Tag Archive: Richard Barnett


The lovely Miss Hammond
and the charming Dr Barnett.

Last night I attended a smashing evening run by The Idler Academy up in the far-flung (to me) reaches of Westbourne Park. Richard Barnett gave a lively talk on the origins of gin, distilled from his excellent Dedalus Book of Gin (take off the dust jacket – an unfortunate slip – and enjoy the contents). As one would expect, gin and tonic was served.

To the crowd’s surprise and delight, Richard had invited the ‘Canadian Nightingale,’ singer Patricia Hammond, and the Ragtime Parlour Band to perform a handful of songs from the 1920s, recreating the feel of a speakeasy while we all absorbed Richard’s excellent talk – and our gin.

Ragtime Parlour lads.
Waistcoats & brogues out in force: love it.

Having spent the morning losing the ability to focus my eyes from staring at the screen for too long working on poetry (a productive morning but I had to get away from the screen & the page!) I went early, and enjoyed the feeling of being ‘with the band’ as Patricia and her lads tuned up and rehearsed. Appropriately, I idled on the chaise lounge in the window, and a few curious folk popped their heads through the open door to see what this wonderful music was all about.

Many thanks to the lovely girls at the Idler for sharing their early G&Ts with me! What a charming place; I only wish I lived nearer. Congratulations to Richard, Patricia, and the band for a perfect cocktail of an evening: intellect, wit, talent, sartorial excellence and relaxed decadence.

P & the RPB performing
'The Honeysuckle & The Bee'.

I recently reviewed Popular Fiction and Brain Science in the Late Nineteenth Century by Anne Stiles for the British Society for Literature and Science. If you’re interested in the Gothic, vampires, murder-mysteries, Jekyll & Hyde, psychology, and nineteenth-century theories of the mind, I’d recommend it. In fact, it fits quite well with the exhibit I just saw at the Wellcome: Brains: The Mind as Matter.

Me, Richard, & Rebecca listening to 'Bedbugs' along with the Henry's crowd.
Photo courtesy of Rob Falconer.

Last night, the Wellcome ‘Henry’s Club’ held its first after-hours Member’s event, a launch of Rebecca Tremain’s ‘The Gilded Vectors of Disease‘ Episode 3: Bedbugs. It was great fun to be part of recording, and to write and perform a new poem, ‘A Bedbug in Manhattan,’ for the episode. About ten club members joined me, Rebecca, programme producer Rob Falconer, and Dr Richard Barnett (guest interviewer for Episode 3 & Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow) for wine & snacks, and to listen to a preview of Bedbugs, which is on the air next Wednesday at 7:30 pm on Resonance FM. There were quite a few ‘ewws’ ‘ahhs’ and chuckles, and ‘A Bedbug in Manhattan’ garnered a round of applause!

The main theme of my week, however, has been Sick City. This project began as Medical London: City of Diseases, City of Cures, a gorgeous box-set of books and maps written by Richard Barnett, (mentioned above,) & published in 2008 by Strange Attractor Press, in association with the Wellcome Collection. It takes the reader on historical, self-guided walks around London, focusing on such stories as Dr John Snow’s solution to the Cholera epidemic in Soho, the lost Fleet River, and the rise and demise of gin in English culture. In his role as Engagement Fellow, Richard has begun to turn these ‘Sick City’ stories into digital media, starting with a series of cleverly-designed apps for smartphones which will allow listeners to go on his guided walks anytime they like.

Richard is working with former BBC radio producer Joanna Rahim to develop this series, and they began with the wonderfully-titled ‘Blood, Guts, Brains and Babies’, of which there is an enthusiastic review here. (6th paragraph down) and a wonderful interview here. ‘Blood Guts, Brains and Babies’ is available here to download free.

'Henry's' Club members listening to 'Bedbugs' pre-airing (pre-listening?)
Photo courtesy of Rob Falconer.

Working with Richard on The Gilded Vectors episode prompted him to invite me to be an extra voice on the apps, and we’ve spent the past few days working with Joanna on three walks: John Snow & Cholera, the London Gin Craze, and the Lost River Fleet. My role is to read excerpts from literature and poetry which flesh out the stories and help bring in colourful, contemporary primary resources.

I’m being treated to the best possible introduction to radio & audio recording, working first with Rob, Rebecca, and Richard, and now with Richard and Joanna. Everyone is delightful and they have a vast amount of professional experience amongst them. (It’s surreal to be repeatedly told I have a wonderful voice, and that I’m in the right country to have an ‘exotic American accent’ – oh Rhode Island, who knew?!)

