4. Victorians, poetry, and cannibalism.

Tuesday 28th April, 2020

35min 12secs

 

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Back in the old world of September 2019, I met up with award winning transgender poet Jay Hulme in the beautiful surroundings of historic Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. Our conversation started about Jay's new book and poetry and for young people before we we dived head first into Victorian history, the scandal of the tabloids, and ...cannibalism. Amongst the wild absurdities, we discuss the awfulness of Victorian Britain and how it is slightly baffling that era is often held up as a time to aspire to.

Links to Jay's website and twitter are below, along with a full transcript of the conversation.

 

Jay Hulme website.

Jay Hulme on twitter.

 

Music:
"Elemental" and "Stoosh" by Dlay.
Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
freemusicarchive.org/music/Dlay
"Gods Among Men" by Prox-C.
Creative Commons: CC BY-SA 4.0
freemusicarchive.org/music/Prox-C
"Conurbation" by Phopha.
Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
freemusicarchive.org/music/Phopha

NATHAN (VOICE OVER)

I'm in my greenhouse just checking on my tomato plants. I ad a message from someone asking about the title of the podcast – Humanish. Although there is a a bit about this on the website at thehumanish.co. Uk and on the trailer for the podcast, I realised I haven't actually mentioned it on any of the main episodes. So, firstly, yes, my name really is Human – it's not a stage name, it's my given name. Yes, I've had lots of “jokes” about it over the years. Including when I was a teacher and I wrote my name on the board and someone added “ish” to the end of it. Wanting to try and see the positives as a naïve young teacher I took it as badge of honour instead and interpreted it that I was proud to be a little bit different. It seemed a fitting title for a show about what makes us who we are, our passions, our pursuits, the world we create and how we live in it. Whether that be through our career, relationships, hobbies...or talking to your tomato plants as you listen to Fleetwood Mac.

There we go little ones...a bit thirsty?...yes you are....

 

MUSIC

 

NATHAN (VOICE OVER)

Eyup. I'm Nathan Human. This is Humanish.

 

This episode my conversation is with:

 

JAY

I'm Jay Hulme, I'm a poet, performer, and a purveyor of historical nonsense. I guess, on twitter.

 

NATHAN (VOICE OVER)

This is another episode that was recorded BC...back in those heady days when we could frivolously venture outdoors and meet people. I've known Jay for a number of years , firstly as a fearless young performance poet who's energy and passion commanded attention. Then as a growing online presence and award winning transgender poet who was inspiration in declaring – this is who I am and would often let us observe that process of personal discovery. And more lately...as he says himself – a purveyor of historical nonsense on twitter. If you've had the joy of reading one of Jay's threads about history you'll be familiar with playful humour, attention to detail, and amusement at the absurd. This conversation was recorded back in the old world of September 2019 in Bradgate Park, north west Leicestershire.

 

NATHAN

I'm going to ask my guest, why are we in Bradgate Park?

 

JAY

We're in Bradgate Park because I feel like Bradgate Park sums up a lot of who I am. It's a bit too dramatic for its own good, it's very poetic in its wildness. I doubt a lot of people will have been to Bradgate Park, it's very hard to get to unless you have a car, and you won't have really heard of it unless you live in the midlands, it's not very hyped. It's very historical, and it's very beautiful and what better place to go for a poet who likes history?

 

NATHAN

We've timed it quite well, because it is windy – you might be able to hear it on the microphone – but it is also beautiful and in the distance the sun is across the different coloured fields, the clouds are all low and nice and cotton wooly.

 

JAY

Very fluffy.

 

NATHAN

Definitely fluffy. It is quite beautiful. If you're struggling to picture it, imagine having Robin Hood run through the woods to join in one of the scenes from Lord of the Rings.

 

JAY

Ooooh, that's a good description.

 

NATHAN

Thanks! It just came to me! So, tell us about Clouds Cannot Cover Us.

 

JAY

Ahh, that's my new book! Yeah, I wrote that. It comes out on October 1st (2019) and I'm very stressed out about it.

 

NATHAN

What's stressing you out?

 

JAY

I just want everyone to like it and they probably won't because it has opinions and people don't like it when books have opinions, particularly when they're for the YA scene (Young Adult), people have that moral panic. It's a collection of poetry for teenagers, but also for everyone else really, covering a range of topics that people have to deal with in their day to day lives. Hopefully, it goes down well when it's released. I'm proud of it.

