Get Stuffed: Learning About Taxidermy in London
Please note: This being an article about taxidermy, means there are photos up ahead that some may consider to be quite graphic. If it’s something you don’t think you’ll be able to stomach (or don’t approve of) – don’t read this post!
The great thing about the city of London is that there is so much to do and these activities are varied. You can visit the free museums, catch a play on the West End and ogle the city from a great height. But, you can also have a three course meal in the dark, go to a friendly neighbourhood rave sober, at 5 in the morning before work or dance to silent disco in the Shard.
Whenever you feel like you may have ‘seen it all’ London laughs in your face and says: “Is that right? Well, I’ve just opened a pop-up restaurant where people are expected to dine in the nud.”
All you can do is laugh, shake your head and say “Touché, you magnificent city. Touché.”
Personally, I want to try it all. The weirder the better (okay, I didn’t make it to the naked restaurant, but only because the food allegedly wasn’t that good. Food is very important).
So, when I found out there was a place in Islington offering anthropomorphic mouse classes, I signed up immediately.
I’ve always been fascinated by the practice of taxidermy – particularly in times gone past. People would hunt the animal and eat the meat, but use the whole animal in a way that seems far less wasteful.
I eat meat, but I think it’s important to remember that what you were eating was once a living thing and that as much as the animal should be used as possible. It’s why I never shy away from eating offal or other less frequently eaten parts of livestock – not only is it delicious, but the less of the animal that goes to waste, the better.
My two cents anyway – I digress.
We arrived to 24 empty seats, scalpel and mouse laid out in front of us. The mice were long dead – having once been destined for snake food, they’d been frozen and were thawing out in the classroom.
Taxidermy is as you can imagine, a tricky process.
We spent the first two hours of the class painstakingly removing the skin from the carcass. This was a delicate operation – the main operative was to attempt to not break through the very thin membrane which encases all the mouse organs.
Being a bit of a clumso by nature, I worked slowly, making sure not to cause any breakage to this membrane. Others weren’t so lucky – diving into it a little too eagerly, they ended up with somewhat of a mess.
After we’d separated the skin entirely from the carcass, we had a short break. From there, we washed the mouse skin thoroughly in soap, water and alcohol, before painstakingly drying it with a blowdryer. Then it was time to stuff the mouse, so that it could take on its final form.
It was easier said than done, to say the least. I’d admittedly breezed through the process of separating the mouse skin from the body (glad to see that after school job I had for eighteen months of gutting fish finally paid off), but had great difficulties with the actual process of taxidermy. My mouse was tiny, which didn’t help.
We’d used wood shavings to form the inner body, melding the head into shape with clay. After dressing that part, we used wires to set the hands and legs and a pipe cleaner for the tail. That was the hardest bit and many members of the class had issues with getting the wire in, without breaking the tail away from the body. We then had to sew the skin closed. I worked slowly and managed to get there in the end, one small victory for the day.
Having not had the foresight to bring props for our mice to the class, the day was saved by another classmate, who’d ordered a bunch of clothes and accessories off the internet.
I selected a smart little purple dress and popped it over my mouse, dubbing her ‘Cecilia’ in the process. Props to the guy next to me who had the best accessories by far – his little bespectacled mouse was holding a newspaper, with a collection of wine bottles at his feet.
The five hour class was over, but a new problem had presented itself – however would we get Cecilia and Bjorn home? Having no car, nor box to put them in, we had to resort to the Tube.
Having lived in London, I’ve seen some weird stuff on the Tube and know for the fact that you have to go the extra mile to get a reaction out of anyone else sharing the carriage with you. Well, it took three years but that day had finally come. People as it turns out, will be slightly weirded out if you march on a train carrying a taxidermied mouse wearing a purple dress in your hand.
My favourite reaction by far came from two Italian ladies. They were whispering to each other in their native tongue, having no idea that my very clever and linguistically gifted friend could perfectly understand what they were saying:
“Are those mice dead?”
“Do you think they’re real?”
“Do you think they KILLED them?”
“Why is that one wearing a dress?!”
From there, it was off to the pub – because when in London, do as the Londoners do.
So, mouse taxidermy in London. Worth it? Absolutely. My only regret is that Cecilia and I were soon to be parted – she is now under the care of a dear friend, due to Australia’s OTT customs laws.
Stick a pin in this post for future reference.