A bumnut and a bufflehead

When it comes to dating, we’re always told that size isn’t everything. When it comes to dating blogs, however, there’s no point pulling out some huge long piece that no one’s going to be able to manage in one sitting.

So, having reached a sizeable word count with Jeff Koons and his merry bear pair last time, I decided to dump all the other bits and bobs about Norwich Castle here. It’s one of those delightful places presumably curated by someone who sat down and made a list of all the things that different museums might have in them – stuffed animals, oil paintings, scenes from history, and so on and so forth – but couldn’t decide between them so just ended up creating a museum with a bit of everything.

PB and I started with the stuffed animals – which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m a real fan. Though I’m pretty wary around real wildlife, I’m very happy checking out ex-wildlife. Norwich Castle has a particularly fine collection of dead birds, including my personal favourite: the bufflehead duck, so called because the shape of its head is, well, pretty buffly, really. Points also went to the whimbrel, for sounding (though not looking) like a cross between an umbrella and a wimple. All specimens bore labels with comments on their affiliations with the county, from proud claims of “localised breeder” and “common visitor to Norfolk”, right through to scathing admonishments like “occasional visitor in winter” and “rare passage migrant”.

JeffKoons-1

After the birds, we checked out various mammals and some seriously scary-looking fish, before turning a corner and finding ourselves facing a large seed pod affixed to the wall with the label “bum nut”. It probably goes without saying that I laughed at this for several minutes.

We wandered through the porcelain and ceramics collection, but it didn’t do a lot for me – maybe a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder after years of being told off for walking within a 5-metre radius of my grandparents’ china cabinet? The paintings were more my thing and there were a couple of nice pre-Raphaelites which stood out.

The old keep held information about the history of the castle itself, including a video simulation of what it would have looked like back in the day. (You know, in the past, when they had castles and soldiers and lots of wooden stuff.) It turned out that PB had worked on the background imagery for the video in a previous job, so I dutifully admired all the little trees and houses and fields and nodded and smiled and pretended to understand about computers and software and things.

The keep was designed to be child-friendly and, having resisted the lure of the dressing-up box, we settled down to play a game involving black and white stones which represented foxes and geese or something like that. PB trounced me three times in a row, so I concluded that he’d interpreted the rules incorrectly and that it clearly wasn’t a very good game anyway.

After the silly stones game, we spent a while inspecting a book which listed the names of local men who’d been killed in the Second World War. Never mind buffleheads, some humans have had absolutely brilliant names. I mean, in the 21st Century, you just wouldn’t find a chap called Bertie Bultitude, would you? I immediately vowed to write a novel about a character of the same name, though I suspect anyone reading it will think I’ve just made it up.

JeffKoons-6

Last up was the dungeon, with lots of lovely gruesome facts and figures about poor people who’d been hanged, drawn and/or quartered for crimes like stealing an apple or other similarly valuable groceries. The dungeon featured a dressing-up box too, and this time we couldn’t resist donning the costumes of a couple of olde worlde prisoners. It was not a good look – and that’s coming from someone who’d chosen to wear a teddy bear t-shirt, elasticated maroon leggings and boys’ trainers for a date.

There was also some fun interactive stuff in the dungeon (more innocent than it sounds), so PB and I competed to see who could knock down more miniature blocks with a miniature catapult and who could build the most stable bridge using a load of sticks. I don’t actually remember, but I’m assuming I won in both cases.

Overall, well worth a visit if you have a few hours to wile away in Norfolk’s county town. Sadly, PB and I are no longer dating, so I have been consigned to the ranks of infrequent visitor to Norwich, but I can understand why others would be tempted to migrate there and perhaps even become localised breeders…

The bear necessities

BEARS OF JOY.
BEARS OF JOY.

The last time I was in Norwich, I picked up a leaflet for the Jeff Koons exhibition at Norwich Castle. I didn’t actually know that was what the leaflet was about when I picked it up. I just loved the picture on the front which showed a statue of two bears, apparently dressed in their Sunday best, waving and grinning inanely.