Most of all, this is fun, and a brilliant learning experience. The pace is snappy and vibrant, a breath of fresh air compared to the geologic worlds of fiction and poetry publishing. Results are quick; sometimes immediate. We’re doing projects that have trackable results & readerships (as its all digital – in fact, Rob said a number of readers came to the ‘Gilded Vectors’ programme from having read it on this blog, so thank you, readers!).

The Sick City apps will be available soon, for free, and you know I’ll tell you when they’re online…

Click here for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s

‘Gilded Vectors’ radio programme!

 

Courtesy of the Chislehurst Artists

My latest piece for NewScientist is up here.

As mentioned below, mark your diaries for an eclectic evening of creative teamwork at the Whipple Museum on The Rules of Form, 14 March, 6pm – Free!

Stay tuned to tune in to Resonance FM to listen to my first foray into radio: a curious exploration into bedbugs at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I’ll post when it’s on the air, which will be in the next month or two.

I enjoyed an entertaining, packed evening at Oxfork in Oxford on Thursday night with Badaude, who co-ran a Catalyst event, and Dr Richard Barnett, who spoke on the history of gin, from his new book, the Dedalus Book of Gin, which I highly recommend consuming gleefully with a martini in hand.

I modelled for the Chislehurst Artists Saturday morning. It was unusually chilly in the room, but as ever, they’re a lovely bunch. Biscuits abound. A photo of their work scattered on the floor at the end of the session so they could discuss & critique it.

This coming Friday, I’m running part one of a workshop for the Medical Humanities Students at Imperial College London, along with my friend, the lovely actress Rachael Black. We are enormously excited to run this workshop in the lecture theatre of the private pathology museum at Charing Cross Hospital, and we’ll be working from my poetry play, Venus Heart.

What happens when you put an astronomer and a medical historian with poets and novelists?

What if the historian is also a poet?

And if the astronomer works in public engagement?

What if the novelists write about science, and one poet reviews for New Scientist?

Five voices from the arts and sciences discuss credibility in science:

 6-7 pm, Wednesday 26th October, Room 221

Lord Ashcroft Building, Anglia Ruskin University

 Part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2001

Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich

    •  Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich

    •  Sue Guiney, Poet, Novelist, Writer-in-Residence, SOAS, University of London

    •  Richard Barnett, Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow

    •  Laura Dietz, Novelist, Science Writer, Anglia Ruskin University

    • Kelley Swain, Poet, Reviewer, Writer-in-Residence, The Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Followed by a workshop on writing stories from science:

1-3:30 pm, Thursday 27th October, Whipple Museum of the History of Science

For the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2011, in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin

  • Led by Laura Dietz & Kelley Swain, with an introduction by Richard Barnett and a guest appearance from Sue Guiney

Inspirational Days: Bath

R & P in the unexpected bamboo forest on the grounds of Claverton Manor.

There are conflicting arguments that on one hand it is necessary to take a break from one’s writing in order to ‘get some distance,’ ‘come back fresh,’ ‘see the forest for the trees,’ etc., and on the other, we are never not working. We are always thinking about writing, consciously or not, because living gives us the material for our work.

Yesterday I heard John Banville discussing his work (more on that in another post,) and he told an amusing anecdote. When he was newly married, he was having a massive row with his wife, and in the middle of her rant, he stopped her to say, ‘can I use that in a book?’ – You can imagine how that went down…

So it was with great pleasure that I took a day trip to Bath, the city which has so much to do with the Herschels, and spent the day almost entirely not thinking about the Herschels.

My lovely friend Patricia Hammond, aka The Canadian Nightingale, invited me & our friend Richard Barnett, aka Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow, medical historian, and author of the excellent Medical London as well as the delectable (forthcoming) Dedalus Book of Gin, to a day out.

Thus early on Wednesday morning, three bleary artistic-types found themselves on the platform of Paddington Station, and were swept off through the smog of London out to the green expanse of the Chilterns, towards Bath.

Claverton Manor, designed by Jeffry Wyattville. Built in the 1820s.

We were going to Bath specifically to visit The American Museum in Britain. Patricia had discovered it, and so off went one Canadian, one Brit, and one American, to find this most unusual place: the only Museum about America that is not in America.

