Ealing Half Marathon

Waiting for the race to start

This is a post I never thought I’d write. At the end of this month I ran the Ealing Half Marathon.

Well, “ran” is probably too strong a word, to be honest. I ran some of it and walked the rest. I finished it in 3 hours and 12 minutes, which to any real marathon runner is probably a ridiculous time, but hey, I’m proud. Particularly as the course was incredibly hilly – I had always thought that Ealing was flat, but nope – and the weather was unusually warm. After slathering myself in SPF50 all summer, I went out without suncream at the end of September and got a bit sunburnt. Bah. I don’t handle heat well at the best of times, and certainly not while exercising – I could feel my face going red, and most of the water I got went straight over my head, literally, rather than down my neck. Kudos to the guy who was watering people down with his garden hose.

It was lovely to see so many local people out, cheering us on, offering us drinks and snacks, and altogether providing a great deal of much-needed support. The course itself was well laid-out and varied enough to be interesting. One thing I would change – the last mile or so was hugely frustrating, as the course winds through Lammas Park: you can see the finish line but it takes a long time to reach it. Ideally I would like this to change, so that you are not taunted by the end that is in sight until you are almost there.

I hoped that I wouldn’t be last, and I wasn’t, which is all I cared about: that, and getting my medal. I was sure that no one would believe I had actually completed the race unless I obtained one. I was very happy to reach the end and have my medal around my neck.

Would I run another half marathon? Yes, I think so. I will have to get back into training, but I would like to beat my original time. One of my friends would like to do the Great North Run, so we’ll see.

Happy to have finished

Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon – Royal Academy of Arts

When I visited the Royal Academy in order to see the Joseph Cornell exhibition, I also popped into Burlington House’s Weston Rooms to see the smaller exhibition entitled Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon. This exhibition, which runs until 3 January, marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and is free with a ticket to one of the other major exhibitions at the RA.

The cartoon was made by Daniel Maclise, an Irish painter and illustrator, in 1858-59 in preparation for a commission at the Houses of Parliament (the finished wall art is still there), The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher After the Battle of Waterloo. The cartoon, which has recently undergone conservation treatment, is one of the largest surviving cartoons in the UK and shows the meeting of the two generals after their victory over Napoleon. Accompanied by staff and soldiers, the work showcases the intensive research Maclise undertook during his preparation, which included eyewitness accounts of the battle. The result is not always 100% accurate but is fairly close nevertheless. The size of the drawing makes an impact, as does the representation of soldiers in all states, including severely injured. The work seems to be trying to evoke an awareness of the heroism of the soldiers involved in the battle, even as it celebrates victory.

Alongside the cartoon, there are a selection of French and Italian prints representing the battle as viewed from the “other side”. Including satirical prints of British soldiers and less flattering images of the generals, they provide an interesting contrast. The exhibition is certainly worth popping into if you’re visiting the RA for Joseph Cornell or Ai Weiwei

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust – Royal Academy of Arts

The Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts explores the life’s work of a New York-based eccentric who rarely left his home state but travelled widely in his mind. In later life, once his art had brought him success, he was offered the chance to visit Europe but declined, on the basis that he would lose the state of yearning that had helped him to produce the thoughtful, delicate works that he put together in the basement of the house he shared with his mother and brother.

The exhibition encompasses the works he created over a decades-long career. He collected photos, archives and other bits and bobs and used them to make collages and boxes, many built around particular themes. Tiny drawings and maps, place names, cutout pictures, and delicate pieces of wood and fabric are all used in his works. Some of my favourites included the box of parrots and the case in which a picture of a Victorian girl floats into the air, attached to an unseen balloon by tiny strings. The works have the air of cabinets of curiosities; they reflect Cornell’s wide interests (space, travel, history, stories of all kinds) and each one is unique.

This art is unlike any I’ve seen before, and I’m glad I made the effort to go and see the exhibition before it closed.

City of London Cemetery & Crematorium Heritage and History Tour


As part of Open House London 2015, I paid a visit to the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium for a Heritage and History Tour. After having visited so many cemeteries this year, I thought I might as well go for one more. I turned up on Sunday morning in time for the tour, having travelled right across London: despite the name, the Cemetery is actually located in the east, near Epping Forest. Manor Park is the nearest station.

Cemetery gates

The Cemetery was opened in 1856, as a burial place for residents of the City of London, who prior to this had been buried within their own parishes. The overcrowding issue which led to the establishment of the “Magnificent Seven” also led to the formation of this cemetery, laid out by William Haywood on land purchased from the second Duke of Wellington. The Cemetery is nearly at capacity for burials, although former plots are re-used (sensitively, and only in particular circumstances). The remains from over 30 London parish church yards were also relocated here. Today, the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is a Grade I listed landscape, open for burial to anyone regardless of religious belief or connection to the City. There are two crematoriums, one built at the beginning of the 20th century and one constructed in 1971. There are Grade II listed chapels and catacombs, a Garden of Rest, and memorial gardens.

