated with family tradition, and showing publicly how much people care... but everyone hated him, in true soap-style, so that didn't happen.

Coronation Street (ITV): Fred the local butcher died, also from a heart attack. Interesting to watch the family arguing over what to do with his happens in real life. It was the usual thing about who 'owns' the remains and gets to decide their 'final resting place' - the family, with recognised next-of-kin rights, or the fiancee? She was almost Mrs Fred, but as he died on the way to his wedding, she had no real legal claim over the remains, because the marriage contract was never actually completed.

Also interesting to watch the way people regard ashes - do they embody something of the person when alive, and if so, what? Bev, the fiancee barmaid, seemed to think so when she popped the ash-filled urn up on the bar in the local pub, so (dead) Fred could 'have a drink' with the regulars... just as if he was alive. She certainly horrified the customers that night... Perhaps being there in spirit is enough, whether one's 'spirit' is embodied in a pot of ashes or in different, less tangible forms in people's memories...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Songs about Jewellery

'The Mummy's Bracelet' by Lee Ross is a song on 'Horror Hop', a compilation of horror-themed '50's rock 'n roll tracks from Raucous Records . I like the lyrics. I want a diversion from my PhD. It's a good enough reason to start a blog, along with a little gentle persuasion from some blogging friends.

"Last night at the museum, they're searching for a trace
Of the thief who stole the mummy's bracelet from its case.
And now tonight the mummy's curse is on his thievin' head,
For tonight the mummy's come to life, awakened from the dead.

"The thief who stole the mummy's bracelet gave it to his love,
And now tonight she wears it, while the full moon's up above,
But as she dances in his arms, a chill is in her veins...
She seems to hear the ghostly voice echo this refrain...
Give me my bracelet back!

"At last the dance is over, it's time to say goodnight,
Her lover sees her to the door, she holds him very tight...
She whispers please don't leave me, then upon the stairs
Their blood runs cold because they see the mummy standing there...

"The mummy, he stretched out his hand to take his bracelet back
And where his fingers touched the flesh it began to crack,
And then before her lover's eyes she turned to stone.
At least, that's what they told him when they took him to the home...."