I’d heard of Koons, but had never seen any of his art and since the leaflet insisted that this was “an event worth travelling for”, it went on my must-see list for my next Norwich trip. (To tell you the truth, it was the only thing on the list. I haven’t yet reached the level of desperation where I have to drag PB to the Colman’s Mustard Museum, just to generate some blog fodder.)

A few days before the exhibition closed, in early September, I finally got my chance. Given the hype, I was slightly surprised to find that there were only two rooms of artworks, but our tickets covered general admission to the rest of the castle (more on that in my next post) so I was hardly going to demand a refund. (And of course, I’m British, so even if there had been no Koons art whatsoever on display, I still would have smiled politely and thanked the woman behind the ticket desk profusely. Perhaps even apologised just in case the absence of exhibits was somehow my fault.)

The ecstatic bears were hands-down the highlight of Room 1. I mean, just look at them. He’s wearing a waistcoat. She’s holding a little clutch bag with a heart on it. THEY’VE GOT MATCHING HATS. There’s no way that a few basketballs or vacuum cleaners in a glass cabinet could compete with that, even if they are a hard-hitting social commentary on consumerism or whatever…

Despite my love for the bears, I’d say Room 2 was more interesting overall. The first thing we saw was a classical-style bust depicting Koons and his first wife, porn star and politician, Ilona Staller, whose breasts – skilfully reproduced here in sugary white marble – were the first to be bared on Italian television. Baroque Bust stood out simply because it portrayed something so personal. That’s assuming Koons’s second wife isn’t a bear or a basketball, of course.

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the tallest of them all?" Well, him, obviously.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the tallest of them all?” Well, him, obviously.

Next up was the ‘Easyfun’ series: a set of large coloured mirrors shaped like animals’ heads. The title was half right – trying to guess the species in each case was fun but not always easy for someone like me who grew up in a family that was not big on animals. (The only pets I ever had were a goldfish called James which died before my brain was capable of forming long-term memories, some tadpoles named after Tolkien characters which I kept in a washing-up bowl, and a bunch of ants which met their end when I accidentally left my ant farm in direct sunlight and came back to find the little fellas all motionless and crispy.) So Easyfun proved a bit challenging what with all the ears and tusks and horns and whatever those funny little alien antennae things are that giraffes have sticking out of their heads.

The final piece on display was Caterpillar Chains. Now, I’ll admit that I was a tad dismissive on first inspection. It was the basketballs and hoovers all over again: an everyday object, taken slightly out of context, probably making some statement about society, blah blah blah. I was about to march PB back to my beloved bears when the gallery assistant sidled over and – looking pretty pleased with himself, it has to be said – informed us that the caterpillar, which appeared to be an inflatable plastic toy, was in fact made from aluminium. It might not sound like much and it’s hard to do it justice in words, but the level of detail that had gone into the replication was really impressive – right down to the little air nozzle on the bottom and the standard warning about not being a life-saving device. (Incidentally, those warnings have always baffled me. I mean, if I ever find myself miles out to sea, no land in sight, no hope of rescue, and an inflatable caterpillar comes bobbing past, I’m damn well going to clamber aboard.)

Just to be clear: this is metal, not plastic.
Just to be clear: this is metal, not plastic.

I should note that our enjoyment of Caterpillar Chains was greatly increased by witnessing the reactions of another couple – shit, I used the ‘c’ word… – when they too were told its secret. The woman grabbed her partner’s arm and shouted, “It’s metal! Looks like plastic… But it’s metal! You’d think it was plastic… But it’s not plastic! It’s metal!” She repeated this several times, just in case the guy was still in any doubt as to whether the caterpillar was made from plastic or metal. At this point PB and I decided to make our exit, leaving the pair to marvel at the caterpillar. Which was made of metal. Not plastic.