Into the Cemetery

Our tour began with a look at some of the documents from the Cemetery’s 150-year history, including fascinating burial and cremation registers. We were then taken on a long, thorough and fascinating tour of the site. Several notable personalities are buried in the Cemetery, including Catherine Eddowes and Mary Ann Nichols (victims of Jack the Ripper), Dame Anna Neagle, and Edith Thompson (one of the last women to be hanged in the UK). However, what I was fascinated by the most was simply the heritage of the place, the mix of time periods and the story behind the burials here.

Hindu shrine
Graves lined up
Victoria Cross holder
Burial site of a London parish church
Dame Anna Neagle
A racing driver, killed in an accident, and his family
Burial place of French Huguenots
Old Crematorium
Inside the Old Crematorium
Memorial plaque for Bobby Moore
Rose Garden
Memorial plaque for Mary Ann Nichols, buried in a paupers’ grave
Plaque for John Joseph Sims, holder of a Victoria Cross
Beautiful grave of a piano-loving lady
Inside the Dissenters’ Chapel
Inside the Dissenters’ Chapel
The Dissenters’ Chapel
The Anglican Chapel
Inside the Anglican Chapel
Beautiful tomb carved of solid marble
The New Crematorium

After being taken round the Cemetery, we were offered the chance to go “behind the scenes” at the Crematorium, and find out what happens when someone is cremated. While this part of the tour was entirely optional, every single person on it opted to go ahead. We were taken through the process by which bodies are cremated, the measures taken to ensure that individuals are correctly identified, how remains are turned into ashes and – most fascinatingly – the bits and pieces left over once the ashes are retrieved. These include things like metal hip and knee replacements, jewellery and anything else that is not combustible. I was hugely impressed by how hard the staff work to make sure everything runs smoothly.

My visit to the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium was one of the most fascinating and enlightening tours I have ever done. I enjoyed the tour of the Cemetery but I feel particularly privileged to have had the tour of the Crematorium, which really helped to demystify the cremation process. Death can be a taboo subject, but I honestly feel it’s important to be prepared and understand how burial and cremation work. Even without a tour, this is a lovely place to visit for a quiet walk.


Address: Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park, London, E12 5DQ
Founded: 1856
Size: 200 acres
Still in operation?: Yes
Official website: cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/cemetery-and-crematorium
Owners: City of London
Tours: Tours take place at selected weekends throughout the year.

2015 Reading Challenge – A book with bad reviews

20150921_230537I wasn’t sure what to choose for this one, but then I came across an online review of R.I.P. by Nigel Williams. Who wouldn’t be tempted to read a book described as “a crime novel so incompetent it might have been written by a child”? However, I rather enjoyed this – a cosy, funny crime novel with a twist – it’s narrated by the murder victim.

London Fire Brigade Museum

The museum

I visited the London Fire Brigade Museum during the Open House London weekend, as I knew that it would be closed afterwards in preparation for a move to the museum’s original home on the Albert Embankment. This could take between three and five years, so I was determined to see it while I still had the chance.

A former fire bell

The site was originally part of the estate of the Bishop of Winchester. It became a workhouse and a hat factory before becoming the HQ of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, as well as the residence of Captain Eyre Massey Shaw, the first Chief Officer. The museum looks at the history of the London Fire Brigade, from the early fires of London (including the Great Fire of 1666) through to modern-day firefighting.

Victorian firefighter’s room

The earliest fire brigades were established in response to the Great Fire, and were tied to different insurance companies. Firemarks were attached to buildings to signify which company they were insured with. In case of fire, several brigades would attend, but if it was not one of “their” buildings they would leave it to burn! The first proper “fire engine”, which could expel a jet of water, was patented by Richard Newsham in 1721. It was tough to operate, so bystanders would be bribed with “beer tokens” for offering their help. The Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire (RSPLF) was formed in 1828; this provided escape ladders to help people get out of burning buildings.


In 1833, the London Fire Engine Establishment (LFEE) was formed when ten independent fire insurance companies united. James Braidwood, from Edinburgh, was Superintendent for 28 years, until his death in the Tooley Street Fire. This fire, which occurred in 1861, was the most serious to happen in the capital since the Great Fire. Afterwards, the insurance companies contacted the Government arguing that the fire safety of London should become a public authority. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act was passed in 1865: as a result, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade commenced from 1 January 1866.

