|One wall of one room!|
I had missed out on the previously arranged visit and so jumped at the chance when Allard invited me. Devon is quite a way from Sheffield and due to quite a number of late nights recently, I decided to take the train. I managed to get a direct connection to Taunton where a grinning Allard was waiting to take me the rest of the way. He said that I was the navigator!! Apparently this place is so far off the beaten track that a Sat-nav is definitely not to be trusted! Last time they nearly killed themselves on some very narrow windy "tracks". In fact Allard was not using his normal car because it would not be able to manage the rather rough terrain. I gulped and picked up the printout with navigation instructions with some trepidation! We arrived about 30 minutes later to James' rather lovely house and were greeted by James, Lindsey and 2 rather exuberant and noisy dogs. Very odd looking museum, I thought.
In we went and within a few rooms I saw the above photographed view! OMG!!! I have asked James whether he wants a lodger or even to adopt me - he didn't seem too keen on the idea. I did tell Lindsey (who is not at all a puzzler) that she is a saint! In fact I think the present Mrs S should look at this collection and be grateful!!
We began a tour where James showed us the organisation of the collection. The glass cabinets are only a small part of it - the lower areas house drawer after drawer after drawer of puzzles of every conceivable type. He has even classified them, photographed them and solved a large majority of them. Many of these are very old, very fragile and of huge historical significance. This collection is one-of-a-kind and the like of which will never be seen again. It is a huge responsibility that James has taken on and, whilst I drool over all the toys, I do not envy James the toil and load that rests on his shoulders.
We broke for a spot of delicious lunch and a glass of cider - and then interrupted the tour to play with some toys. James said we could play with anything we fancied (because we are real puzzle people, we could even try the delicate things) - his only rule was that we had to put anything we disassembled back together again. The only exception to this was the Berrocal statues which he loves playing with himself. Allard chose to do Romeo and Juliet and even he (Master puzzler that he is) began to sweat during the reassembly - I think it must have taken him an hour! I had a go at 4 different (considerably smaller) Berrocal anvil statues and absolutely loved them. James is a dealer and has quite a number of these for sale if you are interested. Unfortunately they are out of my price range!!!
|A few Berrocal anvil statues|
The tour continued later that afternoon - there are another 3 large rooms full of exciting, beautiful and historically important puzzles. Mixed in with it are newer plastic puzzles - at first this seems rather incongruous having a Gear cube and Gear pyraminx mixed in with a 300 year old ivory but says a lot for James' eclectic tastes. It also reminds you that James was the original owner of Pentangle puzzles in the UK and was the first to import the Rubik's cube out of Hungary, several years before Ideal did so (this explains why I was sure that my first Rubik experience must have been before I was 15 in 1981).
At the end of the day, I signed the visitors book and left with Allard. Very sad to leave and desperate to go back. The hospitality was fabulous, the experience was one of a kind. It left me feeling rather humble about the shear toil that has gone into this museum and also very worried about the future of such a priceless collection - it will never be matched!
Thank you James, Lindsey and Allard for a truly wonderful day! If you will have me, then I will come back.