Monday, 10 September 2012

Meet Stanley. Flat Stanley

Last Saturday morning, I woke up, slightly hungover, and remembered that I had to be in the City of London in an hour and a half, stuffing a guinea pig.

This was not a normal weekend. Let me 'splain. And first, let me warn those of a squeamish disposition that - while I will not include any graphic descriptions or pictures - this post does concern taxidermy. If it bothers you, I won't be offended if you move on. I'll be back with more humorous sewing stories soon.

I am an animal lover. I have two cats that I adore much more than I think I probably could any children (children are noisy and not furry - usually - and much harder to put in a cattery when you go on holiday), and I grew up on a farm where there was a constant stream of wildlife and pets zipping about the house and garden. I also have a soft spot for whimsical taxidermy. It's not like I have a squirrel army in my house or anything (in fact, until this weekend, my house was free of deceased animals. As far as I know.), but I have no problem with it.

Amanda of the gruesomely-named Amanda's Autopsies creates beautiful ethical taxidermy oddities and jewellery, inspired by Walter Potter, whose creations fascinated me as a (admittedly slightly odd), child. Whatever your feelings on the display of animals after-life, as it were, there can be no denying the skill and imagination in these pieces. I am most certainly not advocating killing interesting beasties purely to decorate one's mantelpiece and nor am I eyeing up my own pets to make into catcopters, but I personally think that - as with the case of Amanda's pieces - if given the choice between being snake food and having a whole lot of love and care invested in your remains in order to preserve their beauty, I'd rather the latter. If I was a rodent. And, lets face it, the rodent probably isn't that worried either way.

And as with anything I am interested in, if given the chance to learn how to do it, I will jump at it.

So it was that I enrolled in Amanda's 'Stuff & Nonsense' Taxidermy for Beginners course last weekend, and learned how to stuff my own guinea pig. Except it wasn't my own guinea pig, it was one specially provided; sourced, as explained above, from animals humanely killed for reptile feed.

The course took place in the stunning environs of St Barts Pathology Museum. Photographs of the surroundings aren't allowed as it holds medical specimens, but they regularly hold fascinating lectures in their rooms which look like something out of Sherlock Holmes and Hogwarts combined and I would highly recommend a trip if you get a chance.

Amanda and her equally brilliant assistant ably showed us the right way to skin our tiny charges, which is the most time-consuming part of the business. As we worked away with teeny tiny scalpels, any initial squeamishness soon dispersed and - believe it or not - it actually became rather enjoyable. I don't mean in a weird, psychopathic Ted Bundy sort of way, but in that oddly relaxing way that any delicate work requiring a lot of concentration can be. And when you think about it, it's really no different from skinning a rabbit in the kitchen, or even a chicken for Sunday lunch (for those raised in less rural climes!).

Once successfully peeled, we washed our tiny guinea pig rugs and left them to dry while we had lunch.

Weirdest. Lunchtime. Ever.

After lunch was time for stuffing - which involves wire and cotton wool. I shall leave it at that for those who might have got this far but still have a delicate disposition.

Once finished, we compared results.

Dear god.

I would like to say, in my defence, that I did not have great raw materials. I was concerned at first that, rather than being humanely killed, my particular rodent had in fact been steamrollered to death as he was somewhat battered. Turns out he was in fact probably squished in the freezer. Which also accounts for the freezer burn down one side of his face. Although I will put my hand up to the fact that it was probably my fault his foot fell off and had to be superglued back on.

I had created an abomination.

This is his GOOD side.
When I brought Flat Stanley home ("pleasedontletmeleaveitonthebuspleasedontletmeleaveitonthebus") Significant Otter laughed at him for a good five minutes. This heartened me greatly as I had been expecting screams.

The next day I decided something had to be done. There were two options for dealing with this horrific creation. I could either burn it, then bury the ashes at a crossroads or make some sort of outfit to hide the worst bits. I wasn't entirely sure that it definitely wouldn't come back to life to haunt me after the burning and burying, so I went with the latter.

What sort of costume could Flat Stanley have that would hide his hideous disfigurements? I will admit I am rarely thankful to musical theatre for anything, but just this once, it had the answer.

I give you - Flat Stanley as The Phantom of The Opera.

"Listen to the music of the OHCHRISTWHATISTHATTHING??!"
(Yeah, I know it also looks a bit Jedi-ish. Multi-purpose taxidermy)
With his mask and tiny gondola-punting stick he has stopped giving me nightmares and is now allowed in the house. I have set Significant Otter to finding a bell jar to display him in. Turns out they are really expensive, but as I explained to him, you just can't put a price on this sort of family heirloom.

If you too are interested in the deconstruction and reconstruction of small furry animals, check out the Amanda's Autopsies website for details of the next classes and also photos of past ones - including this weekend's. Flat Stanley is number 71 in the photo album. I'm going to use that picture for his Spotlight application.


  1. This is awesome. I feel naughty for laughing so much at a dead guinea pig! but he is VERY good for a first try, and I'm sure you had excellent tuition! :D

  2. Oh my goodness! My sides hurt! I love Flat Stanley. Love, him, love him, love him :)

    Although I sort of wish you'd left him on the bus, just for the comedy value of asking for him back at the lost & found office.

  3. He didn't even have his costume by that point though; he'd have looked like all the other stuffed guinea pigs that must be handed in every day. Lucky escape.

  4. omfg! i wasn't sure i'd even be able to read this post...
    but i am CRYING! - actual LOL-tears of wet are occurring down my face.

    flat stanley is awesome. you are a genius.

    1. Thank you for reading. I know taxidermy is a bit squicky, but I did it with respect. I am not sure Flat Stanley appreciates that.

  5. I've just been in tears at my work desk over this post - awesome - just awesome!

    1. I am glad Stanley and I can bring some joy to your workday :)

  6. "Once successfully peeled, we washed our tiny guinea pig rugs and left them to dry while we had lunch."

    This is the absolute best sentence that I have read in my life so far... :D

  7. Brilliant post and I laughed even more. I'm not sure I could have even tried to do that sort of course, I get kind of squeamish touching any kind of raw meat and I have to wash my hands a dozen times. But I do find it quite fascinating in a perverse kind of way. I do love his little outfit though, but for some reason I keep getting the image of the cat from Shrek in my mind. I could imagine him in knee high boots and a bit floppy hat! Shame he's now a mummy! Linda x

    1. Oh, now I want a musketeer guinea pig! Poor Stanley, he could have had such a great career ahead of him if it weren't for his accident :(

  8. I am drawn back time and time again to Stanley's Third Reich-ish stance and fall into a jelly like mess of laughter each time!

    1. Hahaha! I'd never noticed the slight Reich-ness of his stance. I promise Flag Stanley is really very liberal. He reads the Guardian and everything.

    2. "Flat" Stanley, even. I don't know who this Flag Stanley imposter is.