So, I’m writing this blog as a request. My friend Allison has apparently married a ‘collector’ and she tells me there was a certain ‘unpleasantness’ when she suggested he throw out his collection of Simpsons cereal boxes. Now, Allison’s a chunk older than me, I don’t know how old her guy is but – seriously – Simpsons cereal boxes? What a loser. Of course, if some girl, or wife, whatever, suggested I get rid of my original 1978 C3PO’s Star Wars cereal box, that would be a different matter. That would be mean and cold. Simpsons, though? Jesus. What’s up with that guy?
So, Allison asked me to explain the ‘geek collector mind’, not even a week ago, my significant other asked me to do exactly the same thing. And I think it is worth exploring, the only thing which holds me back, honestly, is the danger of changing whatever perception you, dear reader, might have of me. I feel the rather cowardly need, going into this, to stress that I’m not proud of my collector side. I’m proud of my collection and it brings me a lot of kind of happiness and satisfaction but I really don’t define myself by it. Maybe it defines me, somewhat. And I’m OK with that. But I don’t consider myself a collector as such. In fact there is no rhyme or reason to my collection, it’s just a bunch of stuff I like to have around. It’s just stuff. But I like it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s just a side of me. So, here’s the deal, I’ll be completely honest and open with you about it and you’ll accept that it’s a mere strand of my personality and you’ll agree to define me by my more intelligent and erudite blog posts? OK? OK.
So, where to start…
We went for a family lunch for my Dad’s birthday last year and my sister and brother-in-law gave me my belated birthday present – the recently released action figure of Sylvester McCoy as the seventh incarnation of Doctor Who (eighth, if you include the 60’s movie version played by Peter Cushing but, I’m told by those geekier than myself, we don’t.)
I was excited about this. I had asked for him, as he would complete my collection of Doctor Whos (Doctor Who’s? Doctor Whose?) who stand together happily around their TARDIS on the bookcase in my study. As we were discussing the final figure I need to finish the set (I know I just said the collection was now complete with the addition of McCoy, but there is the contentious issue of Doctor ‘8’ as played in a single, lamentable, American TV movie by Paul McGann), I glanced over to my girlfriend and struggled to read her expression.
In the car on the way home, she asked me to explain the Doctor Who toy thing. I told her it wasn’t a ‘thing’, I just liked the idea of having the Doctors all stood there around the TARDIS. You know, in my study. I became immediately defensive and pointed out that Gary – my brother-in-law – had ALL of the figures including every variation of Dalek and every variation of the Doctor’s costumes for each actor and that I was only collecting one each of the Doctors. And Gary isn’t even weird, so me just having the Doctors is nowhere even approaching weird. It’s not obsessive. She hadn’t said that it was obsessive. Or weird. So I was rambling and justifying like a… weird obsessive. Which I’m not. Anymore.
‘It’s just.. I was in your spare room the other day… and it was….’ She’d never really had reason to go in the spare room before. I tend to visit her in London rather than her make the voyage out to the sticks and, when she did, I have to admit that I’d always made a subconscious point of keeping the door shut, but on a quest for socks I had inadvertently lead her into what she knows as the spare room, I pompously call the study (fuck you, there’s a desk in there) and, to the select few I deem worthy of the guided tour, is known as… The Den of Geek.
The Den of Geek felt like a necessity when I bought this house. It’s a ‘character property’ meaning it’s really old and kind of ‘charming’ Well, the front half is, in the 60’s they extended the back so once you’re past the living room threshold, you could be in any suburban semi in the country. But the living room and bedroom are kind of olde worlde and I knew off the bat that filling them with the plastic pop culture detritis that I have amassed since childhood would be kind of tasteless and, now in my thirties, I kind of don’t want to be surrounded by that stuff so much now. I’d moved from a 60s build townhouse which looked amazing draped in kitschery, but I felt I’d got that out of my system and felt no need to fill the cottage with crap. By containing my filthy secret to one small room at the back of the house, I could give the outward appearance to visitors of maturity but also be able to hang out in a room filled exclusively with stuff I really dig.
There’s one of those big cubey Ikea shelving units against the back wall, rammed with books and work stuff. On top of that, I display my favourite geekery. Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang slug it out once more in six-inch chunky plastic. just beneath them, the Muppets hang out backstage on the Muppet Theatre Playset (which despite only being a few years old is, according to ebay, worth a shit ton now) beside the Muppets congregate the forementioned Doctor Who’s and beside them stand the Ghostbusters in their freshly imported 12′, highly detailed glory and, towering above the lot of them is the AT-AT.
Oh. the AT-AT. The AT-AT is, I reckon, at the crux of this whole thing for me. If you don’t know what an AT-AT is, you can google it. Back now? Pretty cool, right? When I was a kid, all I wanted was an AT-AT. I don’t remember if I pestered my parents for one (my mother seems to haunt my comments section so she will, no doubt, tell you in due course) but I knew I wouldn’t get one. I don’t think my folks had much money and although I had quite a few Star Wars figures and might have fantasised about owning the ships and playsets, I think even I saw them as a bit of an extravagance. The thing my mum did tell me was that the kids who got loads of toys were given to them by their parents in lieu of time, attention or care. This is the woman who gave her 5 year old son on his first day of school the brilliant insight that ‘if anyone tries to bully you, it just means their mummy and daddy don’t love them and you should just feel sorry for them’. It was true then and it’s true now, right?
