Monday, 18 October 2010

The Museum of Boring Tanks


I am sad to note an epic fail on the daily posting, crushing exhaustion seems to have got the better of me. I have let you down, and I have let myself down. Which is a shame, since you are missing out on all manner of excitement, uplifting tales of human triumph over adversity and baby animals. Yes, that is a lie, well spotted.

I am sure there must be something to relate though. We went to the Belgian Museum of Boring Tanks this weekend, which I am comforted to say that all members of the party seemed to hate in equal measure. Something is going right with my parenting; I would be terribly alarmed to end up with one of those children who like wearing fatigues and keep copies of Guns & Ammo under their bed. That was a classic mode of rebellion at Quaker school, predictably, so I knew several in my youth. We scored the Boring Tank Museum as follows:

Sword displays: 6



("like a peacock's tail" said Lashes, poetically, before losing interest entirely and trying to kick a hole in Napoleon III's camp bed)

Quantity of Belgian flags: 10




Ridiculous helmets: 6

Tanks/planes/guns: 2

Faux dalek: 7



Disturbing tableaux intended to represent hunger on the Western Front: 9




Officious staff: 2

Wide open spaces to play with Fingers's new love, his impressively low-tech wind-up radio controlled car (he is holding it in a vicelike grip in that photo up top): 8

I have a great fondness for museums that have stubbornly failed to move with the times and introduce interactivity and fun. This was a classic of the genre with many rooms filled with dusty, forbidding display cases filled with pieces of metal. Actually, the one attempt at creativity - a first world war trench rendered in decaying hardboard, with a few modest explosion noises sent Lashes into a terrified tailspin, so it was doubtless a mercy the rest of the displays were untouched since 1957. There was a rather brilliant café in a dusty, freezing hangar full of aeroplanes which had also made no concessions to modernity, and perfectly replicated a yellowing provincial bar for elderly alcoholics. The whole thing was very reminiscent of the Railway Museum in York, another freezing, poorly lit hangar in which I have spent far too much of my life, though at least the Boring Tank Museum was policed by dashing members of the Belgian army in pretty blue serge uniforms telling you not to touch the delicate armoury, not doughy, grey, train fanciers.

Amusingly, the people we went with were Really Into That Weaponry Shit and I was forced to nod and smile politely at a great deal of torpedo factoids. My children made no such effort, initially speculating at how they would avoid conscription in the event of a Belgian war (they believe themselves to be Belgian), then rolling their eyes and stage whispering "this is boring when can we leave", and finally repairing to a bench to squabble about their ridiculous coloured elastic bands. The collective relief was great at 4pm when we were unceremoniously kicked out by a gentleman with a luxuriant moustache, saying "We close now. You must go".

Anyway, I seem to have contracted a mild case of hopelessness in the Museum of Boring Tanks, meaning that I have spent much of the weekend trying to find small dark spaces to curl up in, only to be poked awake to sort out fights about single cubes of Lego. I did not post, forgive me. I promise to do better even though I have set myself an implausible deadline this week that will be haunting my every waking moment.

How was your weekend? Or what's your favourite shit museum?

28 comments:

Hypatia said...

I've been lurking on this blog ever since you were in the Sunday Times, and this isn't the most interesting of first comments, but the worst Museum I've ever been to is the Natural History Museum in Gothenburg. It's just room after room of awkwardly stuffed, mangy furry things and thickly varnished fish. By far the most depressing exhibit is the
c.19th blue whale, they basically just peeled a whale and then used enormous nails to tack it's skin to an approximately whale shaped piece of wood. My friend told me that they had at one point hollowed it out and had a cafe inside the whale's head. Horrible

Jaywalker said...

Oh god, Hypatia. I now want to go there so much if hurts. It sounds ... AMAZING.

kai said...

i currently recommend this:
http://www.wiels.org/site2/event.php?event_id=162&

great video retrospective: a bit political, a bit predictable and lots of fun

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch (New Zealand), in that everything is old on purpose (people dress up Victorian era in replica of old NZ village). I especially like the hangar full of old eccentric fire engines, named "The Hall of Flame". Several buildings full of dusty old stuff, but thankfully nothing military. Also live steam trams & trains running!

Anonymous said...

Haha I found this post particularly amusing as I work in a museum and I say to visitors in bad Italian "We have just closed, please leave" ahahaha. I hate saying it and often hover before I gather my courage and awkwardly say it then run off!!
-Ria

Anonymous said...

But did you not notice that the cafe is inhabited entirely by beer drinking, sausage eating, men?? Like a War Hammer shop (like modern dungeons and dragons - very expensive plastic figures you paint and then creat war and mayhem with), it gives me testosterone poisoning. I have to leave after five minutes to get some fresh air. Fortunately, only one of my sons likes this sort of thing....

