Thursday, January 31, 2008

Horatio Reflects on Pollock's 2004

Thankfully, as we know, the demise of the museum did NOT happen, but back in 2004, there were dark days...
MUSEUMS A farewell to Pollock's
By Vera Rule

Went today to say goodbye to Pollock's Toy Museum. Not that I quite believe it will close forever on the last day of March, although the lease expires then, and the trustees haven't been able to negotiate an extension to it or a price for the freehold of the wonky pair of houses at the corner of Scala Street in Fitzrovia, where it has spread up and down since 1969. (It fled Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, when developers leaned on the tenements where it was set up in 1956). But Horatio Blood, loyal servant of Pollock's, the thundering implausibility of whose name sounds like a penny-book hero - Handsome Henry of the Fighting Belvedere1 - was down in its basement beginning the long pack; and he says that unless they can find a low-rent empty building, or an angel, they're out of here with nowhere to go. They can't believe it either, not when there are house- full notices at the Soane Museum, currently showing Pollock's first joint venture about the Regency toy theatre.

Horatio makes tea, just enough room for the mugs on the basement table between a tin tank and a toy globe. There he was in course of arrangement of the glass case in the doll room, with a big bust of the founder Marguerite Fawdry installed under a paper lace frill, and he had to start boxing- up for homelessness instead. Now they'll have to close the rooms one at a time, work their way up the walls of the stairs, disarranging the contents of the deep frames. They can wrap and reposit the exhibits somewhere safe perhaps, and leave the website up; but this unique atticked place, evolved from donations, will go. That matters to London. Pollock's is our best embassy of the country of childhood from which we are all permanently exiled, and as shabby as diplomatic premises used to be, in fact should be. It intrigues children - it's not designed but accrued, and so exudes the magic of the random, of much past time compressed into these pastimes. And adults who visit feel the melancholy of having put away childish things.

Horatio remarks that Pollock's non-decor survives unreconstructed from Swinging London - not the orange vinyl Sixties, but the Third Great, or Pop Art, Victorian Revival; then we agree that it goes back further. It's Portobellist - that Bohemian mode of collecting emotionally charged objects from the popular past and finding surreal freedom in them displayed in free, or cheap at the time, old shop fittings. It shares with Joseph Cornell and his boxes the making of resounding connections, different for each viewer (this time I looked for the pair of wooden moles on their crawl up the gangplank of a carved Noah's ark). Also it's Orwellian in a benign sense - see his definition in The Lion and the Unicorn of a now-almost-gone England as a nation of absorbed hobbyists2, not just controlling model railways but improvising quiet contentment on fourpence.

The exhibits here are all likely valuable, but I've never heard anybody in Scala Street price them or use the word "important" in that auction- house sense. There's scholarship, lightly communicated - the explanations are not didactic theses, they tell good stories with jokes ("very realistic drainpipes" notes the mini estate-agent's survey of a red and cream Thirties detached doll's house with grained front door, which I hope is a listed building since no real home of the era so well preserves the Metroland dream).

Sometimes the captions break your heart, especially now. "Freda and William", reads the luggage label attached to a much played-with Edwardian doll and her teddy bear, a devoted couple since before the First World War, "never parted". On her stiff lap a tag: "Always the same".


Copyright 2004 Independent Newspapers UK Limited

1 - Handsome Harry was created by E. Harcourt Burrage and appeared in The Boys' Standard in 1876. Handsome Harry is actually Harry Marshton, an outcast and the son of Sir Henry Marshton. (Sir Henry turns out to be Captain Brockton, a pirate who was driven to a life of crime and piracy through the evil acts of a dastard) Harry is the captain of the Belvedere and sails it around the world, having adventures in Africa, Spain, Russia and England. The Belvedere is actually owned by the Spanish Don Baptista Salvo, whose daughter Juanita (Harry's future bride) is on the Belvedere with Harry and the rest of the crew: Tom True, the first mate, William Grunt, the boatswain, Samson, the stereotypical African seaman, and Eddard Cutten, the peg-legged seadog. After capturing the Rattlesnake, a pirate ship, they take on board Ching-Ching. Wackiness, as they say, ensues.

2 - ...[an]English characteristic which is so much a part of us that we barely notice it, and that is the addiction to hobbies and spare-time occupations, the privateness of English life. We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official - the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the ‘nice cup of tea’.