The previously-mentioned Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, the first Chief Officer of the MFB, established a rank system, a new uniform, several new fire stations and advanced technology, including steam fire engines pulled by horses. The existing system continued until the Second World War, when the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) formed, and women were permitted to become firefighters for the first time. Fire stations were set up all over London, and firefighters battled the fires that resulted from bombing raids.

Firefighters pass the time waiting for a call-out

After the war, the area that the London Fire Brigade was responsible for grew to encompass the Greater London Council, the 999 emergency number was introduced, and there was a greater focus on fire prevention. Modern-day firefighting involves the use of breathing apparatus boards, lines to follow when tackling a fire, and the HAZCHEM code which warns of hazardous substances. The King’s Cross Underground fire of 1987 led to stricter regulations on the Underground in particular.

Badges from fire services the world over

The museum displays period rooms shown as they would have been during Captain Shaw’s time at the house, as well as a chronological history of fire in London. I found it fascinating and the other visitors seemed to enjoy it too, especially the small children running around wearing fire helmets. Outside, there is a “parade ground” where the early firefighters would drill, and nearby there is an Appliance Bay which is home to early examples of fire engines. I’m no vehicle enthusiast, but these were good fun to look at.

Horse-drawn fire engine
Early fire engine
Early fire engine

It’s a shame the museum is closing as it’s a high quality and interesting day out. Hopefully the new museum, when it eventually opens, will be just as impressive.


Address: 94a Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 0EG

Website: london-fire.gov.uk/london-fire-brigade-museum

Opening Hours: Now closed, pending the move to Albert Embankment

Prices: Free

2015 Reading Challenge – A book more than 100 years old


Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. first published in 1830, is the story that begins with the famous line “It was a dark and stormy night”. To be fair, I think it’s rather a good beginning, though the book itself is a bit long-winded.

St Bride Unveiled – St Bride Foundation

The St Bride Foundation was established in 1891 as the social and educational hub of printing and publishing on Fleet Street. These days it contains a library of artefacts and books, much of it relating to the history of print and graphic design. This exhibition in the Layton Gallery, St Bride Unveiled, showcases highlights from the collection which have not been seen together before.

201509_15Bridewell02The collection is extremely varied, containing fragments from an edition of the Book of the Dead, a Kelmscott Bible, and a road sign among other things.

201509_15Bridewell01The exhibition is free to visit and runs until the 25th of September. The Bridewell building, where the Foundation is based, is also home to a bar, a theatre and a library, as well as various other events.

Stephens House and Gardens


It’s September, so that means it’s time for Heritage Open Days – the weekend where lots of museums and galleries across the country open their doors, some for the only time each year, to visitors. The programme excludes London – the London Open House event is the following weekend – so I scanned the map for something to visit near me. I was surprised to find Stephens House and Gardens on the list, as it is located in Finchley, near Finchley Central Underground station – last time I looked Finchley was a London borough, but I was happy enough to have the chance to visit this weekend. It wasn’t a place I had ever heard of, so I was intrigued.

Entrance to The Bothy

Stephens House was the home of “Inky” Stephens, a manufacturer of ink and stationery products who lived in Finchley and owned and developed Avenue House – now Stephens House – from 1874 to 1918. He bequeathed it to the people of Finchley “for the use and enjoyment of the public”, and though the council didn’t seem to know what to do with it for a long time, they eventually decided to work on opening the house and gardens to the public. The house is now Grade II listed: it is an events venue, office space for various small businesses, and the home of the Stephens Museum. It is open to the public once a month on Open Sundays, while the vast and beautiful gardens are open all year round during daylight hours.

The Bothy

I entered at the bottom of the garden, coming across the Bothy before anything else. This is a quaint building with lots of character and a beautiful garden. I was lucky to see it because the gardens are normally open only on Fridays.

Spike Milligan

Next I made my way up to the house, passing the statue of Spike Milligan on a park bench (Milligan lived in Finchley and was an active member of the local community) nearby. The house is a beautiful Victorian creation; what was once the front is now the back, and the “back” has been converted to the front of the house – it’s easy to see why. There is currently an exhibition in the basement, Avenue House at War, which looks at the history of the house during the two world wars: in World War I it was a hospital and during World War II it was the headquarters of the Finchley ARP. An escape tunnel is visible in the basement: this was put in place in case of the house being bombed.

The back of the house – now the front
Way in to the Stephens Museum

I had a look at the Stephens Museum, home of the Stephens Collection which was established by the Finchley Society. Located in the conservatory, it examines the life of Dr Henry Stephens FRCS (1796-1864), the inventor of the blue-black writing fluid that made his name, and his son Henry “Inky” Stephens, MP for Hornsey and Finchley, who bequeathed the house to the public. It also looks at the development of the Stephens Ink Company and the history of Avenue House, as well as the wider context of the story of writing from ancient times. The Company was first registered in 1832 and was a household name for 150 years; it was used by people all over the world, and was even taken to Antarctica by Captain Robert Scott.

