Monday, 21 September 2009

My Particular Friend

I had such an unusual post planned. As part of the Journée du Patrimoine, a day of access to -- and celebration of -- France's cultural heritage, the Natural History Museum of Rouen offered a one-off guided tour. At night. By torchlight alone!

The museum is a seriously spooky place. Most of its shaggy exhibits date from the nineteenth century, and the long galleries of over-restored, glass-bound beasts give off a gothic Doctor Moreauishness even by day. There you can see the escaped circus elephant that roamed the city in the winter of 1910 (and which died from pneumonia as a result), a two-headed kitten embryo (pasta yellow in Victorian formaldehyde), and a whole menagerie of patched up and flaking beasts. So many glass eyes. Such narrow windows.

I should have liked to take my camera. I should have liked to capture shifting light and shadows in long exposure.

I should have booked earlier.

Having ground my teeth about missing this ghoulish evening, I have decided to turn back to my sketchbooks for a different subject entirely. Here, instead, is a tribute to my particular friend, Ben.

Now, I obviously don't want to suggest that there is any link between Ben and a bunch of moth-eaten, crumbly creatures from the past. He is in fact a fine specimen, and with all his own hair and teeth he's annoyingly better preserved than I am, given that we're the same age.

Ben and I first met when we were four-years-old, and he's worth a mention here mostly because he is the invisible presence behind many of my sketchbook drawings. We have journeyed a lot over the years, and whether he's had to wait for me, go on ahead, or just tolerate my distracted conversation in situ, Ben (who only draws cars) has always been a patient travelling companion.

Neither of us are especially adventurous I suppose (though we do like a laugh) but our wanderings -- from the Scottish Highlands to the Nubian Desert -- have left their traces in dozens of battered Moleskines. This quick sketch, coloured in Photoshop, shows Ben pondering his letters in a game of rude Scrabble (bonus points if you use bad language, especially if you make it up) in a pub in Northumberland. Ben is a formidable opponent, and this must have been dashed off during one of the brief moments when it was his go. No doubt he used an X and a Q across a triple word square and made those at the next table blush.

So no crooked animal shadows for me, but at least I have this chance to thank Ben for all the fun, the foreign forays, and more than thirty years of priceless friendship. May we never need to resort to formaldehyde.


  1. That srarted my day off with a real get back to that tiling, Mr T.!

  2. Wow! That museum tour sounded sooo cool. I would have been totally spooked out.

  3. Yes, I'm still kicking myself that I missed it. At least they should do it next year, and I'm not likely to forget next time.

  4. I wish I had your ticket bad luck last night - had to "enjoy" a two hour concert with a grown woman singing irksome musical "hits" with a couple hundred eight year olds chiming along - plus the odd kid soloist, and I was right at the front so I had to control my snickering! And to top it all off - I couldn't even see my daughter in the choir for all the boys with big hair. What is it with NZ kids and their unruly barnets? Anyhow, commiserations for the tour (and the tiling?!)!

  5. Ha ha, that sounds painful, Rachel.


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