Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Penny for your thoughts

I was in Oxford over the weekend and took the Banshee on a tour of the Bodleian Library. Top tip: tell any young person that Harry Potter was filmed here and they'll be immediately attentive and enthusiastic.

This ruse has worked - with some little success - at The Lawnmower Museum, The Pencil Museum and The Dog Collar Museum - amongst others.

C'mon, you must remember the enchanted lawnmower that Harry, Ron and Hermione use to escape from Voldemort? It's in Harry Potter and Overgrown Lawn.

Banshee (PUZZLED): I don't remember that one ...
Me (AIRILY): O, I read it to you when you were very small.
Banshee: What happens?
Me: Um, the usual stuff ... Plus! There are giant, evil dandelions, some poisonous daisies and an invasion of couch grass, but Sirius posts a Black'n'Decker Strimmer to Hogwarts which doubles - the Strimmer, not Hogwarts - as a, um, Blunderbus 2000 broomstick and -
Banshee: You're making all off this up, aren't you?
Me: Yes.

I love museums (almost as much as I love libraries). This love was established from an early age as wet half terms and holidays saw me marched around the Kirkstall Abbey Museum.

Before it was refurbished (A.K.A. ruined) one could put a Bun Penny into a Victorian 'penny slot' machine and see Madame Le Guillotine do her bloodiest worst; watch a pretty housemaid fall out of a wardrobe shot through the heart; follow the trial of a murderer up to the point where he is hanged by the neck until dead - and more. Clockwork puppets in fabulous 2D with juddery animation and a very moral message. (Never hide in a wardrobe when an angry husband's brandishing a gun.)

It was a perfectly thrilling place to visit and one could endure the endless display cabinets of Scrimshaw work and edifying embroidered samplers with the promise of a penny for Being Good.

Museums for the Young are not nearly so much fun these days. Small people pretend to be a poo and waddle through a labyrinth of intestines, or dress up in 100% polyester Tudor clothing, or press a lot of buttons. It's all about being interactive.

Curators! There is nothing wrong at all with pressing ones nose against a display cabinet and just looking. Why, it never did me any harm ...


  1. Yes, it's quite amazing, the lengths museums and and the like will go to to, in order to get people through the doors. It seems, nothing is worth a second look unless it has a strong theme park element.

  2. Haven't quite made it into the Bodleian. Last time I went I had 120 teenage girls with me and there was a big misunderstanding about us having a tour/not having a tour/having a tour with only 3 people at a time (okay ... so that means we'll be here for a fortnight, then?) It was a disaster. We'd booked, but they didn't think we'd booked what we thought we'd booked. I'll go back sometime, when the wounds have healed.

  3. I like museums that are very specific. The big ones which try to cover everything make my head explode so even if I go to a big one I will just look at one small part of it in great detail (often the cafe!).

    Is the Bodleian where they have a rather unexpected display of shrunken heads? I know I went somewhere in Oxford that did (c1980)... and it probably wasn't a cafe.

  4. Martin - Agree totally. Putting the Rosetta Stone on a Waltzer was a Step Too Far, if you ask me.

    Fran - don't give up on the Bod. You don't want schoolgirls with you anyway. They'll only ask questions about Harry bloody Potter.

    Bébé - No, that's the Pitt Rivers. I saw a man with exceptionally small ears - though not in a museum, and not in Oxford. Will that do?