The Pangolin

16 Mar

I grew up in a small provincial town. It had a ramshackle, mulligan stew of a museum which lurked beneath the main structure of the town hall. The entrance to the museum was guarded by a moth-eaten stuffed Polar Bear which reared in a threatening pose with a glassy-eyed stare. Somehow it never looked realistic or frightening even to my timid ten-year old self. Within the low-ceilinged, ill-lit chambers of the museum were jumbled selections of dusty glass cases with collections of coins, flint axes and pottery shards, in no particular order of date. There were bird’s eggs and maps, charters and curios from foreign travels. In one case near the exit was a stuffed pangolin. With its plated armour of horny scales it looked somewhere between a miniature dinosaur and an anteater. There was little explanation as to what a pangolin was or where it is found. This very imperfect set of information was perfect for raising my nascent imagination. What I didn’t know I filled in from what I could imagine.

These days the museum has moved to a new, modern site which allows easy access and is well laid-out and welcoming. Something I found on an archaeological site is exhibited there, and a much greater find, a near complete bronze-age sea-going boat is upstairs after being found, excavated and conserved. It was found by a friend of mine and is a stunning exhibit, well worth the entrance fee on its own. The information provided is first class and complete for all but doctorate level students.

My memory is more like the old museum with random memories in forgotten corners. I am prone to making random connections between pieces of retained information. Sometimes it is difficult to follow my lines of reasoning and connections, even for me. What I am certain of is that I would not have been inspired by the new museum to look up what a pangolin was in the encyclopaedia.

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