I really enjoyed the Koons exhibition, though that was probably as much down to PB sharing my childish sense of humour as it was down to the artworks themselves. And unsurprisingly it was the childish art that I liked the most – the dressed-up bears, the shiny animal heads, the fake inflatable. I’m ambivalent about some of his stuff – and still wrestling with the fact that he uses specialists to produce a lot of his art as opposed to making it himself – but I do love the playfulness and sheer fun that Koons injects into his sculptures.

Come to think of it, most people would be hard pressed not to laugh or at least smile at a bear in a waistcoat. Maybe I will have to insist on the Mustard Museum for our next date after all – if PB can find humour there then I’ll be impressed…

Going to the chapel and we’re going to get… to know each other

Inflatable banana wearing hat and sunglasses

Two little words that strike fear into the heart of anyone as yet unattached. No, not “single supplement”. Nope, not “serves two”. (Seriously, has anyone ever eaten half a Sainsbury’s pizza?) The words I’m referring to are “and guest”.

When my friend Susy asked me to be a bridesmaid, she insisted that I bring a plus one as I wouldn’t know many people at the wedding. A nice thought. But then the panic set in: Who could I possibly rope into being my date for the evening? The majority of my male friends are in long-term relationships and I didn’t want to ruffle any girlfriends’ / fiancees’ / wives’ feathers. One single friend was keen until he realised he’d already been invited to another wedding on the same day and we agreed we probably wouldn’t be able to invent time travel quickly enough to get over that little hurdle.

With just a few weeks to go before the big day, I had some friends over for belated birthday drinks. PB and I were quite drunk – okay, okay, I was quite drunk – and somehow it came up in conversation that we both needed plus ones to weddings in August and September. Problem solved! I texted Susy to tell her she could finally update that all-important seating plan and entered the cryptic reminder “Boom Centre Friend” in my phone’s calendar. (Fine, maybe I was more than quite drunk.)

So far so good. But then something happened. As the wedding drew closer, PB began to sneak his way slowly out of the Friend Zone. We were messaging a lot and there were definite hints of flirtiness. When I mentioned that we might want to book a hotel room for the night after the wedding, he didn’t demand twin beds in disgust. And when, with just a fortnight to go, I visited him for his birthday, there was undeniable snuggling.

Sure, taking a date to a wedding is nothing new. Accidentally having a first date at someone else’s wedding is a bit left-field.

On the plus side, my bridesmaid dress was really lovely (a dark red swishy number from Hobbs) and I’d had my hair and make-up done, so for once I didn’t look like a dry-clean-only rag doll that’s just come out of a washing machine. On the down side, I’d got back from a business trip to Malaysia at 5am the day before and had picked up some horrible bug, so I was a coughy sneezy mess and had to keep myself doped up to the eyeballs with painkillers and echinacea just to stay upright.

Everyone else at the reception assumed we’d been going out for ages – because you’d have to be a total weirdo to bring a new squeeze to a wedding. Various Featured imagepeople commented on what a great couple we were, which could have been majorly awkward, but luckily both PB and I found it funny. As dates go, it was good fun – free food, free booze, a dressing-up box (including – inexplicably – a 162cm inflatable banana), and (since the wedding was themed around books and writing) Scrabble tiles on the table to play with. Naturally we busied ourselves making as many rude words as we could, until a little old lady snuck up behind us and asked to borrow a ‘J’ and I had to hurriedly rearrange our letters.

Unfortunately, when we got to the hotel afterwards, they had no record of our booking. I explained that that was impossible – I’d emailed and phoned and given my credit card details. Exhausted and mainlining Lemsip by this point, I flopped into a chair and left PB to find out what had happened. Eventually the woman on the front desk told us that our room had been given to someone else as I hadn’t specified that we would be checking in after 10pm. I was ready to just curl up and go to sleep on the floor at this point, but luckily PB had more patience and far better technology. He got me to log into my emails on his phone (not a Nokia brick from the past like mine) and I was able to show the hotel manager that I’d mentioned a late check-in.

