Mick Jackson is the new writer-in-residence at the Booth Museum, funded by Arts Council England, from September 2014 to August 2015. Throughout the residency he will be running creative writing workshops and conducting his own research.
Mick is on Twitter, follow him @mickwriter
I was sitting in the office at the Booth Museum yesterday when someone knocked on the door with a dead pheasant they’d found that morning whilst walking their dog. They were regular visitors to the museum and as the bird was in such good condition they wondered if it might be the kind of thing they’d like to have.
It seems it is. John, the museum’s Keeper, thanked the couple, took the plastic bag with the dead pheasant in it and carried it out to the shed where various carcasses awaiting preparation are stored in a pair of chest freezers. I tagged along. One freezer’s contents include a badger, sundry snakes and bats, as well as a couple of the museum’s exhibits which have been removed after showing signs of infestation (a week or two in a freezer tends to take care of even the most persistent mites). The other freezer contains a snow leopard.
On a recent tour of the geology storerooms I was shown what was referred to as the ‘Pending Drawers’. The bones and fossils rattling around inside them have lost their labels, become separated from their original collection or are simply proving difficult to identify. There’s something particularly intriguing about such odds and ends – the fact that, despite their circumstances, they’ve managed to resist categorisation and maintain some mystery.
Later in the day I mentioned the notion of ‘pending’ to Lee, the museum’s other curator, and he led me out to a row of barrels, next to the shed with the badger and snow leopard in them. Apparently, the barrels are filled with a solution of formalin (10% formaldehyde / 90% distilled water) in which the skins of a cheetah, a kangaroo and a couple of wildebeests currently soak. One or two of them, according to Lee’s calculations, have been marinating for over 30 years.
Of course, I’m now of the opinion that the museum should consider drying out the wildebeest (and defrosting the snow leopard) while I’m in residence. I’d like to be around to see them take shape. But the Booth, along with every other museum, has limited resources and an ever-tightening budget. Building a manikin for a wildebeest is probably not its number one priority.
Inevitably, the more I contemplate the Booth Museum’s pending projects the more I’m reminded of my own – the novels, screenplays and tv series in various states of preparation that never quite seem to justify the required time and attention. It’s a rare man or woman who can admit that some of their most interesting potential enterprises are simply never going to make it to the top of the pile.
At some point yesterday I learned that, in order to strip it down to its bones, a carcass may occasionally be buried, allowing the worms to do their stuff. According to staff at the Booth, a donkey in their possession was buried out near Stanmer Park some fifteen years ago. By now, it’s thought, the bones should be as clean as a whistle. Unfortunately, the member of staff who buried it has since left the museum and no-one’s entirely sure where it is.
Mick Jackson, Writer in Residence, Booth Museum @mickwriter