to the Life in a Lens 'Blog'
one and all to our 'blog' page. Blogs can be a personal moan
or an informative presentation of straight, technical informative.
Ours is neither – it is our assessment of what is true.
philosophical definition of truth, in the minimalist sense,
says that there is no such thing as a 'definition of truth'
and the only thing you can say about truth is that a sentence
like ‘there is a 'camera' there’ is only true
because 'there is a 'camera' and it is 'there'. This is a
trivial thing to say but it is the only thing to say according
to 'minimalist truth'. 'Absolute truth' however, as an 'absolute'
is even more difficult to render or to comprehend, so let's
seems a long time ago now since 1996, when I first dreamed
up the idea of creating my own museum. I have to say though
that I wish that particular thought were in the future, because
with hindsight I wouldn’t have to do it. I must have
been bored at the time, or perhaps I felt I needed a big project
to keep me occupied.
In the Graphics industry, work at that time was drying up
a little – everywhere. Desktop publishing and in-house
advertising and marketing were taking their toll on normal
agency and freelance work. Not only that, every time you phoned
someone in the business world, for whatever reason, even if
you wanted to buy something from them, they seemed to be out
to lunch, on holiday, or both. I eventually decided that if
you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, but rather
than go on holiday myself, which would have been a better
option, I foolishly thought of creating my own tourist venue
to ‘head them off at the pass’, so to speak –
hence the museum.
I was a hard slog. It took eighteen months or more just to
find a suitable property and then a further three years to
renovate it and install the museum. During this time the investment
was enormous with little income. The Derbyshire Dales District
Council were very helpful and reasonably positive, apart from
one or two people who could not see a positive side of anything
to do with Matlock Bath if it glued itself onto the inside
of their specs – they seemed to view Matlock Bath with
disgust and any newcomers with suspicion. However, although
a little paranoid and paradoxical in their outlook, we were
glad at the time that least some of them considered Matlock
Bath an important conservation area and cared about it –
disgusted was the clue! Derision can be a positive emotion
if it hides a caring side born of good intentions. Anyway,
the conservation area protection fitted in with our own intentions
for the building and the museum concept nicely. It also potentially
made Matlock Bath a nice place to live too.
We took Matlock Bath at face value. We didn’t mind the
fact that there was an amusement arcade next door because
it is well presented and is also an attraction itself, being
attached to the Matlock Bath Aquarium. Besides, as we like
to say, museums and amusements live happily side by side here
in Matlock Bath, given the right presentation.
In those early days – for the first full year, anyway
– we opened the museum every day to gauge the business
potential in Matlock Bath. That was a very useful exercise
and has helped to this very day in sorting out our opening
times for both the museum and The Victorian Teashop. Getting
that right in Matlock Bath is essential, and not at all as
obvious as a trip down here on a Sunday or ‘average’
weekday might suggest. For a start, there is no such thing
as an average weekday and not even an average Sunday and the
best way to fail in Matlock Bath is getting your opening times
wrong – especially if you employ staff. Having said
that, keeping staff can also be a problem if you can’t
offer them regular work too – which is a bit of a ‘catch
Before we opened the teashop as both a facility of the museum
and as a new entrance, we were a bit hampered by the fact
that we only had a single doorway from the street to the entrance
hall to work with, which restricted visitor numbers because
people are so timid and disinterested these days, but we worked
around it with good graphics, lighting and also a slideshow
monitor in the doorway to attract attention – in short,
we made it work.
The original doorway was also flanked by two cafés
(one of which is now thankfully our teashop). Eventually,
the other café became a chip shop, which was even worse
– the owners of both these establishments seemed to
consider our museum as some sort of distraction to their trade
potential and were not particularly helpful. We always had
the feeling of being squeezed out, which was annoying considering
the amount of investment we had made. We were also surprised
at the lack of foresight, bearing in mind the fact that our
museum was just the sort of thing the revitalization of Matlock
Bath needed. It was from those early days that we realized
just how disgruntled and naïve people are – and
then of course we had the public to contend with.
Even now, we find it surprising difficult to get people through
the door from the café and into the museum –
‘one small step for a man – a giant leap for
the Mr average ’, which is a pity because they
are missing a rare treat that will never be repeated here
in Matlock Bath or perhaps anywhere. People are lazy, preoccupied
and disinterested. They base their lives almost exclusively
on animal needs and functions with perhaps one eye on that
extra special treat which remains always ‘just around
the corner’ so they don’t have to really
bother with it. Sometimes I get a little dismayed by the fact
that we get many more visitors in the café toilet than
we ever will achieve in the museum – we also have to
deal with the drains too.
In fact, it has been quite an experience for a creative person.
Creative people tend to need an audience – it is quite
a shock to find that at least 95% of the potential audience
is asleep and always will be – or as Russell Brand puts
it “oxygen thieves”. You might wonder if it is
hard not to become demoralized and lack luster doing something
like a museum in modern day ‘thick Britain’,
but I just look out of the window and ask myself “do
I want to become like that” – no, I’ll stick
with the wacky ideas. Besides, the 5% are well worth doing
it all for and does anyone ever have a bigger audience than
that anyway? Even Madonna? To be safe, I always make sure
that I have plenty of irons in the fire and that the fire
never goes out.
Fire can be dangerous though, in whatever form. Fire can also
cleanse and sometimes that creative fire, or urge, as it can
also be known, has put into question our presence here in
Matlock Bath with either our museum or our wonderful teashop.
The teashop, although still occasionally difficult, is probably
just about as positive and successful as you can expect a
business to be here, perhaps a little more so, but the museum,
for all its positive energy and creative endeavour was always
going to be a difficult prospect in modern Britain and has
been a disappointment to me, if only from the point of view
that it has revealed huge misgivings in human nature and ambition.
The museum takes a lot of promotion too and frankly, much
more work than it’s return, either financially or otherwise
– I would happily accept the ‘otherwise’,
since the teashop pretty much supports the museum anyway,
but I have always been quite a positive person and the experience
here has been occasionally very negative indeed – “Hell
is other people”, as Jean Paul Sartre said – and
if it weren’t for the 'iron in my soul', or
the fire, there would always be the possibility of
becoming bitter and twisted.
‘Bitter and twisted’ is for losers, aspiring to
greater things is better by far. So through it all, I have
always been sure that the museum works and that it is Matlock
Bath that ‘currently’ does not work, or certainly
not up to its huge and wasted potential. That statement is
true for other businesses too and it is sad that so many businesses
and good people have failed here for all the wrong reasons
– great potential come and gone – spat out by
this historically weird unsettled settlement that is lost
in a deep gorge.
odd association with the coast (which is over a hundred miles
away) has made Matlock Bath a ‘backwater on a busy
street’ – passing buses with staring eyes,
visitors ‘walking on’ to somewhere else. Matlock
Bath has recently waved goodbye to all the revitalization
potential it ever needed – it does it all the time.
It wants for it, and then rejects it like post-natal depression
– at the end of the day though the depression is mine.
You need the heart of a lion to survive here and although
we’ve proved that success is possible – at a price
– even the toughest and most determined lions sometimes
yawn and walk away – even Madonna has to occasionally
Hague, 27th Dec, 2008