 

NATHAN

Is that something you've been working on for a while, this concept of wanting to write a collection on that topic?

JAY

Absolutely not – (laughs) – I got asked to do some children's poem ages ago so I did them, and it was the first children's poetry I'd ever written and it was for an anthology with five other poets and then that anthology came runner up in the biggest children's poetry book award in the UK and then people were like – do you want to do a book of teenage poetry for us? And I was like, yeah, yes I do. Let's do it.

 

NATHAN

I think sometimes when people say “I'm a poet”, people get an image in their head of who's allowed to be a poet almost, or who should be a poet. Can you remember a time or an instance when you thought I want to be a poet or actually, I am a poet?

JAY

I've always wanted to be a poet. I was one of those weird people who knew what they wanted to be from a very small child only I wanted to be a poet, which is really weird. I don't really fit the poet mould, but I do a bit? People always assume I'm too young to be a poet. If anyone who isn't familiar with my work or hasn't met me before asks me what I do and I'm like “Oh yeah, I'm a poet.” Their response is “what the...? Who is this very short, almost child looking gremlin, telling me that they're a poet?”

NATHAN

Do they give you that look of “Of course you are.”

 

JAY

Yeah. Yeah they do. So occasionally I give them my business card and tell them to look up my website full of my books and awards. Suck it.

 

NATHAN

Do you think that has changed over recent years? The demographic of people who enjoy poetry and are poets, have you seen that change at all?

 

JAY

The general public's perception of what a poet is hasn't really changed a lot but the people who enjoy poetry has changed a lot. It's really nice to see people who were generally left out of being poets coming into the fold, we've got a lot more people from different backgrounds coming in, which can only enrich the form really because it's all about personal experience and if you've only got old, white, tweedy men who live in University campuses writing poetry, it's never going to be that good is it?

 

NATHAN

I find it really interesting that you've got this book coming out aimed at teens, and you also have a poem featured in a Ladybird collection called Poems Out Loud and this is aimed at younger children?

 

JAY

Yeah, that's basically a “my first poetry” book for 4+, kids who ate 4+ and it's just full of really nice to be read out loud, which is why it's called Poems Out Loud and there's a CD with it, which is really cool. All the poets basically got sent to a recording studio and got told “read your poems!” It's bringing the idea that poetry is spoken, because that's the origins of poetry isn't it? Because of that it's got loads of people who you wouldn't think of as poets who would be in a Ladybird book you know? It's got hip hop artists, and standard children poets and people like me, who are coming in from the spoken word scene. It's really interesting, I hope it goes down well.

NATHAN

As someone who often works in Primary Schools, I'm going to get myself a copy to use, as that sounds brilliant. When I'm in Primary Schools it's noticeable how much kids enjoy rhymes, and sing-song, they love that style and research shows that musicality and repetition is a key part of language development, yet there's a perception as we grow older that we don't do poetry and that seems...strange. Do you encounter that or is it something you've thought about?

JAY

It does my head in. Kids love poetry and as they grow up they sort of fall out of loving it and I think part of that is that there isn't really a lot of poetry that bridges that gap between children's poetry and adult's poetry.

 

NATHAN

It does seem that once you get passed Primary School, the only time you do poetry is for work, you've got to assess it, and take it apart and not just “hey, have fun and enjoy this.”

JAY

It makes me so mad. If I didn't love poetry before I got to high school, and did poetry, I would hate poetry. When we did poetry at University, because I did a degree in English literature and journalism, we did two months of poetry and I couldn't write a single poem for about six months after that because it did my head in and I couldn't do it. The way you ave to look at poetry to study it, completely goes against what poetry is and what poetry is supposed to be and it undermines everything the poet's done. The whole point of a poem is that you don't see the work that's been put into it to give you that feeling and the idea that the only way you can appreciate poetry is by digging into it and by pulling all the secrets out and understanding it as form, rather than as a feeling...oh, it does my head in. The idea that poetry can be judged as a thing instead of something that is entirely subjective ...is so wrong.