At this point the woman instantly switched from defensive to extremely apologetic. Hilariously, she too assumed we were in a long-term serious relationship. When PB suggested that we could stay the night at his parents’ house, she asked me, “How well do you get on with your in-laws?” and when I answered, perfectly truthfully, “I’ve never met them…”, she looked horrified. She clearly thought that her balls-up with our booking had the potential to change the entire course of our relationship, by unexpectedly forcing me to meet my boyfriend’s family. In fact, she felt so terrible about the whole situation that she recruited one of her barmaids to drive us to the house and pressed two twenty pound notes into my hand as we left.

A week later, she emailed me to apologise again and to say that, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer couple.” It’s early days, but we’ll see – at least if things do go well with PB I can take her up on her offer of a free night’s stay in the hotel’s honeymoon suite…

The mechanics of sex

This isn't what your boss meant by "performance review"...
This isn’t what your boss meant by “performance review”…

Have you ever had a moment of panic, whilst sat hunched over a laptop in a coffee shop in Oslo, because you’ve suddenly realised it’s been AGES since you went to the ballet? Yeah, happens to us all, right?

So, I had this moment of panic and on impulse I googled ‘Sadler’s Wells’ and bought two tickets for Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man on the grounds that (1) I’ve seen other Bourne productions and they’ve been good, and (2) I probably stood a better chance of convincing a guy to come see a ballet with me if the title sounded at least vaguely manly.

The date took place on Sunday and I’ll be honest, I was pretty shattered. I’d had quite a big Friday, with espresso martinis keeping me up until well into the wee hours, then a jaunt to Norwich for a friend’s birthday on Saturday which – like all the best nights – culminated in cocktail teapots and chicken nuggets. So I was a bit weary by the time I met up with OA and may not have been on top form.

We grabbed an early dinner at Thai Square. Luckily OA is a sharer, so I got to try the chilli lamb AND the crispy tofu, both of which were delightful. I happily let him do most of the talking and focussed on eating and staying awake. Stuffed full of food, we waddled down to the theatre and hauled ourselves up several flights of stairs to the cheapo seats.

Now, as I said, I had booked these tickets on a whim and really didn’t have a clue what the show was about. Despite being a big fan of wordplay and the like, I totally failed to spot that ‘Car Man’ was a play on ‘Carmen’, which is what the music was based on. (OK, I’m not exactly an opera aficionado. I only recognise that really famous tune from Carmen because they play it in The Aristocats.)

I also didn’t realise that the plot centred on a bisexual mechanic. I can honestly say that I have never seen a ballet – or any other form of dance – with as much flashing, gyrating and, yes, bumming.

Other than the odd catcall, there isn’t any speech, so you actually have to concentrate if you want to follow the plot. Slightly difficult when you’re feeling sleepy and your eyesight isn’t good enough to distinguish Woman In Pale-Coloured Dress #1 from Woman In Pale-Coloured Dress #2. So this is what I managed to piece together with a little help from OA and Wikipedia:

A drifter (you can tell he’s a drifter because he’s carrying a rucksack and walking slowly and everyone stares at him) arrives in town and gets a job in a garage where he decides the most sensible thing to do is to shag his new boss’s wife. There’s a chap with floppy blonde hair who also works there and he gets bullied by the other mechanics, presumably because of his outdated hairstyle. Floppy Blonde is feeling pretty sorry for himself and possibly suffering from erectile dysfunction(?), though I could just be reading too much into the bit where he kneels on the floor looking sad and cupping his genitals.

Garage Boss goes away for a bit and this is apparently the perfect excuse for everyone else to have a massive orgy. I spotted a mechanic and his girlfriend 69ing on a picnic table – it looked distinctly uncomfortable. A bit later on, we see a car shaking rhythmically and Drifter gets out looking pretty pleased with himself, followed by – gasp! – not Boss’s Wife, but Floppy Blonde.

