My Life On The Shelf / The Museum Of Crap


A Georgian sand shaker, a cast iron model 24lb artillery piece, a rather rude statue of Greek men wrestling, a 1980s brick shaped mobile phone, a WW2 officers’ compass, a metal AA badge, a (full) tin of corned beef from 1935….these, and other relics, are my life. On a shelf. To which more than six decades of memories have been relegated by the Curator of the House – Mrs B. She has called it ‘The Museum of Crap.’

Once, my treasured possessions were scattered everywhere. People would come across a curious conical piece of metal and say things like ‘Ooh, this is interesting. What is it?’. ‘Ah-ha’ I would answer. ‘That fits inside the barrel of a 12 bore shotgun and reduces it to a 40 bore, thus taking really small shotgun cartridges for shooting at really small things. Not many of them about.’

Or ‘what is this odd thing like an inverted allen key on a wooden handle?’ ‘That’, I could inform them with confidence, ‘is a tuning key for a zither. Not many of them around either.’

IMG_9611People were often entranced by my collection of stuff, planted seemingly at random in corners, on shelves, tables, in the loo, anywhere in fact where guests might gaze. To them it was like walking into a living tableau of QI. At any moment they might stumble on something for the first time in their lives and wonder what it might be. To me this was the essence of engagement – conversation opener, instruction, satisfying curiosity. As well as being a 3D history of my life.

The Curator took a different view. ‘Everywhere I look there’s crap’ she said sternly. ‘I trip over it at every turn; it gathers dust; it clogs the place up; the whole house is like some mad storage facility for an obsessive hoarder. It won’t be long before I have to tunnel through piles of newspapers to find you. Mind you, when that happens, I won’t bother. I’ll just set light to it.’

I have been unable to explain the joy it gave so many people, and the comfort it brought me as I roamed happily past a wooden horse with a broken leg, a pair of pewter mugs, a small collection of wartime cap badges, a lovely little pile of stones in a wooden bowl, a sign from a German train saying ‘Essen wie Gott in Deutschland’, and more. Like the warehouse for the Victoria and Albert Museum only in miniature.

The Curator is a hard hearted woman. I think objects have no meaning for her. And so my life in objects sits dejected on half a shelf above my desk.

 —————-

Mr B is quite wrong.  I hold many objects dear to me.  They have sentimental value, tell a story, evoke a memory, transport me to another place in time, or recall a feeling or a person I hold dear.  I have, for example my prized Blue Peter badge, earned as a runner up in a TV competition in 1977, it lives in a small box of pins and badges collected over the years.  I also have Penny Panda, my very first teddy now missing one eye, and threadbare – she lives on a shelf with five other small soft toys from my childhood.  I have 30 years’ worth of programmes from intoxicating nights at the theatre – my great passion, they are all stored in one fabulous vintage tin box.  Do you see a pattern here?  My items are curated.  They are together in collections.  They are ordered. What I don’t do is random.  The problem I have with the Museum of Crap is that it is utterly random.

IMG_9610The Museum of Crap currently offers tours at a fiver a pop (see photo).  This is extortionate.  There isn’t so much as an ice cream included in the price, or even a glass of Prosecco, and frankly I’d need a whole bottle if I were to make it through the guided notes for the 53 items currently on display.

So let’s treat my visit as hypothetical – if I were to fork out for the Museum of Crap, I would want some order to my tour, to undergo an enriching sensory experience by appreciating the objects lovingly hoarded by my husband in a way that is meaningful.  But that wouldn’t happen. There is no order to his stuff.  There is no order to his stuff, because there is no order to his brain.  There, I’ve said it.  His brain is very good; exceptional even.  It’s just lacking order.  And so is the Museum of Crap.

It’s true that people are often ‘entranced’ by Christopher’s collection of stuff but they are usually aged 6 and a random pile of tut is the stuff of wonder.  Six year olds generally think Christopher is beyond wonderful.  It’s a niche market for a museum though.  It’s still quite a lot of a pocket money for a small person of primary school age to save up for, and unless Christopher decides to include a bag of Monster Munch and a carton of Ribena on the tour I’m not sure he’ll meet his sales targets.  We don’t have coachloads of tourists queuing in the lane for a chance to take photos of the vintage tin of corned beef alongside the small statuette of naked Greek men wrestling and the painted wooden horse which only has three legs (and the fourth leg is propped up next to it).

What this collection can be described as is a Channel Five documentary waiting to happen – ‘The Men Who Collect Random Tut and The Wives Who Dust It’.

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