We arrived so early the Museum wasn’t yet open, so we ambled around the grounds and gardens, admiring the stunning views over the Somerset valleys. The Manor is at the southern end of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and yes, it deserves the name. To lounge outside in the sunshine beside the Georgian warmth of Claverton Manor was glorious.

It was the first, and quite possibly only, time in my life where I found myself a source of interest simply because I am from Rhode Island. The museum was fairly quiet on a Wednesday morning/midday, and we chatted with a number of the museum assistants. I’m used to thinking of American Anglophiles, but to see British…America-philes? …English people who were such fans of American history was very, very interesting.

Much of the museum was surreal to walk through, because they have recreated a house and a tavern from New England, and it was very much like being in a time capsule and going to particular places at home, in Rhode Island, like the DPI: ‘The Captain Daniel Packer Inne Restaurant and Pub.‘ When I’m in town, I tend to go to the pub, because the atmosphere is proper old New England with a touch of Old(e) England. And they have amazing clam chowder. The ‘tavern’ bit of the museum reminded me of the DPI.

R enjoying a bask in the sunshine at Claverton Manor.

So much of the furniture was like that of my grandparent’s house, which is now up for sale, that the experience was very unsettling. It wasn’t quite like being at home, but it was close enough to make me feel homesick, and sad in a way that was difficult to put into words. I don’t know if the house will still be in the family the next time I go to RI, and I don’t think I’ll ever stay in the house again. I grew up there, as did generations of my family for the past 200 years, and losing it is something I would frankly prefer not to face. I would rather focus on England, and Europe, than New England – the New World feels like my old one.

Patricia making herself even more lovely.

We toured the museum, which exhibited displays ranging from historic American quilts – including one from Westerly, RI – to the Shaker lifestyle, furniture, and clothing styles. We decided Richard was best suited to Shaker attire, with a long coat & waistcoat. We decided Patricia and I were not particularly suited to bonnets and wool cloaks.

Another room contained a stunning, red-wallpapered boudoir from New Orleans with a massive four-poster, crowned mahogany (or walnut) bed, mirrored dressing table and mirrored armoire, and another was full of musical instruments, including a piano, a harp, and a parlour guitar inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

We took lunch on the terrace in the sunshine, and had ‘gumbo’ which was, to my experience, half-American and half-British in influence. Have you ever eaten gumbo on top of a baked (what the English call ‘jacket’) potato? I introduced R & P to ‘snickerdoodles’ – sugar cookies with cinnamon. Yum!

Tussy Mussy from Claverton Manor.

And we celebrated P’s birthday, which was the following day, with a ‘Tussy Mussy,’ or nosegay of flowers.

The Museum’s special exhibition on Marilyn Monroe was well-put together; it showcased a number of her famous dresses, and we were especially amazed at how, without her in them, the dresses were, for the most part, fairly normal. But just add Marilyn and bam! they become amazing. Hers is a glamorous and tragic story indeed.

Views over Bath.

After exhausting the museum, I was delighted to show my companions the ‘secret’ route down Bathwick Hill into town. The views over Bath from this field are heart-wrenching, and I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy the walk more than once during my previous trips to Bath.

We ambled into town, where I introduced P to my favourite little boutique. ‘Not Cartier’s’ is in the Covered Market. A girl would be hard-pressed to find an Aladdin’s cave of baubles and costume jewellery better priced.

We restored ourselves with tea and some of Sally Lunn’s famous buns. Clotted cream, jam, lemon curd, oh my!

Happy Birthday, P!

After Sally’s, we walked to New King Street, where I showed R & P the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, in the house where they used to live. It was closed so late in the day, but I explained a bit about William’s discovery of Uranus, the sibling’s move from Bath to Windsor, and Caroline’s subsequent successes – particularly her daring ride on horseback from Windsor to Greenwich, which plays a part in the novel.

We wandered uphill to the Royal Crescent, where students lounged, listening to bad 80s music. Once upon a time, a person would have looked for a radio or ‘boom box’ in such a scene, but we couldn’t see the source of noise at  all, probably because it was such a small bit of technology. A far cry from Caroline and William Herschel singing their concertos in the Octagon Chapel.

Well-dressed, white-haired folk walked their terriers and whippets. As we sat upon a bench all in a row, P devised a theme song to a particularly portly dog which half-skipped, half-waddled along.

Much as we didn’t want to, we finally made our way back to the station, back to Paddington, and back to London.

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