The deranged mind of the Collector

16 May

My paternal grandfather used to work in antique furniture, his home was always filled with curious odds and ends. Growing up we didn’t have a great deal of things. My father was a gardener, my mum worked as a cleaner, all a bit Upstairs Downstairs. Money was in short supply so my brother and I made the most of what we had. Played outdoors a lot. Imagined. Imagination – something wasted on kids today, they live off 24 hour childrens television programming and bloody computer games. We had a couple of hours a day when I was a child, of tv for kids, and with only one tv set in the house and an occasionally rented VCR it was lots of outdoor play, make believe, riding our bicycles, playing with the dog and cat (Shep and Jess if you must know), building forts in the garden, colouring books, drawing, and Matchbox cars.

Yes. My name is Robert. I’m not yet 30 but you’d think I was 70.

While at secondary school I got the first real taste for collecting. Doctor Who videos mostly, when I had the money, which wasn’t very often. Christmas was good, you could put a request in for a couple of titles. Endlessly rewatched. Endlessly. And I started recording stuff off the telly with my own Matsui mono VCR. Tapes were relatively cheap in a wee discount shop in Strandtown village (where the Mace now is). And by using longplay a 3 hour tape could store 4 -6 films, depending on how prudent I was with the pause button during the adverts. The building of the domestic video collection had a lot to answer for.

By the time I was 17 I had my first proper job, working evening shift (6pm – 2am) in a well-known hotel as a Kitchen Porter (I’ll come back to this in future blogs… I have photos that need to be shared, oh yes you sods…). Alternately fun and grim, sometimes simultaneously. As well as gathering new abusive terms I could throw out at other people, and the eternal sage-like wisdom of chef Brian (“sow your seed”), I had a pay packet. If I remember right a good weekend would give me about £70, which when previously you had nothing wasn’t bad at all. That was money of my own, spent on the odd bit of clothing, bus fares back and forwards to Newtownards to see the girlfriend, and some cash for the video collection.

An Archive environment - perfect for collectors

I’d spent £20 or £30 a time on the 5 for £20 or 6 for £30 offers in Virgin Megastores, rapidly assembling a modest collection of films and tv shows. When I wasn’t doing that I raided second hand bookstores for old Target paperbacks (for a couple of years the bookstores were full of them, at reasonable prices…). My tiny downstairs bedroom was crammed on the day we moved out. I had enough to fill a small house on my own. Videos, books, a growing collection of LPs and audio cassettes (what’s a cassette I hear you young things ask), not to mention the camera collection. Yes, I took up photography as well, and bought a collection of 1960s cameras, and related equipment, in various degrees of workability.

By the time I was through my first year of uni I had started a DVD collection too, mostly US imports from Anchor Bay (I was an early adopter). A bigger room at home and a passionate interest in British horror, and cinema generally spiralled out of control. I spent all my money on things. Toys (they aren’t action figures, they’re toys for 10 year olds!), DVDs, books, cds… you name it… Hammer and Doctor Who took most of it.

Of course by 2006 Doctor Who had become massive. Far too much merchandise to keep up with. All sorts of licensed goods. I stopped working for Burtons Books on their website when the business was sold, so I had less incentive to buy Doctor Who goods (part of my pay was in store credit, which I’d use for all manner of nick nacks). And my research on Hammer was beginning to take off. I bought my first 16mm print around then too. And then there was the collection of movie posters I’d started.

The problem is, when you start a passion about these things, to the point where you pursue a career where the job centres around being able to research the paraphernalia, it all becomes too much and takes over. The items become more and more expensive as time goes on, and more and more obscure. And the reason is lost.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a problem. I am a collector.

I’ve tried to dress it up in various guises but I’m not fooling anyone. I can’t help wonder, did my collecting contribute to the early departure of my former partner? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is a problem. I keep much of my collection in storage, and it seldom sees the light of day. I’ll go without a decent meal for a week if it means I can afford that set of stills that I *need* for my book. Erm, yes… Two years ago I started separating the posters from my collection out from the rest of the material with the intention of collating them into a book. Would it be of interest? Would it sell? I’m not entirely sure… I possibly don’t collect the imagery that other fans would expect me to collect. But I like it. I started buying pieces purely because I thought they would really lift the book.

There is of course a huge international market in movie poster collecting. The right movie posters that is. Not sure I collect quite the right titles. But what to do with them all? The posters came to feed the book, and the book is vital to justify the purchase of so much 50 year old paper. Do I really need 1 let along a half dozen or more 6 sheets (nearly 7ft x 7ft in size, and unframable!)

Just one of my six sheets - ridiculously oversized poster for Hammer's DEMONS OF THE MIND

I’m having doubts about my sanity.

Am I simply insane? Is there ever any justification? This isn’t an investment. I’m not doing it because I plan on selling. I’m a hoarder as much as a collector. I tend to bag and box stuff and put it to a side rather than sort through it – a process I’m painstakingly forcing myself to face up to of late. But I can’t stop. I’m cutting my household bills as best I can, but I know I’ll find myself on ebay or one of the other auction websites looking for something unusual I don’t have. And something cheap at that. But lots of cheaps is equivalent to one expensive.

I need a holiday so I have something else I have to save my money for – an experience. I need a publisher for the book, so I can have an advance and finish the manuscript! I need to find something else that isn’t collecting.

My father used to say I was obsessive compulsive. I don’t think I am particularly, but I am a completest when it comes to some things in the collector’s mould. Except I don’t want EVERYTHING. If you collect everything then what do you do? I like the hunt, the treasure seeking. The uncertainty.

I’ve seen women spend like me when it comes to shoes and dresses (but you only wore it once!). I’m not quite the 40 Year Old Virgin. For one I like to take my action figures out of the boxes once in a while. I do look through the posters, stills and so on from time to time. But still… there’s a fine line.

Oh please, tell me I’m not alone?!

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2 Responses to “The deranged mind of the Collector”

  1. stonecypher May 16, 2010 at 11:41 pm #

    Some of us women spend on this junk…I mean, paraphenalia, rather than shoes and dresses, thank you very much 😉

    I’m a sporadic collector, for the time being, I think. I’ll be full blown ‘argh, where’s all my money gone?!’ in no time.

    • avalard May 16, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

      LOL. Oh, I know there are women collectors out there too… forgive me, I am male after all 😉

      I remember being told off by my ex more than once for a new dispatch of posters and I knew how much they’d cost, and I’d see another two pairs of shoes and a skirt in the bedroom. Erm… balance much?!

      I’ve had to cut back. But only cus I ran out of cash 😉

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