Saucy seaside postcards might look a bit tame these days when compared to today’s pop culture references (Miley Cyrus’ twerking and sledgehammer licking antics, anyone?) but, back in the 1950s, the tongue-in-cheek images produced by artist Donald McGill were seen as risque and even borderline offensive. Most of the British public – readily stereotyped as sexually repressed and a bit dull – couldn’t get enough of his work and they lapped up the puns, however the heavy-handed censors of the 1950s weren’t far behind.
Funnily enough, I arrived at the College of Psychic Studies, on the first day of the Open House London initiative (a.k.a. legitimate house and public building snooping), through a set of unforeseen circumstances. Well, unforeseen to the staff at Open House London, who failed to anticipate the crowds of 18,000 people wanting to roam the gutteral insides of Battersea Power Station before it’s refurbished. Not like that would be a big deal to the general public or require any kind of sensible ticketing system whatsoever… anyway, I digress in my bitterness.
This week’s #TTOT (The Travel Talk on Twitter) chat topic is one that is very close to my heart: ‘Dark Tourism’. Regular readers will know that, not only does my blog name relate to all things deadly, but much of my content does too – in fact, I’ve only just enjoyed a Death and Debauchery tour of London, which opened my eyes to some of the tragic and traumatic stories that the city has to tell. Less recent exploits have included exploring Boston’s Granary Burial Ground, the wreck of the Mary Rose in Portsmouth and the Memorial to the German Resistance in Berlin.
For the morbidly curious (that’d be me), the words ‘death’ and ‘tour’ in the same sentence are like music to the ears; throw in the word ‘debauchery’ and I’m easy like Sunday morning. So, when the kind people at Insider London offered me the chance to experience one of their quirky tours, this option immediately jumped out from the list.
As it happened, I couldn’t have made a better choice, because Death and Debauchery is the ultimate experience for anyone with an anatomical fixation, an interest in social history or a desire to know about the grimier side of life in one of the world’s most famous cities.
The other night I fulfilled one of my long-term travel goals: to take a Ripper tour around Whitechapel and see where the shocking murders of 1888 took place. I’m not a fan of horror in the entertaining sense (stick me in front of a slasher film and I will develop psychosomatic symptoms of distress within a few minutes), but the case of Jack the Ripper is terrifyingly real and gives an insight into the harshness of East End London life.
Maybe it’s because he was never caught, and because there are so many theories surrounding his true identity, I’m left with plenty to mull over, and a tour seemed like the ideal opportunity to match the history with the streets themselves.
This year I’ll make my fifth trip to the Fringe Festival and my seventh trip to the city – Edinburgh, I’m unashamedly under your spell. It’s not just the Fringe that draws me in (I’ve been here in rainy October and still found plenty to do), as there’s always something new or unseen to discover. It’s constantly changing, with a buzzing art scene and some really tempting vintage shops, not to mention the art exhibitions, in particular the Printmakers’ Studios in the Old Town.
My hotel in Boston had enough history to qualify as a tourist attraction in its own right. It was the birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie, had its own clubs for 19th century men-about-town, was Charles Dickens’ crash pad during his American lecture tour, and once had Malcolm X as a staff member. But what was it like to actually stay here? I visited with my family for a four night city break, looking to see the sights.
I shared a twin room with my sister and we were lucky enough to have huge beds, a flat-screen TV, dressing gowns and a seriously tempting snack selection on offer from the minibar. We settled down to watch a news piece about a jelly bean that looked a bit like Kate Middleton and were soon really chilled out, if a little bemused about the jelly bean.
As promised, here are the more uplifting views of the Berlin Wall from my trip. I loved how individual each section was, with its own idiosyncrasies. Every time I put my camera down I’d come across another photo opportunity two seconds later, as more of the Wall emerged. I did feel like a brazen tourist, but it was impossible not to get snap-happy.
If you haven’t ever been to Berlin then I hope this post gets across how the Wall really is the focal point of the city, in a lot of positive ways as well as the obvious negative ones. It’s now full of things to photograph and you come away feeling like you’ve learned something from each piece (even if you just like the colours or the way they’ve transformed the space). There’s also something brilliant about seeing public art that really has a point. I think the city can be proud of it, rather than fear it as they used to.
It might be a bit stereotypical to focus on the Berlin Wall on my first post about the city, but I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room if you don’t mention it.
This wall shaped everything in the city and in the divided country, for decades. The side you lived on dictated the car you drove, the clothes you wore and the rights you had. Being a member of Amnesty International, I can get a bit preachy about this kind of thing, but it was incredibly weird to explore the city without that boundary stopping you, yet knowing it was there all the time.