The collector: Kate Farley, artist, designer and lecturer, Birmingham (UK).
The collection: London Buses
The story behind the collection...
I refer to them as ‘my buses’, but yes they are London specific – that was the purpose of the collection. I have gathered old and battered metal toy London buses. It is almost an anti-collection as it is intentional that they are not new, not pristine and hold no value to others but the wear and tear is what I like. I don’t catalogue them and serial numbers are of no interest to me.
On moving to London to do my MA in Book Arts at Camberwell in the late 1990s I was very interested in the ‘environmental image’ that one builds up to get to know a city; a sense of place and belonging constructed from the routes that we take. As well as plenty of urban pattern, form and colour, the Routemaster became a great symbol of my time there.
My first bus was bought in 1997, the year I moved to London, and I have about 15. The most recent was the Olympic 2012 one, the only new one, it even has a box. I felt an obligation with that one.
The Routemaster is my favourite design, over the Stagecoach no question, but also the older and the most played with the better. I like the adverts on the side too. Retro graphics certainly appeal to me.
I have a simple, very narrow, long white metal shelf as if it is a road, high on the wall up the stairs. The buses share the space with a couple of toy taxis and two road signs. It reminds me of the Walworth Road that I have spent hours on, slowly heading for central London.
The tiny, very worn Matchbox Routemaster that has been re-painted is my favourite as it was my first one. It signified a confirmation that London had become the place I wanted to live at that time. I actually bought it in Edinburgh but I repatriated it. It felt a significant moment when I decided to make that purchase. Ironically several were acquired while walking round muddy fields in Norfolk (my county of birth) on the Sunday carboot.
I would always catch a bus before the tube any day. Living, as I did, between Peckham and Elephant & Castle there were so many buses but the 12 was a favourite of mine. It was an amazing route linking Peckham, Trafalgar Square and Oxford Street. I loved the fact that I got to know how London streets piece together by using the bus compared to the disorientation that coming out of a tube station creates. I also loved being able to jump off the open back of the bus when traffic meant it was quicker to walk.
I haven’t got any ambition to become a ‘completer’ in the sense of fulfilling the retail collection. Creating the collection has served its purpose but its important for what it represents to me.
I haven't met any other bus collectors either, but they do attract the attention of children, including my own and they can’t quite believe that I have more buses than them. I think my choice of collection shows that I like red and I’m a fan of public transport when it works!
Other collections? ...where do I start with confessing? I’m a collector - some would argue I am a hoarder. Metamec clocks, train tickets, maps, post office labels, folded-back corners from the Guardian magazine to name a few and the latest collection is one of disposable forks. I blame it on two things. I’m a twin, so having shared most belongings early on in life I think I took control of MY things in the shape of gathering, and suddenly there’s a collection. On a more serious note, my father died when I was a child, and the unquestionable security of permanence was shattered. I can’t help thinking I became a collector to provide security and control and create evidence of a life being lived. As a dear friend says as a warning, if you have more than three its an ‘embarrassment’– I rather like that collective noun!
Images © Graham Powell of Obsessionistas