A museum with a difference
What is the Novelty Automation? Some years back we used to visit the mad amusement arcade on Southwold Pier with its home-built machines. Never having been a fan of traditional arcades, I found these bizarre attractions to be a completely different experience with their irreverent and quirky themes. Everything is home-built by enthusiasts led by Tim Hunkin, a cartoonist and engineer, and have a distinctly home-made feel to them, using old school-style electromagnetics, pulleys and gears.
So if you visit you might have a go at the Mobility Masterclass – cross the three lane motorway with a zimmer frame to get to the Rivoli Dance Rooms, the Gene Forecaster – provide a hair to get your DNA analysed and your personal expiry date, and Art Apocalypse – join the armed response unit and take down a Barbara Hepworth. Other favourites include a vicious dog which dribbles saliva (I’m hoping it was just water) on your hand whilst you try to keep it in the machine as long as possible before it lunges at you, and also a mobile chiropodist who examines your foot, weirdly disappearing down into the machine and then popping up again with a diagnosis.
There is a gentle political dimension to the humour too with machines such as Whack a Banker – discipline the reckless with a rubber hammer, The Housing Ladder – try to buy the house before you get too old, and a machine which allows you to buy honours for cash, just like businessmen.
The exhibition on the pier is quite extensive and in a lovely setting but if you can’t get to Southwold you can visit a scaled down version in Central London. Just five minutes from Holborn Station is a tiny ‘museum’ with a selection of the machines to try out. It is free entry but you have to buy tokens to have a go on anything which you will want to do. On our most recent visit we tried out My Nuke – a personal nuclear reactor in which you must carefully load the radioactive waste or risk a melt down, including radiation shields and evacuation procedures (emergency calls are charged at 8p/minute according to the instructions and you are legally responsible for the disposal of your nuclear waste). We also tried out the Is It Art? booth where you can insert an item and have it judged for its artistic qualities. Sadly my TWSBI fountain pen pen failed the test getting a serious shake of the head from the curator.
There is also an Instant Eclipse booth, an Auto-Frisk machine and the Expressive Photo Booth – prepare to be surprised into producing a seriously passport-unfriendly photograph. It is all good fun and though the ‘experiences’ are very much on the basic side it is really the ideas that make the visit worthwhile. A tiny gem in the big city.