Friday, 30 July 2010

A Stick of Rock

In the old days - before I was 50 and the Forsythe Collection departed our house for the NRM - my wife and I were engaged quite regularly by the unsolicited and/or anonymous donation. Packets and on occasion boxes would arrive by mail or appear mysteriously on the doorstep. Some fascinating material arrived this way as did a lot of duplicates which now form our stock. It was always interesting to guess what desperation (with female family members?) led to the anonymous arrivals.

A few days ago and a different take on the same theme arrived. An unsolicited stick of NRM rock in a jiffybag. Certainly unsolicited but not anonymous. An NRM postcard and letter completed the package. These were from Sam Pointon who had gone to the trouble to personally write to us and send some rock. How nice.

In fact this is the outworking of one of the NRM's cleverest marketing ploys. About a year ago Andrew Scott's position was advertised consequent upon his imminent retirement. Sam wrote in to apply and the powers that be looked kindly on his initiative. He was appointed Director of Fun and since then has fronted several media calls.

There's a serious and justified aspect here. The vast majority of museums need to be fun. Not quite every one. It would be a bit out of taste at Dachau or the Ossuary of Verdun. But make no mistake railway museums should be fun. We have our own 10 year old daughter and we have just swopped Middle School. The old one was not fun enough. The new one opens its website with this quote "At Ovingham we try to make learning fun". The school's Head of ICT also runs a Dr Who club with working Dalek and got an entire class to preview the new Dr Who exhibition at Newcastle's Life Centre.

Congratulations then to both the NRM and Sam for working together to make the museum Fun. Even the apparently dry (not yet dusty I hope) shelves housing the Forsythe Collection hold some potential. British Railways and other operators knew about making the railway fun. There is a whole Railriders file in the Forsythe Collection. From earlier times there are handbills about trainspotting. Similar ephemera from the Ian Allan organisation is preserved in the collection. How sad it is that trainspotting is denigrated sometimes today. It was good fun and one of the songs in the Ballard of John Axon well encapsulated that.

If you are in the NRM this summer look out for fun. It might involve Harry Potter who has had a great impact on railway enthusiasm and model railways. I have my own Olton Hall masquerading as Hogwarts Castle. And there is something about Flying Owls in the Great Hall. Is that another A3?

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