AB said...

Long time lurker, first time poster. I, somewhat pathetically, really like that museum - except for the stuffed horse. That creeps me out. I used to live a few hundred metres from there and it was a wonderful reprieve - a quiet, peaceful place unbothered by other people (or time as you noted). Sort of like a library with fighter jets.

Jaywalker said...

Anon 3 - I didn't dare go in, it didn't look like women were allowed. Like the bar at the Petit Train Vapeur in Forest, actually.

AB - There's no shame in that. I also love a dusty museum. Having gone quite close to the horse, it seemed to be plaster of paris rather than stuffed, and thus TOTALLY inferior to the motheaten stuffed one in York's Castle Museum (also high on list of crappy museums).

cruella said...

Hypatia, I REMEMBER THAT WHALE! Not only did it end up in the moderately appropriate setting of a Natural History Museum; it also went on tour around Sweden and even reached my home town in the North where we all gaped duly, not really knowing what the fuss was about, having very limited opinions about stranded wales.

Anonymous said...

I love that museum too! And do you mean to say Lashes and Fingers didn't enjoy sitting in the cockpit where you are allowed to sit in the pilot's seat? Or the plane you can go into and pretend to be a parachuter?

Stuffed animals museums are even better.

The dusty museum freak paradise is the panorama in Waterloo, by the battlefield. A gem!

Tilia

Sara said...

Explosion! in Gosport is entirely undeserving of its exclamation mark. I went with a three-year-old who was obsessed with the missiles and mines. It was a long, long afternoon.

Laurel said...

Wait, I'm hung up on the disturbing tableux (or rather the singular version though I have no idea what that word might be). Do you mean to tell me they are implying that dog is about to get eaten?

Jaywalker said...

Laurel - It seemed hard to escape that conclusion from the labelling, and the juxtaposition of starving soldier, razor sharp knife, and faithful companion.

The remaining scenes were mainly of rats and languishing, starving poilus.

****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Amazingly enough, this museum must've spent 90% of its yearly budget, getting their one WORKING tank (The Leopard I think it was), down to Mons for their annual Tanks in Town event...every August, which I HIGHLY recommend! My two boys were able to ride tank commander and gunner positions in a T-72 tank on an obstacle course and it was the highlight of their summer (I bet your boys would've woken up over that)! But I digress...back to the Leopard, which broke down early in the day and couldn't even make the victory roadmarch into the Grande Place in Mons...I did feel bad for them as it costs hundreds of thousands of bills to keep these tanks going...I bet the museum runs entirely on donations too....

Anonymous said...

Favorite crap museum was the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver, Colorado, USA. Or, as it was known after our first visit, The Museum of Dust.

Imagine a dark, dank old train warehouse full of dark, dank, old trains, cast-off mannequins from retail shops stuffed into ridiculous poses in old Fords, rotting engines and. . . dust, of course. Poorly lit, with acres of dust an inch thick. And lots of un-labled train parts.

It is now a Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI)store, complete with indoor rock climbing wall and every manner of outdoorsy Yuppie nonsense.

I often wonder what happened to all the dust.

C/Kalgon

Anonymous said...

There are some wonderful stuffed animals in Swedish museums. The smiling, cross-eyed lion in Gripsholm castle is absolutely brilliant and even has its own Facebook following.

Malla

Encephalartos said...

i've heard about the whale... at one point he toured Europe on a train...

WrathofDawn said...

The old New Bruswick museum with the displays that never changed and had a ceramic tile frog pond that perenially lacked frogs, but featured "mourning" rings from the 1700s in which one would encase braided stands of hair from the dear departed loved one. How ghoulish! I loved it.

But! Nothing made an impact on my little developing brain like a mobile museum that made the rounds during my early school years.

Cast your minds back to 1967, Canada's Centennial year. Yes, 100 years old it was. Oh, the antiquity!

They had all manner of celebrations and displays that year, Expo 67 being the shining pinnacle of which I'm led to believe but have no actual knowledge of, my parents not being of the adventerous type. A whole day's drive by car! Overnight in a hotel! The extravagance! The bohemian irresponsibility! But I digress...

