Greetings, friend. Please enter my abode – “The New Curiosity Shop”. Who knows what delights you will find within? My name is Mr Odessa and I can do you a more than reasonable deal on anything that takes your fancy in my humble emporium. Just ask; or, better still, let me show you. If you would pull the curtain aside. That’s it, step right through… Apologies for any dust – business has been quiet of late. Now let me tell you about some of my items:
I sort of inherited this piece from the shop’s previous owner… yes, it is a harpsichord. It’s a kind of piano with strings, you know. I’ve done some research and a piece in this condition is very unusual. It must be wind-up; sometimes it plays itself. A few bars here and there, in the mornings and at dusk. Original timer must still be working. Amazing, that. It shouldn’t do that, you say? Well, look, I think it’s an added bonus. Incredibly rare, y’know. Worth an absolute bomb. I wouldn’t even sell it but I could do with the floor space. I mean, it’s beautiful, look at that detail. The gold and bits, all that engraved pattern looks like planets, doesn’t it? But it’s actually just made up, doesn’t match our solar system. Sun’s in the wrong place. Not sure why they would decorate it in such a fashion. Maybe you could find out…? It’s yours for five grand. I’ll even deliver…
Now here’s a piece with an interesting history: a game that is not a game. In 1814, the Grand Duke of Oldenburg had his craftsmen build a plaything for his son Jens, a frail boy who was born with his hands and feet on backwards. The boy had not the intellect for chess, nor the body for athletic sport. The game board was, I am told, carved from a single piece of the elm that fell on the occasion of his fifth birthday, crushing his mother to death and striking him dumb. It is said that the board was cursed by the boy’s governess. The woman was hanged for witchcraft and went to the gallows proclaiming her innocence and the downfall of the duchy. The boy? He played the game but once and was never seen again. At least, not in his original form… I call this piece The Mousetrap. A transformative experience. Step onto this board and your very surroundings conspire against you. Walls close in. Friends hiss and claw. Your home becomes a cage. Your very life becomes a fight to survive. Play if you dare, for you are the mouse, and the trap is everywhere…
Rock memorabilia? Seriously? Oh hang on, have a look at this, my friend. I know it seems like nothing more than a fragment of bone you might throw to a mangy dog. But let me assure you that this
is none other than a genuine section of Elvis’s pelvis – that crude, sexually gyrating thing that caused so much consternation and moral outrage in Middle America.
Not to your taste? Let me see.
How about these little nubbins? I have it on extremely reliable authority that these are the genuine tips of Tony Iommi’s fingers, lopped off in that notorious sheet metal factory accident long before his days with Black Sabbath.
Too near the knuckle? Yes, sir, I’ll excuse the pun.
Let me clear these items back into the drawer. I think I have something that might be more to your liking. Here it is. I know it’s small. It’s a bit scratched and chipped, but I can see from the twinkle that’s come to your eye that you’re interested now.
Yes, it is a guitar plectrum.
Its last owner was none other than Joe Strummer.
If only you knew the fingers and thumbs that have held this plectrum. Robert Johnson stole it from the Devil when he made his deal at that infamous crossroads. Hank Williams and Buddy Holly are amongst its previous owners. Jimi Hendrix carried it across the Atlantic. Marc Bolan was its custodian before it passed to Mr Strummer.
It is imbued with unbelievable power. Over the decades it somehow galvanised all of the latent energy that was sucked into it in honky-tonk bars and recording studios. Imagine the iconic power that the Christian crucifix garners from the veneration it receives and you will have an inkling of what I am alluding to.
The plectrum is a weapon of war, my friend. If you are truly thinking about purchasing it then know that those who fear the plectrum always seek to destroy its owner.
I know those I’ve mentioned supposedly died from varying afflictions and accidents. Perhaps the true cause of their departure was kept secret for good reason.
What does the plectrum do? Do you recall ever seeing an old black and white photograph of Woody Guthrie? The one where he is wielding an acoustic guitar with the words “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on it? Well, the industrious Mr Guthrie’s scratched some words onto the plectrum as well. If I angle it into the light I am sure that you can still manage to read them.
