Sunday, August 01, 2010

This will only hurt for a second

Yesterday was a bit of a funny weather day, with the grey clouds threatening to crack any minute, and casting doubt on my plans to sit in Battersea Park and read my book (aka show off my new haircut to the masses). So I stayed local and did laundry and cleaned the house. This meant that not a single drop of rain fell. Nuts.

Today was a different story though. Rain or no rain, I was committed to heading out and exploring some new sights. I wanted to see Southwark Cathedral, as there has been a church recorded on that site since AD606, but archaeological evidence suggests that a Roman pagans worshiped on the site long before then. Rather than roam the aisles in tourist fashion, I thought it would be nice to sit inside the church and listen to its choir, starting at 11am. Sadly the tea towels I'd put in to the machine took longer to wash than I'd anticipated, and I missed the church service that I'd wanted to attend.

I still headed for the Southwark area though, alighting the train at the London Bridge station for my first tourist stop, The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret.

The Old Operating Theatre The Herb Garret

Down a tiny side street alongside the station, and up a windy wooden spiral staircase of 32 steps, I found myself in the roof of St Thomas' Church in Southwark. According to the information sheet I was given, the entire Church was part of Old St Thomas' Hospital until it was closed for relocation in 1862. The attic space remained completely hidden for nearly 100 years until it was rediscovered by researcher Raymond Russell in 1956.

There are lots of little display cases scattered around the museum that contain samples of the lotions & potions that the apothecaries used to mix up; everything from frankincense, myrrh and opium (dried opium pods were found when the site was being restored). This space is the Herb Garret, in use from 1703 and fully restored in 2006. The museum area also displays some of the old ebony-handled surgical tools and these were admittedly a little gut-wrenching, particularly the gynecological equipment and a nifty dual-purpose device that both pumps your stomach AND gives you an enema - depending on how you use it of course! The museum also shows you how to amputate a big toe (quickly, I'd imagine), and it gives a short - but surprising - spiel about how now-famous poet John Keats was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary working at this site in its heyday.

Arguably the piece de resistance is the Old Operating Theatre itself, dating back to 1822 and now restored to its original condition. The theatre was only used to operate on female patients, because the male patients had their own separate theatre further east, which has now been demolished. Despite the rather primitive conditions, surgeons at the theatre performed a range of operations including amputation; the removal of bladder stones; and even skull operations! Prior to 1846, there were not many reliable anesthetics around, so operations must have been a literal nightmare. It later became more popular to use ether or chloroform to sedate patients, but the operating theatre closed in 1862, three years before antiseptic procedures were introduced.

The Old Operating Theatre The Old Operating Theatre Old Operating Table

The neat thing about the operating theatre is that you can stand around it, as the medical students and observers would have done, or else you can go right down to the operating room floor and see the space how the surgeons - and the hapless patients - would have done. The mind boggles!

Heading back down the spiral staircase and into the summer sunshine, I wandered through the Borough Market. Closed on Sundays, it was a very different world from the hustle and bustle I experienced here just last weekend. I called into a cute tapas restaurant for some munchies and a glass of Spanish sparkling wine before pressing on to the next destination.

The thing was, I didn't really have a next destination in mind. So I just wandered around the riverbank area, stumbling across The Golden Hinde, a full-sized reconstruction of the Tudor warship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world in 1577. The ship is now open as a museum but seeing the outside satisfied my curiosity plenty, so I kept moving.

Tower Bridge, London

It was lovely just dawling along Queen's Walk today, past the HMS Belfast and heading for Tower Bridge. The skies were looking a little grey, but it was quite warm out there and I stopped for a restorative icecream and a bit of a sit-down outside City Hall.

Walking across Tower Bridge, the sirens started blaring and a voice came over the megaphone trying to shepherd tourists off the Bridge. Turns out they were raising the Bridge so that a big boat could pass underneath it. According to the tourist websites, you're supposed to count yourself lucky if you witness the Bridge being raised. The sheer number of tourists clambering to take photos of a raised Bridge was astonishing to me. I thought it was fun to be part of it, but I'm still not really sure what the fuss was about.

By the time I walked around the back of the Tower of London, I was beginning to tire and so I jumped on the Tube to come back home. I feel like from beginning to end, I spent the day seeing things that not every visitor to London thinks to see and with the exception of a couple of wrong turns at Albuquerque, I didn't get irretrievably lost!

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