Couch Potato’s London Staycation Diary: Kebabs, Bodies and Barbers

In my diary entry yesterday charting the movie-enriched journey that myself and Sofa Spud took last week on our London staycation, I left you with a cliffhanger.

I announced that we’d reached our morning’s destination in Dalston, but I didn’t reveal what that destination was. Well, I’m sorry, I tricked you a little, as our destination was a Turkish restaurant called Mangal 1
Regent’s Canal. I’m not aware of any horror films being shot here, but as we trundle along the canal path dodging a series of near dips as speeding cyclists run us almost to the water’s edge, I wonder how satisfied I’d be if someone made a horror movie about a psychotic pedestrian venting their rage on one of those furious pedalers. I can see it now – a canal barge, an imprisoned cyclist and a torture ordeal involving bells, chains and pumps perhaps…

Anyway, we leave the canal to head to our next destination. On the way we visit Noel Road, the former home of playwright Joe Orton, who, you’ll know if you’ve seen the film Prick Up Your Ears, was murdered there in 1967 by his lover Kenneth Halliwell, who then committed suicide.

There’s a blue plaque on the building. We stand there for a while feeling both sad and unnerved by the thought of this disturbing crime of passion.

And now onwards, via a rather substantial walk through London’s streets, to our next point of interest.

Wilde, Jude Law, Stephen Fry

We arrive at Lincoln’s Inn – the Inns of Court near Chancery Lane. With existing halls and chambers dating from the 15th century, it’s hardly surprising that this Inn has been used as a location for many movies. It’s not only been used to depict period scenes (Wilde, Finding Neverland), this place has provided the setting for fictional settings (including Sirius Black’s home in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Gary Oldman

It’s in Lincoln’s Inn Fields where we locate our next destination – the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Now, anyone remotely squeamish would probably keel over at the idea of this surgeon’s extensive collection, and this is the main reason why those hearty lunchtime kebabs were so important. This museum displays thousands of specimens, most of them being body parts in formaldehyde. Heads, legs, hands, feet, organs, diseased body parts, deformed limbs, deformed animals, fetuses at various stages of development –  it’s got it all.

The Hulk

The museum is named after  Scottish surgeon John Hunter who collected all these specimens during the 18th century when there was a growing interest in human anatomy. It’s perhaps no coincidence then that a certain classic novel was written around this time. In the early 19th century Mary Shelley penned her legendary Frankenstein, the text that launched a thousand movie imitations, from numerous Frankenstein adaptations to Frankenstein spin-offs (Young Frankenstein, Frankenstein Unbound – as seen in the earlier clip ) to other mad scientist movies such as Hulk, Re-Animator, and even The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As I plod round that museum, I find myself noting the body parts I’d select if I were to create a monster – specimens as hideous and extreme as possible obviously.

Young Frankenstein, Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle

For more on Frankenstein on film, check out this great site.

When Hunter was collecting, it was the body snatching era. Freshly executed  bodies were regularly snatched from the gallows by willing “resurrection men” and sold to scientists and surgeons, including Hunter, for their essential research. The novel The Knife Man by Wendy Moore focuses on this aspect of Hunter’s life. I’d love to see this made into a movie.

Before we move on I must mention another curiosity within the Hunterian museum. In one case stands the skeleton of a 7 and a half foot man . This unusually tall fellow was an Irish man who had come to London to make money from his unusual appearance. His unique condition attracted the interest of Hunter who was desperate to get his hands on the giant’s corpse, sending the Irish man into such a frenzy of worry about his afterlife that he arranged to be buried at sea. Clearly, of course, that didn’t happen – he was double crossed. It’s a moving tale and one that forms the story of Hilary Mantel’s novel The Giant, O’Brien. Somebody make this story into a movie too please.

Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet St: Helena Bonham Carter

On leaving Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Sofa Spud and I pass by the Royal Courts of Justice towards Fleet Street. We walk down Bell Yard, the fictional home of Mrs Lovett’s pie shop in the old Sweeney Todd story. Rounding the corner we pass the fictional home of Sweeney Todd’s Fleet Street barber shop, next to St Dunstan’s church.

Fleet Street

According to legend, the two were linked by an underground passage.

Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet St, Johnny Depp

In the Tim Burton movie adaptation of the Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd’s barber’s shop is above Mrs Lovett’s pie shop on Fleet Street, hence the title The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

With our stomachs churning at the idea of Mrs Lovett’s pies, Sofa Spud and I decide to numb the thoughts with a delicious Martini (the drink that scores number two in my cocktail top ten) in the Seven Stars pub (possibly the nicest pub in London) before heading home via the Millennium Bridge.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Fortunately, when we crossed it, the bridge didn’t look like this scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Our journey finally came to an end at London Bridge station, near Borough Market – the home of that famous London diarist.

Samuel Pepys?

Borough Market

No silly.

The Edge of Reason - Renée Zellweger

Bridget Jones!

Come back soon for further installments of my London Staycation Diary where I’ll be sharing my experiences with bats and brands, celebs and Sliding Doors, and nuns and Notting Hill.

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