Do you see? “This plectrum does kill vampires.”
Not clear to you? Just scribble! I should lend you my all-seeing glasses, a relic from Mr Huygens himself. Still, even without them I can see you are a person of distinction, so you’ve probably done plenty of travelling in your time. But there’s one place you’ve never been and can never get to, not even with the help of this little book here. It may not look like much, dusty and spotted, but you’d be surprised how hard it was to get hold of and hang on to. I’ve lost count of the people who’ve tried to sneak it off my shelves.
No, it’s not a treasure map. It’s a guide to a place that’s worth more than treasure, a country that hasn’t been visited since the days when old Atlantis ruled the waves and there were dragons in the mountains of Greece. People used to sell all their belongings to go to the country where the trees sing and people can grow wings. Nobody can find the way any more, not even with the help of the guide. But anyone who reads the book may at least visit the place in their dreams and half remember it when they wake. And one day, perhaps, the book’s owner will understand its riddles and open the way once again…
The truth is: I keep this piece for sentimental reasons. All right, I’ll tell you a little about it. It looks much like any other chess knight: a white knight of course, the black ones were made of something different, no, no, that doesn’t matter. Just look closer, you see, there is the tiniest of horns protruding from the horse’s forehead. Yes, that’s right, it is a unicorn.
They were beautiful creatures and they came to us if we called them, rushing through the forest and laying their heads down on the ground in honour of our purity; we were children after all. It’s the best way to catch them.
We beckoned them to follow us out of the forest, those white bands of unicorns, and they ran alongside us. It was a joyous moment; that part of it.
The processing plant was just outside the forest. The men were waiting and got them into a corral before stunning them and sending them to be butchered.
This is something beautiful, isn’t it? There was a whole set once. Yes they were wonderful creatures and their horns are precious beyond belief. And oh, the taste of their flesh is beyond imagination…
Now then, here’s an item that has an interesting history. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a Faberge egg. Look – here is
the outer shell, crafted in white enamel. Open this up and you get a gold interior. Inside that – don’t be afraid, come a little closer – is a gold hen. The head comes off and there is a diamond crown with a ruby pendant. This is, in fact, the first-ever Faberge egg, made in 1885. But I direct your attention to two points. Firstly, it was thought that the ruby pendant was lost. But here it is! How? I hear you ask. Aha. That is the first of the egg’s secrets. The second is this – the crown comes apart to reveal a treasure still more fabulous than any other the egg contains. A treasure for which the Tsars would have given their right arms. And here it is, within your grasp. It is the ability to go back in time, to travel the roads of history, the ways of space, time and eternity. If you will buy this egg, you will discover how to make the secret work. But you have to become the owner first.
Hmm, you’re not even going to ask me the price. Ah well, how about… It may look like just a dusty old pipe, but I assure you it has a pedigree second to none. Not a smoker, sir? This is no ordinary pipe and will have no detriment to your physical health.
Its previous owner was a police consultant, believed to be a genius by all accounts, in Queen Victoria‘s time. Yes, that’s right, you named him. Fictional? He’s real in this world, is he not? Well, the Victorian age was a long time ago, I do get confused. I’ll just fetch you a glass of water.
Don’t you feel better now you have stopped coughing? I knew the pipe would make you see things differently, that’s the beauty of it. This item is priceless, but as a man of business I do have to make a charge. Your soul? What makes you think the price would be your soul? I thought in this age of Science no-one believed in souls. Sir, that is poppycock. I apologise, but there may have been some substance I was not aware of remaining in the pipe. I am but a normal man, whatever monstrous vision you may believe you see before you. Sir, come back!
Do not depart yet, please. Odessa commands it. There are other levels to explore in “The New Curiosity Shop”. I can do you a deal on, literally, anything…
Clockhouse London Writers Contributing | Allen Ashley, Madeleine Beresford, David McGroarty, David Turnbull, Sandra Unerman, Gary Budgen, Rima Revereaux, Mark Lewis
Twitter | #AllenAshleyUK
Photographer | Kathrina Wainstok