I’m not ashamed to admit this but I have an addiction! It isn’t dangerous, it doesn’t threaten to plunge me into destitution, nor does it induce the kind of yobbish behaviour that might justify an ASBO. In fact I revel in the ambiguity my habit provokes among my friends. On the one hand they condemn it but because it’s so ridiculously cheap, they’re only too happy to indulge me when I demand a fix. My addiction doesn’t have a name, although I’m reliably informed by Wikipedia that if I lived in Russia I would be called a memomagnetic. It’s a rather grand title to confer on a fridge magnet collector, but who am I to complain?
So when did my addiction start? About eight years ago I was browsing in a London cookery shop when I saw a small pile of fridge magnets stashed amongst rows of pots, pans and food processors. It was a motley collection consisting of plastic quiches the size of a fifty pence piece, portly looking chefs with white puffy hats and handlebar moustaches, and mushroom shaped recipe books. As I had only recently decorated my kitchen and needed something colourful to jazz up the white blandness of the fridge and freezer doors, I opted for a mushroom and a chef. Since then I’ve never looked back and my fridge magnet collection has grown considerably, although it’s nothing compared to Louise J Greenfarb’s of Henderson, Nevada, who in 2002 reportedly had over 30,000 magnets to her name.
That’s a bit excessive even by my standards although I do take pride in owning a collection where some of my most cherished pieces come with their own story. There’s the pot-bellied pink teddy bear with the soulful eyes, a miniature red rose wired around its neck and magnets on all four paws. It was an unwanted gift from a friend who’d got it from the fiancé who then dumped her. She’d suspected that things weren’t right because moments before giving her the bear he’d said there was something he needed to get off his chest. Since I also collect teddies I couldn’t deny this one a home, and he now takes pride of place on the fridge door with an Irish leprechaun, a Belgian beer mug, and a basket of dim sum dumplings for company.
Not all of my magnets are rejects. Some are souvenirs from mine or other peoples’ travels, others were picked up in small job lots at boot fairs, while a friend almost got arrested for getting five of them on my behalf. He’d scored them from a memomagneticist outside a dodgy bar in South London, during which a plain clothes drugs officer interrupted the transaction. He thought he’d find some Colombian marching powder but he uncovered an egg shaped fridge magnet from Norway, an Austrian boy doll in lederhosen who yodels like a cockerel when the button on his back is pressed, a cocktail glass with a gold stirrer and a poker hand in the rim, a massive pair of scarlet red lips that squeak “I love you, I love you” every time the fridge vibrates, and a Perspex beer bottle with a bottle opener at one end and a plastic dolphin swimming around inside. The officer didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!
Collecting fridge magnets might not be to everyone’s liking, but for hardcore devotees like me it’s a welcome diversion from some of life’s more disturbing realities. Who wouldn’t laugh at the sight of Henry VIII driving a double decker bus with his six wives on board? Or salivate over a bowl of Chinese noodles sprinkled with herbs? It’s only a matter of time before other people will come around to my way of thinking and join the fun, just as it won’t be too long before a fridge magnet collection appears on the Antiques Road Show for a valuation, (assuming that hasn’t happened already!).
As for me I’m now moving my collection away from objects towards people. I’ve recently acquired a magnetic cut out figure of Lenin – complete with a wardrobe of biker jeans, an Elvis Presley jump suit and studded leathers. I may not know that much about one of the founding father’s of Communism, but he looks pretty cool when he’s dressed as the King of Rock n Roll! Comrades, take note!