Sunday, 30 January 2011

A trip to the Theatre?

Last weekend friends came down from Gateshead for a weekend in London. It's great when people come and stay as we get to be tourists in our own city and visit things we haven't been to before. My sort of new years resolution this year is to see more of London, I've got in to a bit of a rut going to the same galleries and museums, which are great but it's good to try new things. I know South Bank pretty well but am not that familiar with what's east of London Bridge. Our friends had managed to get free tickets to the Design Museum so we started off there on Saturday morning.

The Design Museum is very white and minimal and this white and minimalness was exacerbated by John Pawson exhibition which was on. Alex, Anitha and I are all quite messy so didn't really appreciate the clean white lines and interiors with no personalisation though Stewart is a neat freak and really enjoyed himself. There was a mock up of one of the monastery rooms Pawson had designed (Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr in the Czech Republic). Luckily when I went into it a delightfully rambunctious toddler came careering in, all rosy cheeks, bright stripey clothes and noise and dribble which curbed my urges to make a mess. It was a lovely contemplative space, perfect for a monk, but not how I would like to live.

I did like the flat he renovated on the Belgium coast. I've been to that part of Belgium which is very different to most of the UK coast. It's flat, bleak, washout, beautiful in it's own way with very subtle changes over the course of a day. The apartment made the most of the views and was reflected in the over exposed interiors. I think if I stayed there I would spend the day staring out of the window. It's a shame the photos on his website have the curtains closed as the apartment is a picture frame for the natural world.

Slightly more colourful were the fashion drawings exhibited on the first floor, though I would have enjoyed it more if there had been actual samples on display.

The staircase had an interesting installation of plastic cards with different alphabets and texts, including a Hindi script which had been modified for mobile phone use. A friend of ours works on making numeric pads on mobiles predict text in Chinese and Hindi so we wondered if he'd helped design some of the characters.

Design Museum

The museum is quite small and one of the exhibition spaces was closed when we visited so I was quite pleased we didn't pay to get in. To be honest my favourite part was the shop, though I will bear the museum in mind for future exhibits if they sound interesting.

We stopped off for brunch in a lovely, modern tea shop on Shad Thames called Teapod where I had a healthy pancake with fruit and everyone else tucked into tasty cake.

Anitha, Stew & Alex

Feeling energised we strolled along Shad Thames and stumbled across Butler's Warf which used to be warehouses when London was more of a dock city. It's been restored beautifully though is disappointingly full of high street chains. Shad Thames itself is more interesting with independent retailers.

We were heading for the Old Operating Theatre which I hadn't heard of but Anitha was keen to see it. It's just off Borough High Street on St Thomas' Street. It was well worth a visit. From the outside it looks like a church, which it turns out it sort of is.

The Old Operating Theatre

I admired the iron work sculpture at the entrance.

The Old Operating Theatre

You squeeze up a tight, narrow spiral staircase and just as you think you can't go round another corner you pop up in a tiny, crowded, mildly chaotic shop and pay your money to go in.

After climbing a short, straight flight of stairs you are transported to the 18th century to a herb garret, where medicinal herbs such as willow bark would have been stored and prepared by St Thomas's Apothecary. It actually smelled quite pleasant. There were lots of display cabinets with pathological specimens, medical instruments and gruesome bits and pieces as well as lots of herb samples to poke and sniff. I like old glass medical bottles which would have been used for storing tinctures.

The Old Operating Theatre

Not your usual crochet hook! I just tried looking up the item below on google and got lots of horrible and graphic anti abortion sites so let's just say it's an old fashioned tool. If you are interested in old surgical tools, as I am, the museum has a good page about them here which is factual and free from any zealotry. Anitha is a doctor and said many of the obstetric tools haven't changed that much, many of the forceps look the same today.


Surgical crochet?

I used to work in operating theatres monitoring brain blood flow and years ago had a job washing up surgical kit in theatres which was very interesting so it was fascinating to see an actual early theatre. It definitely felt more like a theatre than modern operating rooms and I have to say I am so grateful to be alive in the 21st century with anaesthesia and good clean surgical techniques.

The Old Operating Theatre


The Old Operating Theatre is well worth a visit if you are interested in surgery and it's development and also the history of medicine. If you are squeamish I'd give it a miss.

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