Daytripping: Bristol, Hogarth, and gin

Daytrip to BristolSometimes you just need a mummy day. Even if you’re a sassy, independent 25 year old woman *snaps fingers*, a mummy day is basically the equivalent of a bubble bath, a massage and a hot chocolate with marshmallows rolled into one. Too bad if you’re like moi and the mummy in question insists on living 350 miles away from you (so rude). But at least it means you need to get creative with where you hold your mummy days.

Last time, we met at King’s Cross to go to Paree, and what a fabulous excursion that was. This time we met half way between London and Cornwall, geographically, socially and culturally, in one of my favourite UK cities, Bristol.

The first and only other time we’d been there together was when I was a fresh-faced 17 year old (a total lie; my face was far from fresh at that age. Try lashings of liquid eyeliner and a permanently insolent expression), and we were looking around the university. I instantly fell in love and knew it was exactly the kind of place I wanted to live. You can imagine my teenage hormonal outrage when, despite the fact that entry requirements were ABB and I got myself a solid AAA, they turned me down. SCREW YOU, BRISTOL, I’M NEVER COMING BACK *spends years talking about how much I want to live in Bristol*. I couldn’t possibly imagine why they didn’t want a charmer like me.

Of course, I did go back. I had one rather eventful trip during my university years that ended up with me sleeping rough for the night, sans belongings, thanks to a particularly nasty girl and an even nastier boyfriend. Mummy dearest only heard about that on this trip to Bristol, oops. But I thought it was time I visited this favourite city without academic rejection or teenage social drama, and was drawn in by an exhibition of the Newlyn School of Artists. Spoiler alert: That show wasn’t for me, so I won’t be writing about it.

On our way from Bristol’s adorably quaint train station, we mistakenly got off the bus early, and pottered around some seriously pretty homeware shops. Cuteness was everywhere:

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Outside Bristol Museum, I saw a banner for a Hogarth show and insisted we take a look. The interior is stunning, just look at these serpents:

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It was a small, well-put-together show that presented a real cross-section of Hogarth’s vast oeuvre – even his rarely spoken about history paintings. I was most excited to see that there were three modern moral subject series: A Rake’s Progress, Industry and Idleness and, my personal favourite, A Harlot’s Progress. I’m taking the opportunity to narrate AHP.

I love Hogarth. Filthy man. He’s most commonly known for his ‘modern moral subjects’. It’s basically Jeremy Kyle for 18th Century England. Let’s look into the hopeless lives of those less fortunate and congratulate ourselves for making the decisions that steered us away, rather than towards destitution and bad teeth. In Hogarth’s modern moral subjects, he would explore tragic tales of the working classes and pinpoint the misery back to one specific stage in their life or choice they made. It’s not quite as judgmental as it first seems, though; he makes a point to highlight that these tales are cyclical. We’re all a product of circumstance, and we will pass that circumstance on to those we leave behind. Deep. The modern moral subjects started off as oil paintings, but were far more successful as prints, as they reached such a wide audience.

In six images, you see how innocence, when coupled with naivety, leads to basically A NASTY DEATH.

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Scene one: Moll Hackabout arrives in London, armed with scissors and a pincushion. Looks like she left York for the seamstress’ life in the Big Smoke. Barely off the cart she rode in on, she catches the eye of some prostitute’s punters nearby (you can see them in the background, in front of a decrepit building. One of them is even fiddling with himself. Shoo, you lecherous pervs). Brothel-keeper Elizabeth Needham has noticed Moll’s potential and approaches her with the offer of work.

A little bit of symbolism here that always stood out to me: Moll is dressed in white. There’s a dead, white goose in the scene. It’s the first hint of a cycle; has another innocent girl arrived, all dressed in white and innocent and doe-eyed and adorable, only to end up dead? I’m thinking YEP.

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Cut to scene two, and Moll has been stripped of the innocence she held in the first image. She’s now a merchant’s mistress, evidently tempted into this life by exotic luxury – you can tell this from the monkey, the make up, the mask. But now Moll, too, speaks the language of deceit. Just as Needham lured her in to the mistress’ lifestyle, she hoodwinks her merchant by taking a second lover. She further deceives him by kicking over a table to distract the merchant as the lover escapes out of the door.

Oh Moll, it’s all going a bit downhill, isn’t it?

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In the third scene, Moll has been kicked out of her merchant’s house and is working as a prostitute. Sex and syphilis is all around her; the cat copies one of Moll’s regular positions, she hangs flagellation instruments on the wall (cheeky), her maid is syphilitic and has cures for both of them above the two portraits of real-life criminals on the left.

Men have burst through her door to arrest her and in a state of surprise, her boob flops out. Hate it when that happens.

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Fourth scene: she’s in prison, beating hemp for the hangman’s noose. Talk about digging your own grave.

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Scene cinq, and she’s dying of syphilis. Rather than help, her quack doctors are arguing about how to treat her. One woman rifles through her belongings, seeing how she can cash in on the death. Moll’s son – where did he come from?! – is picking out fleas. Looks like he’ll be living the life of a beggar boy in no time at all.

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And the closing scene: dead at 23, her wake is only attended by those who led her to her coffin. One man pushes his hand up a woman’s skirt, spilling his brandy in the process. A woman is checking her appearance in a mirror in the background, without paying too much attention to that pesky syphilitic spot. Sex, alcohol, vanity and ignorance are dead Moll’s guests now.

Well, that all escalated very quickly.

After such depravity, mummy and I needed a drink (is that ironic? Well we could only hope that a single gin won’t lead us to Moll’s fate). We finished our day with a gin and tonic aboard a boat in the harbour, which was basically so enjoyable that I started checking out Zoopla prices for Bristol thereafter. Impulsive? Moi? I have no idea what you’e talking about.

Bristol boat Gin & tonic in Bristol


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