NATHAN

I can tell by your expression how much that winds you up! One of the ways this has been combatted in schools has been by saying it's rap, it's performance poetry. I know you're a regular on the performance circuit, you've done it, you're known for that – have you seen this approach make a difference? Does that genuinely work for kids, teenagers – to see it as a performance rather than just words on a page?

 

JAY

It can do. I have a lot of beef (laughs) with a lot of the poetry online that's shown to kids as aspirational. A good poetry performance is two things, there's the poetry, and there's the performance – I always say I'm a performance poet, I'm not a slam poet because it's two skills. A lot of poetry that people hype up online, the performance is amazing, the poetry is not so good. The fact that the performance is so amazing makes people not realise that the poetry is not so good because they're not familiar with performance poetry so they see this really flashy thing and go “Wow! That's amazing!” And I'm like, yeah it is, but you shouldn't be showing that as poetry that's good, it's performance poetry that's good and it's not quite the same. People get very excited about American performance poetry and that's a very specific style that we don't really have in England, it's quite contrived. For them, it's very normal, but Americans express their emotions quite differently to English people, we're much more reserved, so American performance poetry is very much more out there and very flashy and people get very excited about it. You get a lot of American performance poets whose performances are amazing and maybe their poems aren't that good, coming out and being hyped up a lot. There are American performance poets who have amazing poems but often the balance is more even (between performance and the poetry) so people don't notice because of the performance so it doesn't get noticed as much. I coach the Durham University Slam Poetry team and every year I look through the videos to see who's going to join the team and every year there's one person and I'm like “you watch Button Poetry on YouTube.” You can just see it and there's this focus on the performance, rather than the form. I think bringing that into schools can be quite concerning. It's very exciting as performance poetry does connect with people more as that is the original form of poetry, it's spoken, it's connection between two people, and the emotion is more raw there. Same with Shakespeare, you don't really understand it when you read it, because it's not supposed to be read, you're supposed to perform it and then you're like, oh, that's what he means, he's doing a dick joke now. So the idea that poetry in schools is just oh it's performance poetry, it's rap – it is, but the poem's not very good, maybe you should look at this one. There are good videos and you can do it right but I think the fact that it's very new, teachers aren't very experienced at picking out the good performance poetry from the mediocre performance poetry, from the bad performance poetry. So kids are learning – I wouldn't say the wrong thing – but they're not learning as best as they can.

MUSIC

 

NATHAN (VOICE OVER)

One of my favourite shows used to be Inside The Actors Studio. The host was the late James Lipton and he would end his interviews with actors and directors by asking them a quick fire set of questions that he said were inspired french host Bernard Pivot. I have decided to pay homage – well, rip it off – by having my own version of 10 questions. I'm gonna try out a name for it...so, here is, what's the time? It's 10 to...Jay.

NATHAN

What was the last live event, or exhibition you went to?

 

JAY

Oooh. I don't think I've been to a live event? I've been to a lot of museums recently, I don't think I've been to a specific event for ages because I'm either too busy or too tired. The last event I went to was my friend's ordination! (Laughs)

NATHAN

That's different. What was the last book you recommended to someone?

 

JAY

I've been doing a book a day thread on twitter so today's book was In These Days of Prohibition by Caroline Bird – very good poetry.

 

NATHAN

You're DJ-ing a party, what track do you play to kick the night off?

 

JAY

Oh no, you wouldn't want that.

 

Both laugh.

 

JAY

I only listen to sad classical music, or weird 80s music. My Spotify his very angry at me – it doesn't know what to recommend. Knowing me probably something super said that everyone and everyone's like, fire him, fire him now.

 

NATHAN

So more winding the night up than kicking it off?

 

JAY

More of...it's a funeral.

 

Both laugh.

 

NATHAN

Ok, it's a DJ at a funeral, we'll go with that. If you're at home feeling a bit poorly, which film or TV show do you turn to most often?

 

JAY

Brooklyn 99. Always Brooklyn 99. My friends won't watch it with me anymore because I've watched it so many times that not only can I quote every single episode all the way through off by heart but with the exact pauses, beats, and intonations. It's deeply upsetting for everyone involved. I put it on when I have a shower, I put it on my phone and put it on top of the toilet and just listen to it whilst I'm having a shower, I work out to it, occasionally when I can't go to sleep I put my TV on a timer and I put Brooklyn 99 on (laughs).

