The Collecting Game

(800 words)

“I’m here to talk about collecting,” said the man with a red face and a bald head with a couple of sandy tufts above the ears. He reminded me of an aged Tintin. “Why should you collect, you may ask, and what should you collect?”
“Well, how would you like to fill your house with useless junk and annoy people?” my wife whispered in my ear. A very practical lady was Sandra. A place for everything and everything in its place. And if it hadn’t been used in six months, it was down to the charity shops or the tip with it, as I knew from bitter experience, looking in vain for my favourite Mac on one – not to be discussed – occasion.
“You could, for example, collect wheelbarrows,” the man continued, to the general incredulity of the motley crew gathered at the Craxby village hall. “From the earliest sixteenth-century iron barrows to the latest zinc-oxidised titanium, they all have a place in our grand horticultural history.” He beamed around the thin audience, then, being met by a collective blank glare, looked quickly back at his notes. “Of course, the earliest ones are rare and may have to be stolen from farming museums!”
There was a solitary, polite laugh from old Maud Simons, the huge, white-haired chairperson.
“Or perhaps you may be lucky enough to find a rare early example at a car boot sale for a pound or two.”
“Fat chance!” exclaimed old Marmaduke Mountain, who then blushed furiously, looking at Maud Simons. But he was a man who certainly knew his courgettes from his carrots. He’d won numerous prizes at the annual garden produce show since anyone could remember.
“To display them,” the speaker continued, ignoring Marmaduke, “they may be hung on the wall, giving any room a glorious rustic centrepiece. Or, of course, one may fill them with earth, plant them with flowers, and leave them at the front of the house, securely bolted into the ground, of course.”
A snort of derision came from the direction of old man Mountain.
“Another interesting collection may be made from beer bottles,” the speaker continued, brightening up. He held up a brown bottle with a colourful label. “Notice this beautiful and eye-catching label on Fullers’ Edinburgh Pride, for example, with its dancing Scotsmen against the blue and white flag of that, er, drink-loving land.” He passed it to Fanny Dimmock on the front row, who peered at it curiously with myopic eyes, before passing it on to her neighbour.
He held up another bottle. You could tell he was in his element here. “See the lovely pink and orange boats on the labels of Shepherd Neame’s Chinese Ale, or”- yet another bottle – “the rich black and green front of a steam locomotive on bottles of Thwaites Tempus Fugit!” Again, the bottles were handed to the front row. Thankfully, he now seemed to have run out of beer bottles.
“To store your collection, I recommend corrugated cardboard sleeves and double-walled cardboard cartons. Twenty-four inches by sixteen by fourteen, I’ve found to be ideal. The bottles won’t clink together and may be stacked up to six high.
“Of course, for full authenticity, the bottle and cap should be thoroughly rinsed with hot water and the bottle cap carefully reattached to its parent bottle. With correct orientation, of course.
“Special shelving is available, with miniature spotlights and crafted from premium cedar wood, to enable your beer bottle collection to be displayed in up to eight tiers. They may be organised thematically or alphabetically or by brewery, of course.” The speaker gave a smug smile. “I organise mine alphabetically by the brewery and alphabetically by beer name within each brewery.”
“How many have you got?” asked Maud Simons, politely.
The speaker considered for a brief moment. “Oh, about a thousand.”
There was a collective gasp of disbelief.
“And, of course, anyone here is welcome to come and view my collection,” he added helpfully.
There was a collective stony silence.
“Anyway,” the speaker continued unperturbed, “whether wheelbarrows, beer bottles, or something mundane such as books or clocks, collecting is a wonderful occupation!”
With no little effort, Maud raised her bulk from the chair. “Well, I’m sure we’d all like to thank Mr, er, Smith for such an interesting talk.”
There was a smattering of half-hearted applause.
“And before we discuss changes to the bus timetables, I’ll just add that Mr Smith will be here till the tea and biscuits after the meeting to offer more advice on collecting.”
Again, a silence, but then a hum of conversation as some chairs were re-organised.
Sandra glared at me. “Well, I hope you aren’t thinking of starting any stupid collections.”
I snorted. “Oh, I’m guilty of thought crime now, am I?”
“Good. Collecting stuff is a total waste of time, money, and space!”
I didn’t dare mention the British Museum.

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