Monday, 20 August 2012


Rather crossly, I discovered that someone AGAIN beat me to this one, despite me not seeing any evidence that it had even been noticed.

This left me a rather grumpy clown.

However, worse things happen at sea and I braved the hottest day of the year to walk from Kings Cross to see Traces.

This turned out to be one of the worse things. It was hot. Damn hot. Hotter than this was my pants. I was doing a little bit of crotchpot cooking.*

Anyway, I had already reviewed all the clues and worked out where the venue was (which is an interesting situation when you consider it!) and after crossing Hoxton's main drag, I came to an anonymous building with a green door.

The building looked like it was condemned, or if not, as though it should have been. With some trepidation, I walked in and found myself in a dingy room, occupied by achingly cool Hoxton hipsters.

Dank and hot and very dark, the room was the recreation of a Victorian speakeasy, with serried ranks of gin bottles behind the bar. A lovely lady took my ticket and then explained the deal - the room I was in, and then the rooms upstairs. The walls of the "pub" were battered and there were fragments of adverts and notices that related to Victorian jobs and services.

The catalogue for the event was disguised an issue of The Borough of Hackney Express and Shoreditch Observer - a newspaper dated August 16th, 1878. Stories of the time describe the crimes and grumps of the day. If anyone labours under the illusion that tedious sermonising is something new, trust me, it is almost impossible to tell this newspaper apart from today's Daily Mail.

In trying to find my way upstairs, I feel it's only fair to point out that I managed to stumble, Clouseau-like, into the broom closet. But luckily, I don't think anybody noticed, so I got away with it.


Anyway, I did make it upstairs eventually. There were basically three rooms upstairs. One was just a collection of gubbins that were for sale. Some were interesting and though-provoking, some were rather mundane.

The next room was the crux of the exhibition to me - two desks with letters and books, created to look for all the world like the desks of two Victorian entrepreneurs - one running the bar downstairs, one running the brothel upstairs.

The bar owner's was an uncomfortable, uncompromising metal desk. I can't actually imagine someone buying such a nasty piece of furniture, but maybe as a practical, cheap desk from the time, it would have done the job. The letters were really banal, or perhaps the banality is just because the problems described are happening to someone else. I recognised almost all of his life in my own.

The other desk was more what you'd expect a Victorian desk to look like, somewhat plusher and more suited to the appearance of a brothel. The book contained a surprisingly detailed record of who'd been schtupping the "girls" (in the case of Lulu, "girl" was very much the active word).

The last room was evidently supposed to be a room where a "girl" might entertain a gentleman. Smelling of dried flowers and a hint of citrus, and decorated with trinkets and pictures (of the girls) it was very much a female place. Incongruously, the bed was strewn with flowers and a stuffed Jack Russell terrier.

Although the point of the exhibition was to read the letters and books and derive the tale of the place, unfortunately, by the time I got there (which really wasn't that late!) everything had been scrambled, and the fact that it was incredibly hot and humid and there was a steady stream of people who were waiting their turn to get their hands on the exhibit, left me feeling uncomfortable with the time it would take to do the detective work properly.

Consequently, although I could appreciate the amount of effort that went into creating the environment and I appreciated the technical skill of workmanship, I didn't "get" the whole thing in the same way as the lovely @clareangela did.

This was a real pity to me, as I glimpsed that there was a hint of genuine fascination there, but I just didn't feel comfortable taking the necessary time to explore it. When you go to a gallery, it pretty much doesn't matter how busy it is, you can get to see everything and make a reasonable judgment of the art.

Because you really had to do a lot of detective work riffling through letters (which had all gotten mixed up) it doesn't really work too well - there's a lesson to be learned there for future iterations of the exhibition!

I left the exhibition ultimately unfulfilled and slightly disappointed - I felt like I had missed out on something with a lot of potential. Hopefully, the next iteration of the project will deliver something as interesting and challenging, but that can cope with the number of people traipsing through.

*Copyright Robin Williams

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