The Old Man and the Museum

I hadn’t been working there long when I first noticed the old man. He was padding round the balcony, glancing about with a look of quiet fascination at the old maps displayed on the walls. He made three circuits, before descending to the ground floor and tipping his hat at the meet and greeter as he left.

I quickly learned from my colleagues that he was a regular to the museum and had been for some time. Aside from taking walks around the upper floors, the old man also liked to tell jokes. He would often come over to the information desk and whisper “Have you heard the one about…” to whoever was stationed there that day. The punchlines were terrible, but we would laugh anyway out of courtesy and also because it was a brief spell of cheeriness amongst the drone of weary visitors.

From then on, I paid close attention to his habits and saw how he would pause on occasion to pat a handrail or a stone column, like it was a trusted friend. At other times he would suddenly become fixated by an exhibit and beam at it with a knowing smile. This often had the profound effect of drawing other visitors to the object at which point the old man would slip through the bustle and continue on his steady meander.

Most of all, he enjoyed looking at the Didier-Pouget that fills the wall outside the wildlife gallery. Nothing seemed to please him more than taking in the sunlit tufts of heather and the sprawling hillside as if it were a view he knew too well or perhaps longed to see in person.

The first week he stopped visiting the museum, things began to deteriorate. Chunks of marble began breaking off the staircase in the front hall as visitors passed up and down. Surveyors were brought in to assess the problem, but they were unable to determine a cause and management had no choice but to close them off, indefinitely.

The old man appeared a few days later, using the back stairs instead to reach the galleries. Although he still made his rounds, word quickly spread that he didn’t display his usual level of affection towards the exhibits or the building.

The following week, the preventative conservator became convinced that there were new cracks appearing in the Assyrian reliefs. At first, no one believed her until she began taking pictures that illustrated the encroaching damage. The curators were bewildered, but those of us who worked on the galleries knew what was happening. You could feel it in the walls and the great oak doorways – everywhere was withering in his absence.

The last time I saw the old man, his face was deathly pale. He still wore his broad-brimmed hat, but he’d swapped the tweed for a grey woollen suit jacket. He didn’t tell us any jokes. He barely made it up to the balcony.

Over time, things returned to normal; mostly. The steps were able to be repaired and the cracks in the reliefs no longer seem to be increasing.

How many of us have noticed the new addition, I couldn’t say. It’s barely spoken about, except through the briefest of whispers or in the flick of an eye. But if you care to look, you’ll see that another figure has appeared amongst the rose-tinted hillside. There’s not much detail to make out apart from a broad-brimmed hat that’s being held aloft as if the person is embracing the scene.

No doubt there’ll be others who’ll become a fixture amongst the museum and its collections. It’s what they deserve after contributing so much to the masonry and the treasures within. You might even call it a public service. For those yet to discover their own cherished item, I wish them long and healthy lives.

A house to call home

This is my second attempt at poetry and is on the subject of housing. I couldn’t think of a decent title and probably need to work on my formatting, but I enjoyed writing it. As before, any comments, likes, not likes or cheques in the post are welcome.

“Can I help you?” asks the man in the shirt and tie. I look at him and think, well, can you? Can you cut house prices by

40%? Can you force developers to build actual affordable housing that isn’t like stacked containers, replicated in their thousands?

No, I want to say. You can’t. Because what I’m asking for is about as fantastical as the Gallagher brothers being reunited in a musical.

But is it really so far gone, to want to buy a place to call your own and stop pouring cash down the blackhole called Rent, leaving you at the mercy of an agent, just in it for the payment that wires its way to the landlord in some far and distant land?

Hand in hand, they eliminate the dream. Another investment opportunity taking precedent over any sentimental notions of a house to call home.

Where it’s just the latest postcode, a borough on the brink; open up another branch, tell people what to think.

It’s up and coming, vibrant and edgy and every other buzz word. 75% already sold before foundations have been laid down.

In this town, speculation is king.

The thing is, I’m not looking to make an investment or increase my portfolio. I’m looking for a home like the one I grew up in.

A place where I can fill in the cracks and paint the walls, think about which pictures would look good where, so a gallery of our history can emerge.

To take satisfaction in every weed I pull out, and watch the spring seeds sprout, each year a little more like something to be proud of.

To stick drawings on walls that gently curl at the corners as the months go by, find accidental dents in the worktop that make you say “that was when…”

To know the worn banister, smoothed down from hanging and climbing and sliding, and pat its trusty newel post that’s held a thousand coats like a faithful hound.

There doesn’t seem to be much of this thinking around, or perhaps its just that others are keeping their dreams close to the ground, wondering, hoping that the day will come when a place to live isn’t a commodity and its not an oddity to want a place to call your own without looking to sell before it’s even halfway a home.