Freaky Friday - If it’s Wednesday it must be Last Tuesday!

Philip Woolway encounters a cocktail of curiosities on his whistle-stop tour of the strange and mysterious

©Philip Woolway

©Philip Woolway

Although I yield to no man in my drive to explore the Outer Limits, the curious thing about curiosities, is, the more curiosities you see the less curious they become. Sunday Hampshire; Monday Sussex; Tuesday Essex, on, on, on...

And then it was Wednesday and I was in Last Tuesday. Which gave even me pause.

Well, in the Last Tuesday Society Museum of Curiosities, Literary Salon, Cocktail & Tapas Bar and Taxidermy Academy to be precise. Situated in Mare Street, Hackney, the renowned “Little Shop of Horrors” – where even the 2011 rioters and looters feared to tread, apparently – has long enjoyed a reputation for sourcing some of the most curious of items for the avid weird collector’s own wunderkammer. “A shrunken head and a fur ball from a cow, you say? Why yes, of course,” was once par for the course in Mare Street.

But time and tide wait for no man and if the man is the Society’s Chancellor, self-confessed dandy Viktor Wynd, and the tide comes out of a cocktail shaker, then changes must be made: “We need a place for visitors to relax and immerse themselves in the heady atmosphere of curious mysteries and unspeakable things, so let us provide this more interactive experience.” After all, is there a better way to quaff a “Savoy Corpse Reviver” than while musing over mermaids and monkeys? Open year-round, Wednesday to Sunday.

But what about Last Tuesday, I hear you cry? Don’t ask.

First requirement, on this Wednesday, is that you be inquisitive and adventurous enough to negotiate the staircase. Carefully checking that I was not wearing stilettoes (well, you never know), I negotiated the spiralling descent to the basement to be greeted by the outstretched hand of a mannequin child and a curvaceous two-metre-tall golden woman (large as life but not quite as real, alas). For some this could be an unnerving welcome, for others adding an uncomfortable edge to one’s expectations, but onward we must go.

The first cabinet does not disappoint in its diversity. Expect no boundaries or neat categories in what is to be seen here: exhibits flaunt themselves centre-stage, or secrete themselves in the darker shadows awaiting your studious attention; what should you look at first?

The nose bone of a swordfish (ouch) is prominent, but how long would it be before you even noticed the early 20th century erotica, inviting curiosity about the athleticism, flexibility and perhaps even the proportions of the models? Focus on the erotica purely for academic and research purposes of course – and would you miss the Narwhal tusk or the trio of toads standing at a bar enjoying a beer? Probably; so take another look and say, “Hi, I am sorry I missed you”, to the Teddy bear while you’re at it. Curiosity cabinets require time; a casual glance will miss so much. Venturing on to explore the fuller attractions of the basement museum does require an open mind. The contents of the cabinets and cases can at times be dark and sinister, with an eagerness to capture your attention, and not all will be to everyone’s taste. Hideous dolls, shrunken heads, pornography and popcorn!

Exploring a basement of curious objects can be thirsty work. When I returned to dizzy myself on the staircase once more, this time the welcome waiting at the top was a well-earned cocktail. Slumping into the booth, images from the cabinets swum in my memory, presenting some of life’s unanswered questions.

I considered many things as I glanced around my new surroundings. Could I actually buy that stuffed crow? Oh my God is the handle on that door what I think it is? And who is that dashing young dandy in a silver velvet suit sipping cocktails by the bar at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon? You will no doubt have questions of your own. And, if after all that you have seen and disbelieved, your appetite for curiosity has not been satisfied, a glance at the future programme of events may provide you with food for thought to go with your cocktail. Have a pressing need to taxidermy anything? From a puppy to a goat or any other loved one? Harbour a desire to present someone with a pickled brain, heart or mole in a jar? Then hurry up and book in to the Last Tuesday Society classes on how to do just that.

Personally, the cocktail master classes are proving a temptation for me. Shall I go for “Sex on the beach” or just a little “Hanky Panky...”?

From Issue 25 - December/Jan 2016. Available here.

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All photographs © Philip Woolway

All photographs © Philip Woolway

Woo Gilchrist