Inevitably Garage Boss comes back and finds out that his wife’s been cheating on him. There’s a big fight and Drifter ends up smacking the guy over the head with a wrench (or possibly some barbecue tongs – it was quite hard to tell from back in Row O). Garage Boss, bleeding profusely, somehow manages to throw himself at Floppy Blonde and so when the police arrive they assume that the guy covered in blood is the murderer and haul Floppy Blonde off to jail.

In the second half, we see Drifter hitting the bottle while Boss’s Wife tries in vain to distract him with pirouettes etc. Then we see Floppy Blonde behind bars, laying the smackdown on a prison guard who’s after a blowjob. The climax comes (sorry, poor choice of words) when Floppy Blonde escapes from prison with a gun and tracks down Drifter. The two blokes have a fight and then a kiss, prompting Boss’s Wife to shoot Drifter.

The dancing was brilliant, the comic timing good. The whole thing was crazy and sexy and funny and full of energy, not at all what I was expecting, but then I don’t know what I was expecting. (OA later admitted that he was expecting something more like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so it must have been a bit of a shock for him.)

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening, though sadly OA and I just couldn’t equal the chemistry on stage. Besides, I think I’ve got my eye on someone else now. Watch this space…

Puns and punctuality

Austentatious Publicity Image
Austentatious cast

What better way to enjoy the hottest day of the year than by cramming into a sweltering airless tent, knees jostling for space with those of the sweaty middle-aged man sat next to me? (I should point out that the middle-aged man was not my date for the evening; my date, BN, was closer to my own age, though I couldn’t say for sure how his sweat levels were doing.)

I’d turned up late, of course, blaming the District line but actually held up by struggling to find an outfit which was skimpy enough that I wouldn’t melt from the hottest July since thermometers were invented but not so skimpy that it looked like lingerie or children’s clothing. I’d texted en route to request a non-alcoholic drink, which anyone who knows me would recognise as a signal that I’m desperate for some booze, but sadly BN followed my instructions to the letter and handed me a lemonade when I arrived.

After our strange mixers-without-spirits, we strolled over to Udderbelly on the South Bank to see a Jane Austen-themed improv act, the delightfully-named Austentatious. My date had briefed me beforehand – in fact, he’d forwarded me a surprising amount of background information and supporting resources, which I had of course merrily ignored – but it wasn’t really until we were queuing to enter the huge purple Udderbelly cow that I realised just how little familiarity I have with Austen’s works. Hardcore Austen fans, avert your eyes now…

If under pressure, I’m not entirely confident that I could distinguish between genuine Austen novels and episode titles from Blackadder III. Ink & Incapability? Could go either way. I read PD James’s Death Comes to Pemberley before I tackled Pride and Prejudice. I know, sacrilege. Pride & Prejudice is in fact the only Austen book I’ve read – at the insistence of my aunt, which seems fitting somehow. From what I remember it’s mainly about dancing and moping and sitting in carriages and finding out that a scandal probably wasn’t as big as you thought it was. So, I think we’ve established I’m not an expert as such.

Luckily for me, this didn’t hamper my enjoyment of Dastardly Darcy and the Curious Code/Toad (depending on whether you had your hearing aid switched on). Though naturally disappointed that Colin Firth didn’t make a special appearance, I thought everything else was brilliant. Darcy (played by one of the QI Elves who I recognised from his Only Connect appearances because yes, I am that cool) was suitably dastardly, when he wasn’t giggling at his half-witted ward, Howard, who was quite overwhelmed by his amorous feelings for Miss Mildred Zoo, daughter of the late Dr Attenborough Zoo, the inventor of – yep – zoos. Mildred’s friend and confidante, Susan, meanwhile was heroic in the face of the unfair (and disturbingly sexual) behaviour of zoo-owners Dr and Mrs Fraser.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to see an improvised show before and I was pleasantly surprised at how much laughing out loud I did. For some reason I was expecting more audience participation; I now think the heat had addled my brain and I was confusing improv with pantomime. The one form of audience participation came while we were queuing to get in, when we were each asked to write down a suggestion for the show’s title on a piece of paper. BN had some suggestions ready – he had apparently been planning the whole thing for weeks if not months, even posting in a chat room at work to garner Austen-inspired puns. At this point, I started to suspect that my date might be something of a neurotic… A selection of the suggested titles were read out at the beginning and end of the show and I have to say the one that made me laugh hardest came from someone who, astonishingly, seemed to know even less about Austen than me, since they’d come up with… wait for it… The Old Clock. You have to admire someone with that level of cluelessness being determined to participate regardless.