 

NATHAN

Ok, I think we've got that obsession covered – good. You win a holiday to go anywhere for a weekend – what is your choice?

 

JAY

Somewhere with loads of old, weird architecture. Oooh! I can't remember the name of it but there's an ancient Egyptian city, quite far south, on the Nile. I would go there and look at all the old stuff.

 

NATHAN

Nice. This next set of quick fire five are slightly different. So it's on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being not happy or confident at all, and 10 being totally happy and confident. How would you feel about these situations. One, putting together flat pack furniture.

 

JAY

Like...6. It would get done, it would happen, but I would probably be using the wrong tools.

 

NATHAN

I like that. Two, admitting you're wrong.

 

JAY

Oh no, not at all confident, no, no, no. I'm always right, all the time!

 

NATHAN

Spending a few days alone?

 

JAY

Oh 10, I am a loner person. I recently dog-sat for some people and didn't see anyone for three weeks, it was great.

 

NATHAN

That sounds idyllic, I'd quite like that.

Next, cooking something from a recipe?

 

JAY

Oh 10, recipes are easy. Unless it's baking then no, absolutely not, that's chemistry, that's completely different, that doesn't count.

 

NATHAN

Totally different genre, ok. Final one, confronting a friend when you think they've done something disagreeable.

 

JAY

Oooh, like a 5. Depends on the friend and how mad I am. If I'm angry I'll like rip a new one, but if I'm not angry I'll be like (puts on a slight simpering voice) maybe we should just leave it? I'll just disapprove in quiet and maybe subtweet them.

 

NATHAN

I like the subtweeting bit, excellent.

MUSIC

NATHAN (VOICE OVER)

That was 10 to Jay.. Does that title work? I'm not sure. Anyway...before we get onto to Jay's love, it's time for a quick reminded that you can subscribe to the Humanish podcast at iTunes, Spotify, Sticher, Acast...everywhere. You can just search for Humanish there of you can find the links on the website thehumanish.co.uk where you can also get in touch with any questions, or you know, to just say hi. If social media is your preferred way of saying hi, then you can do so at Humanishy on twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It is super lovely and also very helpful when you share and tag the podcast as it helps people to find it and it's EVEN MORE LOVELY AND HELPFUL if you can leave a review and a rating on your podcast app of choice.

Usually, next to the episode it gives you the chance to rate and comment and it takes about 30seconds. Ok. Who wants to find out out about Victorians and why they're so entertaining? Who doesn't. Back to Bradgate Park and poet and performer, Jay Hulme.

NATHAN

Let's get onto the topic of what you love. What is it today that you would like to tell me that you love?

 

JAY

I love all of the nonsense that happened in the Victorian era.

 

NATHAN

So this is quite specific – it's not a love of Victorians, it's a love of what happened in that era?

 

JAY

See I love the Victorians but that's just because they were absolutely wild. They were ridiculous. Everyone thinks of the Victorians are the boring people who wore the tops hats – they were ridiculous people, it was a ridiculous era, full of ridiculous stuff. It drives me mad that everyone thinks they're so boring because they were stupid all of the time!

 

NATHAN

Is this a recent love or fascination, or have you had it for a while?

 

JAY

I've had it for a while – I'm very Victorian in my vibes, I have a Victorian vibe about me. I've always loved history and I feel like it's been simmering for year, but it really reached a head a few years ago. When I studied Victorian literature and I did real academic research on Victorian nonsense – officially the morals and social anxieties of the Victorians as reflected in their literature. Who cares about that? They were ridiculous and I love it.

 

NATHAN

This is one of those topics I might struggle on because I've definitely read, and heard people use Victorians or the Victorian age as both an insult and also praise. Is there any conflict in you for this love you have?

 

JAY

Oh yeah, the Victorians were terrible, terrible people and they did terrible, terrible things.

 

NATHAN

Cool, we've got that covered.

 

JAY

Oh yeah, no they were awful. Child labour, colonialism, just ridiculous hatred for poor people and women and it was all very, very bad. It was very bad but also, a lot of the weird stuff comes out of the bad so it is quite difficult to separate the two but I'm like don't condone the Victorians but wow, look at this stupid thing they did.

