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Monday, 21 March 2011

A Life In Museum Leaflets

As part of my ongoing quest to preserve anything I may want from my grandmother's home as she prepares to move, I spent two afternoons in the last week going through her hoard of leaflets and brochures gathered over the years. When I say it constituted a mountain, I'm not exaggerating. The ones I threw away half-filled the paper recycling bin. I haven't even started properly on the theatre programmes, spanning forty years, which I'm going to have more difficulty being discerning with.

However, the leaflets were my first port of call. My grandparents were very active in their retirement, travelling all over the country and dropping into every museum, gallery and castle along the way, usually several times. As a consequence, I had to sift through everything from those flimsy A4 folded things up to glossy colour magazines on some of the most beautiful castles and pieces of artwork in Britain. Most of the little ones had to go. I came to the conclusion that none of those could be useful to me, and even though I half-wanted to keep them, we couldn't afford the space. My 'office' is already looking like a book depot; I can't actually get to my PhD bookcase without moving a box, putting it next to my desk, then moving it back again afterwards. This isn't mentioning the fact that we're expected to take a bureau, a bookcase and a flipping piano into our cramped abode. Oh, well, who hasn't wanted to edge sideways around a tiny house on a daily basis?

Still, I found it difficult to part with some of the glossier items. I had to come up with some rules. If a book was damaged in any way, it had to go. If it was black and white, it had to be carefully considered. If there were smiling eighties families on the inside cover... well, it was a toss-a-coin moment. As a result, I've ended up with half a huge box of magazines to bring home, along with whatever number of theatre programmes I feel I can't part with.

It's quite sad really. All those memories that my grandparents made, cleared away in one fell swoop. All that money they spent on brochures they barely looked at again. The multiple visits, marked by half a dozen different styles of leaflet, struck me especially. I wonder how many people these days hoard these kinds of things. I keep my theatre programmes and any glossy magazines I buy. That, however, is as likely due to the price as much as anything else. It's only when you consider pamphlets sold for 10p which would likely be several pounds these days, that you realise how expensive exploring our cultural heritage is getting these days.

The last thing I drew from this experience? That I want to visit as widely as my grandparents did. They already gave me a good grounding in British history: the number of National Trust and English Heritage properties I visited in my youth isn't worth counting. I remember my first visit to Skipton Castle and going to an extremely odd little museum on cats which baffled the three of us. I remember visiting The Royal Armouries before I went with school and I can easily recall my numerous trips to the National Media Museum, as it's called now.

I owe my grandparents for the starting push. But I have to do the rest of it on my own I think.

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