You know how museums got quite good at some point in the late eighties/early nineties? I am well placed to know all about this, coming from York, home to the revolutionary Jorvik Centre. In a more innocent age, the prospect of riding in a rickety backwards pod as Magnus Magnusson muttered to you and the smell of synthetic Viking shit assailed your nostrils was so exciting it merited HOURS of queueing around Coppergate with only a half-arsed juggler in a hemp tunic to entertain you.
Yeah, well, not here. With a couple of notable exceptions that I will be pretending do not exist, Belgium is the land that interactivity forgot. Hence my thrilling new series "Belgium's Worst Tourist Attractions".
Do not think I am spoiled by my early exposure to the cleverly synthesised scent of a Viking fish market. No. I grew up seconds away from the Treasurer's House, the National Trust's most joyless property where ladies in elasticated waisted Laura Ashley skirts would materialise out of the walls to shout at you if you slumped against a historically important tapestry covered wall. York was FULL of crap museums. The motheaten stuffed horse in the Castle Museum. The endless, dizzying brass rubbing opportunities with the race to the single purple sparkly wax crayon. I know crap museums. You may rely on me.
Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée
Cartoons! Fun, right? Plenty of opportunities for interactivity. Even I, with my atrophied imagination can think of hundreds of things you could do with a Cartoon Museum.
The CBBD would like you to know that cartoons are NO laughing matter. We are not here to have fun. We are travelling back in time to around 1950. Now, come into the first of our seven apparently identical dimly lit galleries filled with glass cases. Peer into the glass cases at, erm, yellowing cartoons. Some of them are coloured in, some of them aren't. Oooh! Look over here everyone! It's a - hang on, what is that? Pig? Mole Rat? No, it's gone - thing called Plunk rendered in ancient pink sponge! What's that, small child? The case is set so high you can't see into it? Oh yes. Sorry about that. Admire the beautiful volumes of the magnificent Horta building, children! No? Ok then, on we go. Look, in this dimly lit cupboard there is a screen showing black and white Flemish cartoons. Don't cry, small boy. It will all be ok. No, don't look at that special exhibition cupboard. It's full of naked people doing.. no, just don't look. DON'T! I'll buy you a pony!
Moving swiftly on, let's go up to the second floor. There are - wow! Large squares of cardboard with pictures of cartoons on them. Um. Small cells intended to represent the typical environment of famous cartoon characters that are barely distinguishable from one another. Largest child gets briefly animated at the sight of a bowling ball and tries to pick it up. It's glued to the floor, of course.
"This is terrible" says the smallest child quietly.
We stand speechless in front of a stack of greying plastic waffles, intended to represent a cartoon none of us have heard of.
"Don't worry!" I say brightly. "There's a library! You can read cartoons! Loads and loads of cartoons"
We head downstairs, down a long, empty corridor. It smells of really old people and dust. We reach a dark, closed door on which a tiny handwritten sign tells us that the library only opens at midday. It's not even 11. We've been in the museum for less than twenty minutes. The CFO and I exchange a glance.
"There is no WAY we can last another hour in here" I whisper to him "someone will get hurt. Hurt in the BRAIN".
He concurs with a thin-lipped nod.
We retire, beaten. Noone complains.
"C'était naze" says the eldest. (that was crap). Neither of us bother to reprimand him.
"I promise you" I say, with some emotion "that we will NEVER come here again".
We have a group hug.
Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée
Tariff: Adults €7,50 Children €3
Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10:00 - 17:00
Better alternatives: Watching 24 hours of Pokémon cartoons back to back, being crushed under a stack of Lucky Luke albums, wrestling Komodo dragons, french kissing Guy Verhofstadt, death.
(The shop is good though)