My reason for the visit was because, being a package designer in a previous life - when I worked for Huntley and Palmers as a biscuit tin designer, I was to be filmed for a 90 minute documentary.
After being made-up I went upstairs where Robert Opie, the founder of the collection, was conducting the interviews. I’d been asked to spend some time walking around the museum and noting down anything that sparked memories of my youth, or of other times gone by. Of course with so much to look at, from old nine inch black and white television sets to biscuit tins (some of which I’d designed myself in the fifties), I was able to rabbit on in front of the camera about the Sobranie individually coloured cocktail cigarettes we youths used to smoke – mainly to impress the girls – and about the memories, during the war, of my mother’s favourite perfume (An Evening in Paris) and her favourite cigarettes (Craven A) all of which were there in the museum. I especially remembered the after-shave ‘Old Spice’ and here’s the little story I related to Robert.
“Having served my time as a National Serviceman in Singapore, where I was drawing maps for the British Forces during the Malayan Emergency, I was returning home on a York aircraft, when the most wonderful aroma drifted down the aisle. It belonged to a sailor who had recently been in New York. At the risk of sounding effeminate (those were the days when men very rarely used after-shave) I asked the sailor what he was wearing. ‘Old Spice’ he replied. It had just that month been launched in the USA. As soon as I got home I spent a large portion of my demob money on a bottle. In its white porcelain container it still resides in my bathroom cabinet. And what’s more, after 50 years, it still retains its aroma!”
Jane was utterly transported by the memories she saw – especially the individual fruit pie she used to buy every evening at Waterloo Station on her way home from work. When she watched me being interviewed her enthusiasm was so apparent that Robert Opie asked her if she’d like to appear on camera as well. Which she did. She also, much to Brian’s delight, decided to donate some of her hoarded ‘treasures’ to the museum.
Eventually we negotiated the heavy traffic leaving London that evening and called into the ‘Little Angel’ for dinner, where we joined my neighbours, Chris and Nicky Williams, who had managed to find a quiet spot in the corner of the restaurant. Thank goodness, as the restaurant was extremely rowdy with the Henley rugby team and their supporters celebrating either a victory or a defeat – I didn’t bother to find out.
As I was home before ten, I framed and catalogued the miniature I’d finished on Friday. It’s of a Ugandan farmer.
Then I relaxed in front of the TV till about 1am. And so to bed - as they say.