If only car drivers had kept those red flags

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The Independent Online

Continuing our occasional series of people with very unusual jobs indeed.

No 78: A Man who Runs a Car Decor and Accessory Museum.

"When people take things for granted, they don't keep them, they don't record them and they don't look after them. It's as simple as that."

It's the eternal cry of the archaeologist and the museum curator. If only medieval man had taken better care of his soap dishes! If only the Venus de Milo had been allowed to hang on to her arms! Or if only, in Roger Badger's case, people had kept their red flags.

Red flags?

"In the very early days of motoring, men with red flags walked in front of a car to let people know this monster was coming. People know that. But have you ever seen one of those flags?"

Well, I don't think I ...

"No, you haven't. I never have. I have been collecting automobilia all my life, and I have never see one. Oh, if only someone had held on to one of those flags ... !"

If only someone had held on to one of those flags, it would have pride of place in Roger Badger's museum, the Motoring Accessory Museum, just outside Halesowen in the county of wherever Halesowen is. Roger Badger is convinced that what was added to cars by the owner is just as important as anything the maker provided.

"When we buy a car, it is tabula rasa. It is an empty canvas. It is a piece of unworked marble. It is what we do to it thereafter that counts. In the last few weeks, half the cars in England have sprouted St George flags. That's amazing! It never happened when England got to the World Cup two years ago. It doesn't happen in wartime. But suddenly, for a fortnight, we went England flag crazy. Look at these photos ..."

They are taken from a bridge over the M4. In some shots, more than 75 per cent of the cars sport the cross of St George.

"Imagine how many flags there would have been if England had a decent football team!" he says. "No, just joking."

So he went out and bought a whole load of St George flags?

"Now you're the one who's joking! The day after England lost, I picked them up off the street."

In the Car Accessory Museum, there are other examples of things which people stuck on their cars for just one day in one year. Red noses. Red squashed tomatoes. Red noses. Red squashed tomatoes. Red noses. Red squashed tomatoes ...

"Yes, well, red noses and red tomatoes have been the main things to go on the front," admits Roger Badger, "but there are lots of other things we've seen on, and in, cars. I have masses of those stickers which used to go in the back of cars. I don't mean "Baby On Board" or "If You Can Read This, You're Driving Too Close", though, of course, we've got those. I'm thinking of those double entendre stickers, saying "Wind Surfers Do It Standing Up", and "Squash Players Do It Against A Wall". Remember when they were all the rage? And do you recall when couples put their names on stickers inside the windscreen, like "Ken and Shirley", or "Wayne and Karen"?

Yes. They were inexpressibly vulgar, weren't they?

"Listen, titch," says Roger Badger, playfully pinching my ear rather painfully, "everything about cars is rather vulgar. That's the point. The furry dice. The dangling sheep. The Catholic souvenirs. The crucifixes ... It's all people culture."

Crucifixes?

"In Catholic countries. In hot countries. In countries where they have little Venetian screens in cars, and bead frameworks for the driver to sit back against to stop his shirt getting sweaty. In countries where Jesus dangles on a cross from the rear view mirror ..."

So, remember. If you've got a set of St George flags you no longer need, don't send them to Roger Badger. He's got a few thousand already. Red flags is what he needs.

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