After the show, we retreated to one of the National Theatre’s bars for a couple of martinis. It was quite late when we emerged. We crossed the bridge to Embankment together, the London skyline shimmering above the river in the sultry heat, as BN turned to me and said “Wanna come back to mine?”

I could hardly doubt the purport of his discourse; however my natural delicacy led me to dissemble – and I caught the last Tube home.

Flashes of enthusiasm alternating with apathetic indolence

Battling with jetlag after 24 hours of flights from Sydney to London, via Bangkok and Dubai, sat next to a man who was all elbows and had no concept of personal space, I agreed to play it safe on my first date with MH: pizzas at Franco Manca and beers at Brewdog in Clapham. I bought him his first ever limoncello, for which he was not especially grateful (“It’s just melted ice lolly”), we argued about the merits of The Great Gatsby, and we laughed into our pints when the guy on the next table told his (presumably) girlfriend that his love for her was bigger than the (quite small) table they were sitting at. It was a promising start but obviously we needed to do something a bit more exciting for our second date.

So I was impressed when MH texted me saying that he’d taken the initiative and booked us a pair of tickets to see Simon Munnery Sings Soren Kierkegaard at the Soho Theatre. I’d never seen Simon Munnery live – nor for that matter anyone performing the work of a 19th Century Danish philosopher – so the plan got a big thumbs-up from me. It also tied in nicely with a conversation we’d had on our first date about how his A-levels (including Philosophy) were all complete dosses, whereas mine were obviously serious academic subjects.

We turned up a bit early, which meant I could enjoy a half hour or so drinking G&T and inspecting the various forms of facial hair sported by the hipsterish crowd. Luckily we nabbed a table after ten minutes or so, which gave me a chance to rest my feet – MH is about a foot taller than me, so I’d worn some ambitious heels.

Munnery strolled onto the stage with unkempt hair and a brownish fleece (and other clothing of course – it’s not one of those shows), looking more like someone heading down to the allotment on a Sunday afternoon than a comedian performing in one of the trendier parts of London. He produced some crumpled notes from a plastic carrier bag and proceeded to introduce himself.

Actually, he introduced himself and then questioned his own identity/existence. “How do you know that I really am Simon Munnery?” he asked the audience. The first couple of answers were unimaginative. “It says so on the ticket!” “I’ve seen one of your shows before!” My personal favourite – and probably most in keeping with the evening’s philosophical theme – was simply “Who cares if you really are Simon Munnery?”

We got some biographical background on Kierkegaard – something about sheep farming and god denial, but don’t ask me the specifics. Munnery then focussed in on a particular excerpt from one of Kierkegaard’s works, examining “the present age with its flashes of enthusiasm alternating with apathetic indolence…”, which he recited in a Kenneth Williams sort of voice which I always think makes anything funnier.

A couple of highlights stand out. Formerly of the Footlights brigade, Munnery did a pretty spot-on impression of the kind of large-chinned poshos I encountered in my own Cambridge days. The other highlight was pure Kierkegaard: “I can’t be bothered to walk, it’s too strenuous; I can’t be bothered to lie down, for either I’d have to stay lying down and that I can’t be bothered with, or I’d have to get up again, and I can’t be bothered with that either. In short: I just can’t be bothered.” I mean, we’ve all had days like that, haven’t we?

