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...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sticky Fingers

By now, I've admitted to collecting Baccarat and Lalique crystal, opera glasses, fountain pens, royal ducks, and having a stash of 4 of the oddest items ever assembled in a left-at-the-kerb bag.

There's more. Much more, but I'll spoon it out in bites rather than dollops. I wouldn't want you to think I'm totally gaga.

One of my favourite collections harkens back to the days when I used to pilfer items that caught my fancy in places I travelled to.

First, I used to take pebbles, stones, even patches of grass from locales where my travels took me -- which I'd then replant or assemble in my grandmother's garden in Henley. Many years later, I found out stone collecting is one of the Prince of Wales' hobbies, which made me stop toute-de-suite. There's nothing more unsophisticated than copying the gentry's bizarre little habits. I'd be darning my socks or asking Garrard's to refinish my silverware next. Ick.

After that, I became one of those people who take tea towels or snatch loo rolls from famous places -- I have an EIIR bog-roll from Windsor Castle somewhere. I'm not proud of this, mind. I only act as if I am.

After a myriad of other collecting incarnations, I have finally settled on the theft of cigarette ashtrays from aeroplanes. I love this collection of mine, and display it grandly around my room.

Plane ashtrays are quite difficult to get these days, since most international flights prohibit smoking, of course, but that never stopped me. Before 9/11, I would even ask to board a plane to collect something I had "forgotten", and invariably, the stewardess would let me. I'd go to my "seat" and snatch one of these beauties as trophies.

There is a caveat to all this intrepid petit larceny. I don't smoke. Never have, unless you count the year I decided to be a pseudo-intellectual at Oxford, and smoked clove fags from Indonesia. They smelt like shoe-glue on fire, so not soon after, I realised my beatnik look needed an overhaul. The clove ciggies went. The all-black Julian Stallabrass wardrobe stayed.

Today I am one of those depressing types which abhor cigarettes, and look at smokers with a mixture of condenscencion, pity, and gloating that one day soon, they will have lungs which look like tar. Hehe.

But I will never give away, or consider my aeroplane ashtray collection a type of hypocrisy, apart from the inevitable realisation that thieving is wrong, and I'm too old to be doing that anyway. It's depressing to become an old prig. The kind who always returns their library books on time, and (wait for it), is secretly proud of that.

My ashtrays are the hit of any party I throw, and with good reason. The moment someone looks at them, they know there's a story behind it -- a wonderful, definitely naughty, quite deliciously anarchic story too.

"I can have a collection like that!", people think.

And I'm here to tell you, yes, yes you can.


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