One of the Centennial celebratory displays, which was not of trains but in a train, went across the country and small, innocent school children were forced to visit it and traipse through the entire thing everywhere it stopped. There were several cars with many historical tableaux from across the nation (we may not be old, but we're big) represented. It must have been dreadfully boring as I remember absolutely nothing it contained... except one display, that traumatized me for years afterward (I was all of 10 years old). There was a replica of the bunks on the ships that carried the poor Irish immigrants who fled Ireland during the potato famines in the 1800s only to contract smallpox on board ship. The haggard, ghostly pale faces of the startlingly realistic mannequins of starving, on-the-edge-of-death-from-smallpox Irish haunted my dreams for years. I can still picture them. Eeep!

wv - hadve - If I had've known what I'd be seeing that day, I'd have pretended to be sick.

M. said...

My favourite shit museum is the Museum of Flight somewhere near Edinburgh, which is not that shit unless you're forced by some sadistic art teachers to go there to sketch. In the freezing dead of winter. FOR A WHOLE DAY.

Also the Museum of Railways or whatever it was called in Nairobi, which was like an elephant graveyard, but for trains. Huge carcasses of rotting, rusting trains, in a big yard. Also a small room full of dusty photographs. You were free to clamber around the various engines and get tetanus. Nice.

Fat Controller said...

Barometer World, near (actually not at all near) Okehampton. Tracing the roller coaster history of barometers and all things pertaining to atmospheric pressure, including a faithful reproduction of the Magdeburg Hemispheres!!!

I only went there to see the reproduction of George Merryweather's Tempest Prognosticator (or 'Leech Barometer') in which 12 leeches climb up the side of a glass vessel and trip little ivory hammers which sound small bells when foul weather is expected, only when I got there it was out of service due to the leeches being indisposed, or on strike, or escaped or something.

Staircase Witch said...

Napoleon's tomb. Also, on the off chance you find yourself in Reno, Nevada, the Wilber D May Center is...bizarre. I had a free afternoon while at a conference several years ago and since it was just up the hill from the university, I decided to give it a go.

It promised a collection of exotic artifacts--I was thinking stuffed birds and display cases full of butterflies and other curiosities, but it turned out that Mr. May was, in fact, a big game hunter, and most of the artifacts on display were skins, horns, and various limbs separated from their previous owners.

I confess to enjoying wandering through old military museums, which mostly seem to consist of an organized jumble of perfunctorily-labeled weapons, gear, and ephemera. There's a good one at Sanctuary Wood on the Western front, complete with a reconstructed trench (through which small boys wander making machine gun sounds).

Have you been to the In Flanders Fields museum in Ieper? Fewer tanks, I assure you.

CD said...

The Potato Museum in the middle-of-nowhere, Idaho is pretty crappy. The highlight, however was the baked potato served to all visitors who survived the boredom of the incredibly amateur "exhibits" on the history of the potato.

Margaret said...

The aquarium at Dallas' Fair Park. Everything else in Dallas is big and new and shiny except for this awesomely low-tech museum. It's only interactive insofar as tapping on cloudy, 3-inch-thick industrial glass tanks at barely discernable fish is interacting. I highly recommend it and if I didn't loathe Texas so, I'd revisit it in a heartbeat.

Brenda said...

You haven't been properly bored until you suffer the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Famed as its collections are, you can't hear a friggin thing because the place echoes like the tower of babel with global turistas. Each group hunches around a dirty display case trying to read peeling labels while the guide vies with the next group for audibility prominence and perhaps make sense while we stare at little crafted cats. The groups have to synchronize their movements from one dismal display case to the next. Fuck it, buy the book.

Grit said...

oh i disagree about the museum in cairo. it was great fun. i had my camera confiscated and had to leg it from the police. i cannot recommend it highly enough.

but a museum for which i have fond memories is the iceni museum in a field somewhere in east anglia. it describes the celtic tribe of queen boudicca. but you must drive round and round for three hours first, trying to find it.

when you do, you will find top shop models c 1978 dolled up in some old rags (who knows, maybe the original items of 78 clothing?). some of their heads have been removed and stuck on poles.

it is fantastic. but i share your passion for niche museums, mme jaywalker. i am shortly to post on the hong kong medical sciences museum with its fine exhibition of callipers.

and i've put barometer world on my hit list.

bryony said...

Bodmin jail museum a few years ago which amongst other horrors had recreations of different crimes in each cell _ wife beating, larceny, nurder etc. Each tableaux styled with old shop mannequins. Final cell was a bloke with a stuffed sheep...

Betty M said...

The LRB blog today features a museum in Taiwan which appears to specialize in tableaux of potential disasters on mass transit systems -http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/ . Makes me think they have been reading your blog.

Anne said...

Sorry, off topic but I felt you ought to know. I read your blog in google reader. You sit near Town Mouse. I read this post: http://cityexile.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/just-when-you-thought-it-was-safe-to-go-back-into-the-veg-patch/
thinking it was you. You cannot imagine the shock, I felt.