Promotional sign

I joined a guided tour, which took us round the side of the house, the basement and even upstairs, where we got to go up the tower (now an artists’ studio) and look out over the grounds.

Fireplace in the tower
Looking down from the tower

Stephens House and Gardens is a lovely place to visit and if you happen to be in Finchley I would certainly recommend popping in.


Address: 17 East End Road, Finchley, London, N3 3QE

Website: stephenshouseandgardens.com

Opening Hours: Gardens – daylight hours; Bothy Garden – 10am-1pm on Fridays subject to weather; Avenue House – monthly open Sundays; Stephens Museum – 2pm-4.30pm Tues, Wed and Thurs as well as occasional Sundays

Prices: Free

Time Travelling Operating Theatre – Science Museum

Described as an “immersive live theatre performance”, I was immediately attracted to an event at the Science Museum called Time Travelling Operating Theatre, which purported to offer insight into what operating theatres were like in 1884, 1984 and 2014. I do love immersive theatre, and despite my inherent squeamishness I have an interest in the history of science and medicine, so I really wanted to attend this free event.

The event was organised by Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science. When I got there I began to wonder if it was in fact aimed at medical professionals and students – attendees had to fill in a questionnaire and from the conversation around me I gathered that many other people there had a vested interest in the subject matter. Having said that, I later discovered that there were plenty “ordinary” members of the public present, though the “immersive theatre” aspect was not what I expected. Nevertheless, I did find it incredibly interesting and worthwhile.

We watched three surgical re-enactments, each using genuine medical professionals along with authentic sets and costumes. The Victorian-era operation, set in 1884, was perhaps the most interesting to me, as it’s a time I am especially interested in. During this period, internal operations were in their infancy, owing to the relatively recent introduction of anaesthetics; administering pain relief was still a far from exact science and the anaesthetist, usually an assistant rather than a specialist, would have to keep careful watch on the patient to establish how much to give. Anaesthetics were given via a cloth placed over the patient’s mouth. Operations would usually take place in the patient’s house; the set was an ornate room lined with bookcases, and to modern eyes looked both oddly homely and appallingly unhygienic. After visiting the Old Operating Theatre Museum near London Bridge a few weeks ago, this fitted in nicely, exploring the post-anaesthetic stage of surgical history.

By 1984 things had moved on considerably, and operations took place in hospital, with surgeons gowned and equipment sterilised. The kind of operation we were watching – the removal of a gall bladder – was still performed via open surgery, which involved one large incision. However, conditions were much more hygienic and this sort of operation was relatively straightforward with a high success rate.

Interestingly, the professionals performing this re-enactment were those responsible for advances in keyhole surgery, the technique demonstrated in the 2014 scenario. Keyhole surgery is much less invasive and means a much faster recovery time. Here, computer screens helped the surgeon complete the operation via much smaller incisions, using long instruments which did not require first-hand viewing of the area to be operated on. Masks were no longer worn, most instruments were single-use, and robes were blue instead of green (they don’t look so bad when covered in blood, apparently). The patient’s vital signs were monitored via a computer, and the job of the anaesthetist was much more specialised, measuring the correct dose of drug for each patient. I was surprised by how noisy this particular room was, with chatter from the professionals present, music, and mobile phones all in evidence.

One of the interesting aspects which came out of watching all three re-enactments was the roles of the various medical personnel involved. In the Victorian era, the roles were distinctly hierarchical with the nurse and assistant following the orders of the head surgeon. There were still elements of this by 1984, but by 2014 the structure was much more democratic, and the atmosphere of the operating room much more relaxed. Music was allowed, talking was more common, and staff kept in touch with the outer world via modern technology such as mobile phones.

Surprisingly, although, as I have mentioned, I am incredibly squeamish, I didn’t have any problems observing any of the surgeries, even though they were very realistic. Perhaps I was just interested, or perhaps the scenarios were so clean and “ordered” that I found it hard to relate them to the things that normally make me feel queasy.

After observing all three scenarios, there was a discussion with clinicians, historians, medical ethicists and policy-makers that included attendees at the event. It examined surgical ethics – such as the element of patient choice – and I found it really enlightening. To date, I’ve been lucky enough not to need surgery in my life (unless having several teeth taken out of my tiny mouth via general anaesthetic as a pre-teen counts…) but after attending this event I feel much better-informed, and if I were to need surgery in the future I think I would be much less apprehensive about it.

This event wasn’t really what I was expecting, but I still felt that I got a great deal from it. I would recommend it to anyone with any interest in the history and future of surgery, whether you have professional medical knowledge or are a lay person with no relevant experience at all.