A Cabinet of Curiosity

The cupboard is a mess, I admit, but then is that really a surprise? The things are bundled together; crooked, squint, angles inverted. These are the things that shouldn’t be here, and that don’t have a name. Ropes of beads knotted into gaudy haemorrhoids, old statues and fetishes lying in repose, locked boxes that have no keys. It’s no way to run a museum. But I promised you that I’d let you see.

Of course, these are the things that don’t get put out on display anyway. You know that there are always things left over. This cupboard holds the things that you have to get if you want the stag’s head. It’s the accumulated detritus of a thousand job lots and too many won auctions. Every museum has one, but you know that.

Here’s the Buddhist statue from 1400, dug up in Falkirk at a site pre-dating that by four-thousand years. There’s the sixteen seals for poison pen letters, each carved in the shape of a different skull. At the bottom of the pile, a clutch of books for subjects with no Dewey decimal number. Who could forget the tiny skull of a child, converted in a candle holder? No-one, and that’s why it’s not on display. There are fourteen matchboxes containing cockroaches dressed as beefeaters over there, too.

And there, at the back of the cupboard, a computer print-out of everyone due to die in 2013 sits rustling under a bowl of gaily painted avocado stones. A series of medals for a forgotten war. A tin chocolate box containing forty keys, twenty eight of them rusted. A portrait of a horse. There’s room enough here for everything that falls between the cracks.

Take a closer look. Do you see the map there? It dates from sometime in the tenth century, but it not only features America and Antarctica, but it also has the modern cities marked on it. And beside that, there by the smiling golliwog, that’s a cast of the hand of Cromwell, in wax. They say you could use that as a candle, if the mood took you.

There’s more in there at the back, but you have to step right in. That’s it. Do you see the pipes there? Genuine pipes of Pan, by certain accounts, though they don’t play. That’s a jar of moonlight down there; yes, there. And the skeleton, there? Yes, that’s a good one. That’s the last person to come asking questions.

And now I close the cupboard door.

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Douglas Noble was born in Scotland and grew up all wrong. Don't blame his parents though, they tried their best.

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