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John Walsh

John Walsh: I'd visit a museum about kissing at the movies


Citizens of Las Vegas are justly proud of its many achievements (putting a city in the middle of a desert, boasting a hotel room where gamblers pay extra to play poker with a $20m Picasso on the wall) and it's interesting to see the city fathers spending £27m of public money to honour a great bunch of guys.

The Mob Museum has just opened – on Valentine's Day, which was the occasion for a celebrated massacre 83 years ago last Tuesday. Apart from offering a loving mock-up of a wall pocked with Tommy gun bullets from that event, the museum tips a fedora to gangsters, mobsters, wise guys and flamboyant killers down the years. Implements of terminal dispatch are on riotous display, as are stove-in heads and body bags, though not, sadly, an exhibit of someone sleeping with the fishes.

Bad taste museums are some of the joys of the leisure industry. Who could resist a trip to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington DC (est 1862), where you can inspect the bullet that killed Lincoln along with fragments of his bone and hair from his skull, and compare a smoker's lung to a coal miner's lung? (It's not a first-date kinda place.) But British museums can hold their heads high among celebrants of the quirky and bizarre: there's the Dog Collar Museum in Maidstone, the insanely groovy Pencil Museum in Keswick, and a by-no-means-tragic Lawnmower Museum in Southport.

What we need, however, are some new British museums for things which, like gangsters in Vegas, were once central to our lives but became outmoded in the last half-century. Sheds, for instance, have become hi-tech home cinemas or multi-MacBook desktop creativity centres, rather than ramshackle hideaway garden retreats for ageing hobbyists. We need a Museum of Real Sheds, exhibiting a range of pipes and deckchairs, complete sets of Health & Efficiency magazine, empty bottles of Wincarnis tonic wine and a whiskery old geezer in the corner saying, "I'll get my soldering iron." A Tape Recorder Museum would show off the vast, imperishable Grundig reel-to-reel machines on which we once recorded "My Generation" and "Flowers in the Rain", machines we thought were the last word in techno-wizardry but which were made redundant by cassettes overnight.

Filmgoers could enjoy a nostalgia trip at the Museum of Peculiar Things You Used to Do In the Cinema. In a specially designed "Odeon" setting, you can experience: a) staring at a single image on the screen for five boring minutes while an orchestra plays the overture to West Side Story or Mutiny on the Bounty; b) the Intermission, when everyone used to buy Kia-Ora orange squash and ask each other, "Why has this movie stopped in the middle?"; and c) the thrill of having everyone beside, behind and in front of you smoking, kissing and sometimes doing both.

Of course, if we want our own Mob Museum, we've got plenty of personnel to fill it with. Teddy Boys from the 1950s, Mods and Rockers from the 1960s, Skinheads from the 1970s. Happy times. When London teens are stabbed to death today for looking disrespectfully at a sociopath in a grey hooded T-shirt, you can feel a warm glow for the days when thugs had the decency to dress up before they thumped you. When 200 skins pursued you across Clapham Common, and kicked you senseless with their Doc Marten boots, at least you could think, "Okay, this isn't Vegas – but it's got a certain style."