Anyway, she was right, and although I didn’t get an AT-AT through my childhood, my dad once spent a whole day building one with me in the garden out of cardboard and it was HUGE. And he built LEGO with me and taught me how to programme our 48k Sinclair Spectrum and he got me into films. Mum, although not into toys and such distractions, would always be happy to discuss things, was always interested in my opinions and had a wonderful rule which was ‘you can always have books’, any book my sister or I wanted (as long as it as passed a basic merit test) we got. So, I got the love and attention and care and all the good stuff. And I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t have toys, I had plenty. But I didn’t have that kind of expensive 70’s/80’s cool crap. I didn’t have Bigtrak or Omnibot, I didn’t have Castle Grayskull, I didn’t have the Millenium Falcon and I didn’t have an AT-AT.
I guess I have the kind of personality where if I want something, I try to make it happen for myself and maybe that means that there is still a list I’m crossing off. And I’m not alone because that AT-AT is not a vintage one, it was released last year for the adult collector market. That doesn’t mean it is in any way pornographic, it means it’s huge (over twice as big as the original release and more in scale with the action figures) and it’s far far more expensive than any kid could afford. Or really any parent would or should spend. But there’s a market for it.
When I think about it, most guys I know are a collector of some sort.There’s Gary with his full collection of Doctor Who toys and DVDs, there’s Ben – he collects Laserdiscs and Tim Burton stuff, Hank collects first edition Moomin books, Ross and Brian collect comics, other Ben collects vintage camera gear, Tim collects NASA related stuff, Edu’s legendary collection of records, James’s rare VHS collection. Even my less obsessive friends tend to have an awful lot of CDs or books. Guys like ‘stuff’.
One of the best exhibition’s I’ve ever seen was in London a couple of years ago when Mick Jones of The Clash literally moved the contents of his storage unit into a gallery. It was incredible. Like crawling into his head. Amongst the guitars and tour clothes were Carry On memorabilia, toy soldiers, tea cards, novelty cans of ‘London Fog’, huge piles of magazines, records and books. It was the sum of his parts. A man’s influences and obsessions deconstructed. It reassured me that one of my heroes was an amplified version of me in that respect.
I’m a film geek, so my stuff is generally film stuff. But why? There’s a great quote from Billy Connolly which I can neither remember,find or paraphrase well but he essentially said that all men need to make them happy are the things which made them happy as a boy. This makes perfect sense to me. There’s purity to childhood obsessions. Be it watching films, going to football matches, listening to music, obsessing over sports cars, fishing, reading comics or building model airplanes. I think it’s at the core of us and I think it never leaves us and serves as a mainline to restore equilibrium and feel some joy and security. I think it’s a good thing to have that kind of connection to the very core of what made you who you are.
What I think is less healthy is for these touchstones and enjoyable past-times to be used to define yourself as an adult. It’s OK to love Star Trek, but if you’re in your thirties and dressing up as a Klingon on a regular basis, that’s not good. It’s OK to love football but if you’re wearing the strip and getting into fights with rival fans as a middle-aged man, you’re a total fanny. If you spend all of your spare time fishing rather than with your family. That kind of thing.
So, I’ll go in my den of geek a couple of times a day and I’ll sit and read in there, do some work in there, that kind of thing. It gives me a buzz to be surrounded by my stuff. But I’m glad my whole house isn’t full of it. And I’m glad to be a little ashamed of it. Mainly I’m glad to know that I have passion and interests and that I have the capacity to take joy in these quirky little things. I have quite a geeky kitchen too and I smile every time I walk into it and notice certain things.
So, for those who were interested, that’s my overall explanation of the geeky collecting thing. And although I understand the much banded-about biblical quote;
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things”
I’ve always appreciated C.S. Lewis’s addendum to that;
“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
There now follows a brief glimpse of a few items from the Collection….
I think Sendak’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ was the first ‘thing’ I ever fell in love with. I’ve never stopped digging his work.
In the 80’s they advertised Weetabix with a gang of Weetabix skinheads. White t-shirts, braces and bovver boots. I loved them then and have retained a fascination for them. In the kitchen, I have their fan club membership pack and one of the original animation cels on display.
Original box fronts of film tie-in cereals from the 80’s. I’m always on the lookout for the Ghostbusters and Mr T ones too.
V was an American TV series in 1984. Dad used to tape every episode for me. It was written by the brilliant Kenneth Johnson and was a big allegory for fascism. I used to get Starlog magazine each month and in one issue there was a full page advert for this amazing V doll. This I did beg my parents for and I think they did try to help out but back then there was no paypal and stuff, it wasn’t possible to mail order it over from the US. Imagine my joy the day I found this on ebay. Love it.
Plectrums caught at various Cheap Trick gigs. You have to know where to stand. As long as you’re nearish Rick Neilsen when they perform Dream Police, you’ll catch one, he lobs handfuls of them out in the middle 8. I’ve never managed to catch the KISS album they chuck out whilst performing Surrender. To my eternal shame.
I think I’ve blogged about it before but The Incredible Hulk remains my favourite TV show of all time. Meeting Lou Ferrigno was an incredibly underwhelming experience but Bill Bixby was always the better part.
They used to show Jacques Cousteau films on TV in the school holidays and I still love them. The combination of clearly-staged human drama and gorgeous underwater photography is completely unique to him. This is a 70’s model kit of his boat Calypso. I do not possess the skill to assemble it.
Yep, it’s a Flux Capacitor. It’s also signed by Christopher Lloyd on the side.
When I was 8, Manimal was my favourite TV show. It was cancelled after one season. The reason for its cancellation, I discovered many years later upon securing a bootleg of a few episodes, was that it was shit. But I still treasure the annual I got that year.
Various old action figures.
The geek holy grail? Signed by the director (who died last year) and the producer. Maybe one day I’ll get Lucas’s autograph on there and can die a pathetic uber-geek loser.
That’s all you get to see.