Monday, September 15, 2014

One Last Pic - the Souvenir Not Taken

There was one last photo I almost forgot to post. Good thing I remembered, because this one was just too good — or too horrible — to pass up.

Nearly every major attraction around the UK (ancient castles, occupied palaces, museums, churches, etc) sells basically the same touristy souvenirs: pencil sharpener catapults, medieval-style chess sets, pewter mugs, fridge magnets and the like; even their own custom-made spirits or wines. It's pretty rare, but sometimes you come across a souvenir shop with something pretty unique, like the sponge sticks at the Canterbury Roman Museum. (Don't know what a sponge stick is for? Do some reading on ancient Roman hygiene practices.)

But what we found at the back end of the souvenir shop in the basement of the White Tower in the Tower of London (not in the other TOL shops, just the one in the White Tower), was so unexpected, and goes so far beyond anything else into the shadowy realm where bizarrely cool and completely inappropriate intersect, that I just had to share a picture of it.

Behold (above): the do-it-yourself paper executioner's diorama.

That's right, you know those little dioramas you can buy for your kids at places like museums or Science World, where the kids cut out or detach little paper segments and fit them together, using tabs and slots, to assemble a structure like a famous landmark, maybe the Eiffel Tower? Same principle here, except the goal is to not to build a castle or a bus or something, but rather an executioner and his victim at the chopping block, and a torturer (sorry, "pain technician" for all of my fellow Babylon 5 fans out there) and his victim on the rack.

I had actually walked past the thing in a get-me-out-of-this-tourist-trap fugue, but my wife caught sight of it and pulled me over. And it nearly blew my mind.

The souvenir shop had it an assembled model under glass and attached to motors so you could see how the paper figures could pivot as they went about their grim tasks. Boxes of the diorama kits were stacked nearby for bloody-minded tourists to snag on their way to the till.

It was one of those items that comes out of nowhere that was just so very, very wrong, and yet because of its uniqueness among the other mass-produced tchotchkes and specific and accurate link to some of the sites and activities within the Tower, it was also perfect.

We had to turn our backs on it though, because even though it was only the first full day of our trip to the UK, I knew we were going to be bogged-down with books, and whisky and clothes that we'd buy along the way, and I didn't think we'd have room in our luggage or that we'd want the extra weight of it. Moreover, I couldn't think of anywhere in our house we could display the thing. We also thought of a couple of relatives who would really get a kick out of it, but decided against getting it for them, as others might get the wrong idea.

Still, you've gotta give whoever thought this item up (and whoever agreed to stock it in the souvenir shop) credit for coming up with something so horribly wacky as to be almost suitable.

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