The Old Curator

by Adam Acidophilus

In a dusty museum in an old part of town, hidden behind the library and town hall, at a creaking desk there toiled an old curator. His clothes were musty, his spectacles bent, his beard was quite untended — and he sat there all day with his fountain pen and ledger, attending to his collections and his labelling.

“Excuse me,” people would say, “but you may be interested to know that I found this piece of pottery on my allotment. Is it perchance quite valuable?”

“It is not,” he would tell them. “It is broken.”

“But is it rare?” they would say.

“No,” he would snap. ”It is a flower pot.”

“Excuse me,” another person would say, ”but we have found this old oil painting in our attic. Is it priceless?”

“It is worthless,” he would tell them. “The numbers are showing through the paint.”

“A friend of ours has told us that he thought it might be a Leonardo.”

“Get out,” the old curator would tell them. “You are wasting my time.”

And so he would go on, for year after year, finding and dating and labelling — his ancient coins, his broken plaques, his lost ephemera, the bones of kings and dinosaurs.

“Excuse me,” people would interrupt, as he attempted to complete his magnum opus — an annotated history of the locality — “but we found this egg in a bird’s nest. Is it quite valuable?”

“Only if you boil it,” he would tell them. “Now fuck off.”

Now the people of this town — who were a law abiding lot, if somewhat stupid and uninterested in history — paid their rates and taxes, and by dint of that the costs of the museum; and did not see why if they paid the wages of this old curator they should tolerate his mocking and his insults; and took the matter to the mayor, who took the matter to the board that managed the museum.

“But he is an excellent curator!” said a member of the board.

“He has been here half a century!” said another.

“This is a place of learning, not a popular television series designed to titillate the greedy half-brains of an ignorant and unsophisticated populace,” said the chairman of the board. “Innit?”

“Well, sort it out anyway,” said the mayor. “He is upsetting the general public.”

And so it was decided to put a sign upon the old curator’s door reading ‘Private’, and another on another reading ‘Enquiries’, and to place a beautiful young woman assistant curator behind this second door — who would interface in a proactive step-change with the differently intelligent ratepayers.

“Excuse me,” they might say, ”but I just found this nail in the side of my tool shed.”

“Oh my God,” she would gasp, “what an extraordinary object! Do you know who built the shed? Do you know why? And do you know the year it was constructed?

“This is an awesome and era-defining moment,” she would continue. “Nails like this have been discovered in the ships of the Vikings, the windmills and the shtetls and the churches of Mittel Europe, Shakespeare’s theatre, the cross — and a number of local hardware stores, obviously.”

“And what is it worth?” the people would ask.

“Who can say?” would say the beautiful curator.

And so they would leave, and run off crying, brandishing the nail, and get on television, and cry again.

More callers would call. “Excuse me,” they might say. “But I found this stuffed bear in a cupboard.”

“It is an ikon,” she would tell them. “Clearly used in ancient bear worship. The missing eye, the missing ear, the missing arm and leg: all speak of ritual and dark purpose. Would you sell it?”

“Never!” they would spit. “For it is my protector!” And they would run off brandishing the bear and get on television as well.

“That woman is an idiot,” the old curator grumbled — when he was called before the annual general meeting. “She speaks nothing but rubbish and has disturbed the continuity of the district. Our oldest buildings have been vandalised by tourists, our oldest trees have been felled by treasure hunters, and the museum itself is being wrecked by the vast queue that stands day and night in the lobby, and all the way up the staircase to her enquiries desk. You see those people digging up the road outside? They are looking for Egyptian mosaics!”

Meanwhile, the beautiful assistant curator — who was too busy to come to the meeting — persisted in her dubious deductions.

“I don’t believe it!” she would say. “This is, surely, conclusive evidence of an unsuccessful attack by alien beings. For not only did this craft travel vast distances through outer space — as evidenced by the wear and tear — but the size reveals that these aliens were very much smaller than we humans, and travelled under the power of what we might call batteries…

“We must put this on display! We must put this up for auction! We are rich beyond our wildest dreams! Put it over there with the daguerreotype of Robin Hood and the signed Beethoven album.”

“She’s mad!” said the old curator — who was still at the meeting. “She is destroying our past and, if you think about it, our future!”

“She is making the museum more relevant to the needs of the wider community,” said the mayor. “And you’re fired.”

Moral: Lucky it was only a museum.

© Adam Acidophilus 2014