 

NATHAN

When I think of the Victorian age, I think of things like Empire, there was big advances in engineering, science, wealth, but also the wealth gap and...it just sounds quite familiar? Are people in the future going to be going – look at those ridiculous people from the early 21st Century?

 

JAY

All of history is ridiculous I just specialise in the Victorians! So they'll look back us and think what were they doing?

 

NATHAN

Do you think it's possible when people are that far removed that they'd find some enjoyment in it?

 

JAY

I hope so, I did. There will be some weirdos in the future who'll be like oh that's interesting, look at those stupid people doing stupid things. I feel like everyone has always done something ridiculous throughout history, throughout time, and we will always look back at our ancestors and go – wow, that was wild. Why why they doing that?

 

NATHAN

When you suggested this topic – and I'll confess, I probably completely misjudged you on this – I thought it would be in an outraged way, I love this this because it's so awful, and what these people did. But you genuinely have this glee about it. Is it just because it's absurd and it's hard to grasp the absurdity of it?

 

JAY

It's very...sort of reassuring. You look back and think wow, we've always been this ridiculous. The Victorians are such a good example because there's so much proof. I recently did some writing about this ridiculous guy from the post-Restoration and during the Civil War. He was ridiculous but it was very hard to prove exactly how ridiculous he was because you lose paperwork in that amount of time. With the Victorians we've still got it all, we have all the proof we need about how ridiculous they were being, and so you can really embellish it. The Victorians invented the tabloid newspaper and so we've got all these great newspapers that are just full of these ridiculous escapades of these Victorian people just doing wild things, and having weird affairs and getting into stupid incidents and there's so much Victorian porn out there still and that's just great to take the mick out of.

 

NATHAN

Doesn't this happen a lot that we see something from history and we think everything is brand new whereas actually, it's just a repetition, just in a sightly different, often more perverse way but generally not in a better way?

 

JAY

Yeah. And recent politicians – I will name no names – sort of drop the Victorian era as this grand, great time where we had everything right and a) that's just racist and full of misunderstandings but also the Victorian era was not a conservative era at all. I mean, it was compared to today. I get into a lot of arguments and I once got into an argument at a children's book launch – that had nothing to do with the Victorian era – over what constitutes the Victorian era. Obviously, everyone thinks the Victorian era is the reign of Queen Victoria from the 1830s through to the early 1900s and that's rubbish! That ain't the Victorian era! The Victorian era as a vibe, which is what I talk about when I mean the Victorian era is this sort of period from the very late Georgian era, pulling in the last Georgian King whose name I was always forget but wasn't George, through to just before the end of the 1800s, just before Queen Victoria's reign ended. It's this time of great change, and confusion, and upheaval, and morals are changing, and everyone's really stressed, and the French Revolution has freaked everyone out, and people suddenly think that women should have rights, and the economy's changing, and there's technology now, and nobody knows what's happening. It's just this time where everything is changing very fast and everyone is very excited, and very confused, and a little bit stressed, all of the time, and as such, they're very extra. And that is the Victorian era.

 

NATHAN

Just putting my critical hat on. It's great hearing this glee about the Victorians, but is there not a case where some people are probably still suffering the cultural effects that they look back and have you had anyone say to you – how can you enjoy this, it was an awful time, my culture, my race, my country suffered greatly – it's not something to be had fun at.

 

JAY

Nobody's said it to me – and I don't fool myself that it's not going to come. I try very carefully to balance that respect. I write these weird history threads on twitter where I'm like oh the Victorians were really weird and every so often I'll intersperse it, or if I'm tackling a very serious topic I will of course tackle it with the respect and accuracy that it deserves. I always try and do a piece on what the Victorians did do wrong because they did do horrible, terrible things. One of the first ones I did was a thread about the first Indian war of independence and what Britain did to India because twitter is such a great way to get the knowledge out there and I feel like, particularly British people aren't taught what we did during that time. So I do the gleeful thing because it is fun and a good way to get people to connect to history and get them interested even if they're not specifically interested in that era. It's a good way to say, you've had all the fun stuff now have something that is serious and is important. Coming to this from studying the ways their social anxieties and change at the time was reflected in the literature of the day is a really helpful to come to it, because with that I was studying particularly the effects on women and Victorian behaviours towards women and why that happened, and why they behaved like that. I did a lot of work on how they used mental health and asylums as a way to subjugate powerful women who had the ability to do whatever they wanted and men who didn't like that would claim they were insane and then have them locked up and take their money from them and things like that. I think having that critical background, means I am gleeful but I am also very respectful of the fact that terrible things did happen and they were terrible people. There were good people trying to do their best and that is the tension within the Victorian era as even the good people, today we would see as deeply morally flawed, but at the time they were these great radicals. It's a very strange thing to look back on the past and put modern morals on them, but of course some things are just wrong. It's very important in my threads that I point out that some things are just wrong. I do try and avoid very sensitive topics because it's not right for my to make a fun twitter thread about something that's really serious and still has deep repercussions. But things like, the bicycle was invented because a volcano erupted, or we burned down the houses of parliament because we wanted to get rid of historical records and we didn't know how to do it safely because we're idiots.