The only part of the show that I didn’t seem to find quite as funny as the rest of the crowd was Munnery’s hip-hop song about Putin. (Apparently his name derives from the fact that he poos in a tin.) It’s just a personal preference – I’m not generally a fan of fecal humour.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. A stand-up gig maybe isn’t the best environment for getting to know your date, but I liked how MH and I laughed at the same things – and more loudly than most, I would say. And it was nice to just sit back and relax, occasionally letting our knees touch or exchanging smiles when something tickled us.

After the show we left Munnery standing on stage with his plastic bag and a pile of DVDs and walked to the Tube station together. It turned out that we were taking the same train home, which sadly meant no good-night kiss – I find it very difficult to snog someone on public transport, even more difficult probably than pooing in a tin (which I hasten to add I have never attempted). But a third date was definitely on the cards. Philosophically speaking, I can’t be sure that MH really is MH, but as Random Audience Member #3 would say “Who cares?”

Reproductive strategies vary wildly

“But I still don’t know why there aren’t any marsupial whales!”

This was the reaction of my date – let’s call him WR – to our most recent liaison. We’d gone to hear a lecture by Dr Anjali Goswami at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, a lecture titled (you’ve guessed it) ‘Why aren’t there any marsupial whales?’. Interesting in parts, but we both left with no idea what the answer to that question was, though we did have a better knowledge of the gestation period of a joey and the stupidity level of your average raccoon.

I felt sure that a talk with a blurb beginning ‘Reproductive strategies vary wildly across vertebrates…’ couldn’t fail to create an erotically-charged atmosphere for our encounter. And if somehow sitting in a lecture theatre watching a video clip of a blind kangaroo embryo attempting to claw its way out of its mother’s hooha and into her pouch failed to get him going, then there was a free wine reception in the museum itself to help things along afterwards.

Having helped ourselves to a couple of glasses of merlot, we started to explore the collection. I’d read that the Grant Museum housed 67,000 specimens (we all know men love numbers, so I’d been boning up, if you’ll excuse the pun) and was slightly surprised to find myself in a space not that much bigger than my bedroom. The similarity to my bedroom ended there, however, since my bedroom isn’t full of animal skeletons. (Actually, I’ve not tidied my room in so long that I can’t entirely rule out the possibility of there being some small creature slowly decomposing in a neglected corner. Yes, I know, I can’t understand why I’m still single either.)

Highlights of the collection included a whole jar of pickled moles (the Animals of Farthing Wood kind, as opposed to the “Oh god, sorry, I thought you had a bit of chocolate on your chin” kind). And we’re not talking a diddy little jam jar here, this was a large vat of dead critters. I also very much enjoyed the walrus’s penis bone (or ‘baculum’ if you want to get all Ecce Romani about it) which, at 66cm long, risked making my date, or indeed any human male, feel decidedly inadequate.

If my relationship with WR were at a more advanced stage, I could think of no better way to cement our love than for us to ‘adopt a specimen’ together. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to see their name in small printed letters next to a Cornish sucker fish or an ocelot’s mandible?? Actually, if you’re interested, you can find a list of ‘orphans’ here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology/support/orphan-list. I’ve already put the dissected pigeon, the squat lobster and the glass model of a sea cucumber on my Christmas list. And just imagine how much luck you’d have if you adopted a whole box of rabbit legs.

The only slight awkwardness of the evening came when I spotted another guy I’d recently been on a date with, clearly on his own, hovering by a cabinet full of glass jellyfish. I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name, so spent the next ten minutes staring intently at the remains of a dodo just to avoid making eye contact, for fear that I might find myself forced to introduce two guys I barely knew to each other.

