Beyond the cupboard of broken toys — Part 15
We have a target date for opening the new musical instrument gallery. I have to prepare two thousand musical instruments, of all types, from all over the world. I have got 18 months. The curator is making an effort to ensure equal-weighting to all regions and cultures. Later, this approach would be lebelled as ‘de-colonialisation’, to move away from the Euro-centric view of world culture. The sheer variety of objects is dazzling. I feel very lucky indeed.
I have a workbench in the conservation studio, next to a large window looking out onto the gardens and a giant glass and iron conservatory. It is a pleasant vista. Every day, cartons of objects are delivered from the store and I have to examine them and decide what treatment is required. Very often the best thing is to do nothing. Less-is-more. But, equally often, some urgent repair or consolidation is required. I am a quick learner and soon have found where I should go to look for guidance on how to proceed.
The museum itself is a late Victorian landmark building on the South Circular Road. It is built in the English decorative arts style. It is a pleasure to go to work every day. The other staff are generally agreeable and I soon make friends. I discover which ones are gay, which are bisexual and which are transitioning. The most unlikely to transition is one of the gallery attendants, with the build of a rugby player. I wish her well.
The museum is about five miles from my flat in Deptford and I can cycle or even run to work along back roads. I am keeping fit and saving money. Very soon I have paid off my overdraft and all my debts.
One day I am approached by the Sergeant Major of the First Squadron of the Honourable Artillery Company. He wants me to return as Squadron Administrator with the rank of Lance-Sergeant. He assures me I would not be required to attend any Sabre courses. I decline the offer. That is something I have put firmly behind me.
I am then approached by the London College of Furniture. They want me to come in as a visiting lecturer one morning a week. I talk it over with my boss. She decides it would be okay provided I take the time as annual leave. I agree.
I don’t think I have ever felt quite so happy in a long time.
The Museum is most famous for its collections of ethnographic objects. Masks, textiles, toys, cultural artefacts of every description. My favourite is a tiny Innuit carving in ivory of a miniature sled being drawn by a team of husky dogs. It is perfect in every tiny detail. It cheers me up whenever I go past the case.
The Museum also has an important natural history collection, including many important ‘Type’ specimens. Included in all of this is a themed aquarium and an enclosure in the gardens of a number of rare species of animals. A bit like a post-modern petting zoo.
One mid-autumn afternoon I am wheeling my bike past there on the way home. A small crowd of mothers and toddlers has gathered and I am intrigued. As I draw near, I can see the husbandman, a lanky, stooped lurch of a character. He has a long switch of bamboo and is trying to herd the rabbits into the burrow mound for the night, so as to protect them from any urban foxes.
The rabbits are not cooperating. They are shooting about like furry cannonballs as the husbandman ineffectually lumbers around after them making frustrated grumbling noises. The kids are going wild!
“He’s herding the bunnies!! He’s herding the bunnies!!”
The bunnies are determined not to be herded.
I am very unprofessional. I fall about laughing. I am laughing. I am laughing so much that I collapse against a tree. One of the Mums comes over to see if I am alright. There are tears of hysteria rolling down my cheeks. And now, she is laughing too. We are trapped in a species of emotional contagion. The more I laugh, the more she laughs. The more she laughs, the more I laugh. And all the while, Lurch-the-husbandman is lumbering around, grumbling to himself and the kids are cheering him on. I don’t think I can take much more of this. I am sure I will giggle myself into a coma. In the event, after about ten minutes I manage to pull myself together. The bunnies have been herded and the families have dispersed. The husbandman has retreated to his crypt and it is as if nothing has happened.
I swear to God, you would pay good money to see an act like that.