Thursday, 21 March 2013

Cowper and Newton

Isn't local museum culture fantastic? Let's just hope the Human Performance Improvement Team never finds where they are, these mini timeholes of England.

Because once you're inside a local museum, I swear it becomes 1947. Open the door into the overheated front room-turned-giftshop, and here is invariably a gentlefolk of the shires - a Stanley or a Doreen - to welcome us home, like long-lost friends deceived by adventures of war. The warmth of the greeting only stops short of shoulder hugs and cheek kissing.

Once inside, there is all the agreeable fuss over the ticketing and the cash machine which doesn't work, then the faff to convert your ticket to an annual pass, and the problem of the receipt which won't print.

Fifteen minutes in, and we have yet to enjoy the discussion of How did you find us? Where did you park? What with market days and the road works which don't help anybody, do they? Then the best yet. Which exhibit can we recommend you simply must see? The old spoon or the napkin? Oh! Somewhere we have a guide! Where is the guide? I only put it here last week. Doreen, have you moved my guide?

To me, it's worth the five pounds entry fee (children go free) just to watch the extended front room-turned-giftshop drama. Keeping up with the pace, eh! It's always the same. We wait ten years for someone to come in, then nine of you come in at once!

Well I can reassure you, dear reader, the Cowper and Newton Museum does not disappoint. That's Cowper and Newton, by the way, who you may not know. Tsk. Come to gritsday and get yourself an education.

Cowper was a poet (appropriately insane at key points) who gave Wordsworth and Coleridge their best ideas. Where those Romantics went, Cowper went before. Talking to clouds, daffodils and oak trees, probably, but it must've kick-started something in the subconsciousness of his chums.

Oh yes, Cowper also wrote the poem of John Gilpin, the riotous narrative which became commercially successful, spawned tons of merchandise and pottery junk, and brought about a worship from a certain Mrs King. At the museum, you can see Cowper's fruit bowl, cribbage board, the blankie sewn for him by Mrs King (she'd be done for stalking) and his napkin; the one he used to wipe his greasy chops.

When you've had enough of Cowper, you can find out about Newton. He was Cowper's BFF and neighbour. A slave trader who got religion, gave up slave trading, and egged on William Wilberforce to abolish the business. He also wrote Amazing Grace, which no-one has failed to hear, anywhere, unless maybe you're living on North Sentinel Island. Look, it's even done over by boy bands. Students from Northampton Museum made a rather fine wooden slave ship in his honour.

When you're tired of both Cowper and Newton, you can visit the town's lace museum, and ogle at the prototype for an Ikea Glimma Tealt; the arrangement of four glass balls about a single candle flame to produce a focused point of light. My favourite item! It brought out my streak of super-mean, candles being the price they are.

The conclusion is, of course, you must fall down the timeholes of your nearby museums and, if you're ever going out of your way through Olney circa 1947, make sure you drop in and say hello to Stanley and Doreen in the splendidly local Cowper and Newton.

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