NATHAN

I remember that one, and thinking this seems like a new feature for you, or a relatively new feature – to do these historical threads. Was there something that spurred you to want to share these, was there much through to it, or did it just organically happen that you started curating these historical threads?

 

JAY

I was very bored at my Grandad's house for Christmas. My Grandad insists that we all sit in the front room, in silence for most of the day, because that's what Granny did before she died and he hasn't ever gotten over it, even though it's been like 12 years. So we all just sit there, very bored, and nobody really talks to each other and it's ridiculous. So we did that, and we were sitting there, and I was like, well, twitter time and I remembered this story that I'd written a tumblr thing about years ago. It was this legal case where basically they - the Victorians ate this guy! Ok?

 

NATHAN

Hold on. They ate someone?

 

JAY

Until – I can't remember the year – it was just sort of accepted that if you got shipwrecked, you'd eat someone, you draw straws -

 

NATHAN

Oh yeah, I get that. We've all had the conversation with friends about who'd get eaten first.

 

JAY

Yeah in the Victorian era it was if we get shipwrecked we'll draw straws and one of us will get eaten. People had done that and the politicians of the time were really mad about this because they were trying to cast this idea that they were this great moral “thing”, and one of their things about the terribleness of other races is that they were cannibals and all these great made up rumours about foreigners eating people and yet in fact, their own people were eating people at sea. They'd been trying to get them for years and prosecute it, and make it a precedent that you can't eat people at sea, no matter how shipwrecked you are and years, because of legal loopholes, people had been getting away with it. Finally, these poor bastards got shipwrecked and ate someone and came home, and told everyone about it because as far as they were concerned it was completely legal – everyone else had done it. Unfortunately, none of the loopholes applied and they actually got done for it.

 

NATHAN

That would be a weird one to argue – we thought it was alright to eat sour mate.

 

JAY

Well the public were completely behind the cannibal sailors. The public were like, you can not prosecute these people! It's fully acceptable. The guy who got eaten? His brother was on the side of the guys who ate him! He was like, yes, they should have eaten my brother, how dare you prosecute. The guy's gravestone is literally just four bible quotes that are all like, don't blame them, they should have eaten me. The problem with this one, was that they didn't draw straws. He was unconscious and they stabbed him to death and ate him. Good ol' cabin boys eh? The judge knew he couldn't get a jury to convict. I know it's a joke – no jury would convict – but genuinely no jury would convict them for eating the cabin boy. So the judge meddled with the case and ended up going to the Queen's jury which is just a panel of judges. They convicted one of the guys for eating the cabin boy – or two of the guys, can't remember exactly, it's been a while – they convicted two of them for eating the cabin boy and one of them got away with it and the reason he got away with it is that he didn't stab the cabin boy, he had no role in killing the cabin boy. Although he did eat more cabin boy than one of the others who got convicted. They got really short prison sentences. I mean like, a couple of months. If they'd got anymore or had been sentenced to death there would have been rioting in the streets. So basically they prosecuted them in a way so they could set a precedent rather than get an actual proper conviction. But by doing that they kind of made it this precedent that – accidentally – that you can eat someone at sea, as long as you don't kill them first? And so the Victorians accidentally cannibalism legal whilst trying to make cannibalism at sea illegal. It all got very complicated.

