Amid last year’s mental health scandals – including spending cuts, insensitive comments from politicians, and crisis care failures – there was a big step forward in tackling the stigma of psychological illness. It came from a newly-opened museum and charity: Bethlem Museum of the Mind, in Beckenham, Kent, recently nominated for the 2016 Museum of the Year award.
Yes, the name might sound familiar. Bethlem is the fourth site of the notorious hospital better known as Bedlam. You won’t find power-crazed doctors leaving patients in chains – a stereotypical mental image associated with the ‘madhouse’ of earlier centuries – but you will find a place where modern mental illness is explained. What’s more, entry is free, and it’s open to everyone.
It had me at ‘free tea and biscuits’. I’ve been to more museums than I can count in my 26 and 3/4 years, but never have I been offered a free cuppa and snacks as part of the deal… until now. Evidently, the Museum of Comedy isn’t your average tourist attraction, but the promise of a good old-fashioned English treat, alongside decades of authentic comedy memorabilia, worked wonders.
Based in a church undercroft between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn, this small but mighty two room venue covers the history of British comedy, from variety acts to TV sketch shows and stadium tours, and all that’s in between.
When I’m busy writing about far-flung city breaks or adventures abroad, I forget to shout about the sights on my doorstep here in Sussex. It’s high time this was resolved, especially as East and West Sussex have some really unusual attractions that need to be in the spotlight. From an Indian-inspired pavilion to a 15th century Chaucer text, these unique locations are certainly worth your time.
It started life as a small Saxon village, but today Arundel is a busy town, dwarfed by a cathedral and a huge castle that’s nearly 1,000 years old. Just along from the castle, you can hire a rowing boat at Swanbourne Lake, before checking out the Blackfriars ruins as you head back to the main streets.
If there’s one exhibition the makers of the dreaded Protein World advert – ‘Are you beach body ready?’ – should see, it’s Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear Since 1900 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, where it’s proven that idealised beach bodies – and holiday trends – are forever changing.
There’s no failsafe seaside look that could carry you from the 1900s to the noughties, just as no destination has consistently ruled over all the others (for one thing, Dubai and Benidorm were barely on the map in 1900, unless you fancied a quiet fishing trip).
There’s nothing like a walking tour to immerse yourself in a city, but being guided by a pirate is an added incentive. During my recent stay in Bristol I finally got to try out the famous Pirate Walk, led by Pirate Pete, which covers swashbucklers, slavery and 18th century life. Pete is a lively entertainer, with his eye-catching costume and Jolly Roger flag, and you can tell he loves his job – after all, he’s been offering tours for 15 years, and has even given lectures in Florida about the famous Blackbeard.
If you’re craving a few days of culture in a classic British city, you can’t go far wrong with Bath – one huge UNESCO World Heritage Site ready to be enjoyed. It’s got the historical depth and arts connections to provide you with a bulging itinerary, or there are plenty of beautiful open spaces where you can just lazily take in the scenery at a much slower pace.
Whilst I’ve visited a handful of times before, I’d never really ‘done’ Bath in the traditional tourist sense, and I was looking forward to seeing it through new eyes. These are the places I made a beeline for…
There’s something about watching photogenic fashion tribes that conjures up a David Attenborough or Bruce Parry voice-over inside my head. Something that says I’m in the presence of a species fundamentally different to my own, no matter how much I might want to understand them or imitate them. Ultimately there’s a little bit of fear in not knowing what their next move might be, or whether they’re about to bare their claws. Welcome to London Fashion Week, where the beautiful and the strange gather.
There are some travel experiences just begging to be dropped into conversation, like the times when you bump into famous people staying on your remote island (oh wait, that’s never happened, except on an episode of Poirot). Or how about the times when you get into hilarious situations involving animals on safari? (That has yet to happen to Poirot, correct me if I’m wrong, and it hasn’t happened to me either). Ok, so my anecdote isn’t going to cover any of those topics, but it’s hopefully good enough for someone to buy me a drink down the pub.
Having been pretty ill in recent weeks (to paraphrase Gok Wan in the new Activia ad, I haven’t been ‘feeling good on the inside’, though it’s nothing Activia and Gok can fix), this weekend it was time for a cheering up treat, in the form of a visit to Britain’s only bone chapel. There’s nothing like checking out 700-year-old skulls to help you put your own health issues into perspective… or to act as a nice distraction.
St. Leonard’s Church is in Hythe, which is a fairly nondescript town in Kent. Strangely enough, there’s no specific reason for its bones to be on display – no devout monastic order at work (as in the case of the Capuchin Crypt in Rome), no prominent case of severe overcrowding in the churchyard (as was the case at Les Innocents in Paris, later forming the backdrop to Andrew Miller’s novel, Pure). Nobody really knows why the bones are stacked so neatly and not interred in the ground, which just adds to the intrigue for me. I’m also relieved that they haven’t been discarded or removed by over-zealous authorities at some point.
We can’t always be having adventures in far-flung countries, as much as it pains me to say it, or we’d all be digital nomadic explorers. But we’re not, or at least, I’m not. So, how do you quench your travel thirst in between ticking another place off your Trip Advisor map, aside from doing practical things like catching up on sleep and, of course, getting yourself a kick-ass career? Here are a few of my suggestions.
1. Go to your local supermarket and find the ‘Beers of the World’ section. Then rejoice.
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.