When we were satisfied that we’d examined pretty much all the specimens on display – a point in the evening which, entirely by chance, coincided with the draining of the last bottle of free wine – we decamped to a nearby cocktail bar which WR insisted was fantastic, a claim slightly undermined by the fact that it was completely empty. Still, the cocktails were impressive – one of mine arrived on its own wooden board with accompanying olives and cornichons, along with a short briefing from the bartender on the order in which I should consume the various components. (Who knew getting drunk could be so complicated?) The complimentary popcorn was also delish. Actually, I’m assuming it was complimentary, but WR picked up the bill… Hmm.

So, how did it end? Well, a lady really shouldn’t kiss and tell, but… Yes, I ended up going back to his. I guess that walrus baculum wasn’t so off-putting after all.

Part of the furniture

>> So what kind of exhibition is it?

>> Dunno, think it’s some sort of photography thing…? Anyway, it’s free for members and there might be cocktails.


This was the prelude to my second date with – OK, let’s just call him by his initials: CG. While hunting around online for something cheap and interesting to do on a Wednesday evening in November, I got an email from the Royal Academy inviting me to a preview of some exhibition or other. I only scanned the email. It was free and yes, alright, I thought it might make me sound a bit cultured. (CG listens to opera music – voluntarily – and I didn’t want him to find out too early on that I’m the kind of girl who watches Snog Marry Avoid and eats Spam as a treat.)

So that’s how we ended up at the Allen Jones exhibition. Those of you who are familiar with Mr Jones’s oeuvre will know that his work is not so much in the realm of photography, as I had told my date, as it is in the realm of turning women into furniture…

As we entered the first room of the exhibition, we were greeted by two female figures doing their very best to impersonate coffee tables. I’d give these ladies an A for effort, maybe a C for attainment – I mean, when did you last see a coffee table with boobs? Or hair? I seem to spend most of my time trying to clean hairs off the coffee table at my flat – or at least I will do when I eventually become a grown-up who cares about such things. (I imagine this will be around about the same time that I start thinking that central heating is an acceptable topic of conversation at parties.)

Then we had some earlier works – paintings and sculptures. I had mixed feelings about the paintings – they were very striking and the man is undeniably fab at drawing women’s legs, but some of them just felt a bit “try hard” and there was a triptych of women looking like they’d rather be doing anything (cleaning hairs off coffee tables, talking about central heating etc) than receiving oral sex from the men in the picture which made me feel a bit sad. The statues, on the other hand, were probably my – our – favourite bit, a weird mix of 2d and 3d, heads and limbs and clothing all jumping out at exciting new angles as we walked around them.

The penultimate room was… hmm. Well, it had maybe ten or so female figures – like shop mannequins – dressed in various strange outfits. The one that I disliked the most was clad in a see-through top and, as CG remarked, “Her nipples could have your eye out.” (I should admit that I also took a strong dislike to another figure in this room after I described her as a “pygmy” and my date made me stand next to her for a comparison which did not end well…)

The final room held perhaps Jones’s best-known work, a chair formed from a woman lying on her back, knees pulled up to her ears, with a seat on top. This means that the backrest consists of the woman’s legs, decked out in kinky boots with horrible stiletto heels. Thinking these heels would stab the shoulders of anyone daft enough to try to sit on the thing, I commented, “It doesn’t look very comfortable” to which CG replied, “Well, no, I don’t suppose she’s enjoying it much.”

This room also held an artwork which we dubbed “The Penis Chair”, though no doubt it’s actually called something terribly meaningful and thought-provoking, like “Essence of self” or “Curve #149”. Essentially it was a wooden seat with a protuberance several inches long, sticking out round about where someone might sit on it. So. There you have it.


Conclusion? I’m not a fan of using dates to “test” people, but honestly it was kind of cool to spend an evening surrounded by weird fetishistic art and to discover that my date was capable of uttering words like “penis” without blushing so much that I’d have been left wondering if there was any blood flow left for his. No, CG didn’t get lucky that night – really, who could feel sexy after an evening of furniture women?? – but he got himself a third date and I got myself a couple of postcards that will embarrass the hell out of whichever unfortunate souls I end up sending them to.