So I posted this thread about this, you know, I was just sitting there bored and it went wild, and everyone got really excited about it and posted it everywhere. Oh ok, this is a thing that people want. I am the kind of person who just collects weird history facts and stores them in my brain for a later date to then tell people. As you discovered as we walked to this rock spot that we're sitting on – random facts. And so I started posting more and more of them. It became a nice way to be able to communicate history. I've always been passionate about making things – history, poetry – things that people think aren't really accessible, accessible to people. It sort of spiralled. This idea that the Victorians did do weird sort of stuff and you have no idea – including, eating people.

 

NATHAN

This is a good point to maybe help the audience out there who is listening and thinking, hey I've never thought about discovering more about history or particularly the Victorians – is there a good point, aside obviously from your twitter feed – where someone could go and it would be nice and accessible as their gateway for the Victorians.

JAY

I feel like, stay well away from any academic books. A good place to start actually, is literature that was written in the Victorian era itself. I've a great love of this obscure genre called the sensation novel, which was basically born out of the fact that they reformed the divorce laws in the Victorian era and they changed it so that you didn't have to go to parliament or the church to get divorced, you could make it just like a civil matter in court. That happened just after they'd changed the rules on newspapers and the taxes that they gave to newspapers and the newspapers had been struggling as load of them had popped up because it was cheap to make, but there were too many of them so they were all struggling. So they started making tabloids – that's how they were born – and just after tabloids became a thing, they changed the divorce laws in that you could prove all of the things your partner did wrong in open court. This was perfect for the tabloids because it was the super rich who were doing it, because it was still really expensive. They would sit court and Lord and Lady so-and-so would have this huge argument about who'd had sex with who and who'd killed whatever – and it was just this great moral panic and because of the tabloids everything was sensationalised. Murders were told in much more gruesome detail and everyone was freaking out and they thought that the country was going into a moral spiral, only it wasn't, it was just being reported more.

 

The writers of the time, wrote in journals so stories would be told in sections, three chapters would come out every month or whatever, in these periodicals. The writers were like, ok, people love these newspapers, so let's do this, but worse, because it's fake. So they wrote these books called sensation novels that only existed for about ten years and they were full of the Victorian era's wild fears. So the women were always cheating or having sex with people and enjoying it, and committing bigamy, and murder, and arson, and there were like fake children, and hidden secrets, people dress up as other people, and they lie and they cheat, and they steal. There are a number of books in that genre and my favourite is Lady Audley's Secret in which there is arson, murder, attempted murder, bigamy, light gay vibes, they're just very good friends but I feel like it's slightly gay – but that's very Victorian, a lot of it. It's not a big Victorian tome, it's written in proper Victorian prose so you've got this woman murdering people and setting fire to buildings in this [puts on posh voice] Lady Audley walks down the road [drops voice and shouts] and then she set the house on fire! It's great.

 

NATHAN

I want that one, and I want the audiobook too. I hope people go and check some of those out and have the same passion for it as you. I think before we go, we definitely need to remind people that Clouds Cannot Cover Us is out very soon, if not already by the time people are listening. Where can people find out more about you and your work.

 

JAY

Officially, you should go onto my website which is jayhulme.com , unofficially you should go to my twitter and look at all my nonsense @jayhulmepoet

 

NATHAN

Thank you so much, and thank you for suggesting Bradgate Park, the sun has gone in but it is quite lovely – so thank you very much for joining me Jay.

 

JAY

It's my pleasure.

Music.

NATHAN (VOICE OVER)

Thank you so much to Jay for the trip to Bradgate and for the Victorian stories – I think “porn, cannibalism, and fires” sets a new bar in disparate topics to be discussed in one episode on this podcast. You can find way more of that if you follow Jay's historical threads on twitter @ jayhulmepoet and you buy Jay's books at jayhulme.com

 

And a reminder, if you subscribe to the podcast so that you get the next episode automatically, which means you wont miss the next episode and my conversation with:

 

RACHAEL

I'm Rachael Smith, I'm a comic creator living in Hebden Bridge. I've worked on things like Doctor Who, my own books like The Rabbit, and Artificial Flowers. I guess, I became quite well known for my mental health work, my autobio work. I'm currently doing daily comics about the lockdown situation under the hashtag Quarantine Comix. And yeah..that's me right now!

 

NATHAN (VOICE OVER)

I'm Nathan Human – back in the greenhouse – thanks for listening to Humanish, see you next time.

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