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The Hoardiculturist #5

A big pile of beer mats

A big pile of beer mats

I have a confession to make. I’m a serial collector. Records, books, postcards, aeoniums, old toys, bubblegum cards, comic books, Dr Who memorabilia, music magazines, gig tickets, matchboxes and lots of other stuff have caught my eye over the years, bringing me great joy, but resulting in a house that is full of tat, clutter or treasure, depending on your point of view. Many months ago I started blogging about my collections in a series called The Hoardiculturist and thought it was time to resurrect the strand as the last time I wrote about my hoard of stuff was way back in April.

Have you ever heard of tegestology? If not let me enlighten you. It’s the practice of collecting beer mats. While I’m far from being a fervent tegestologist, I do have a substantial collection of beer mats, which dates back to the 1970s.

yummy, snowball

yummy, snowball

While many other boys my age were playing football in the park or riding their bikes, I was up to my elbows in cigarette butts, crisp packets and ale soaked ash, looking for beer mats in the rubbish bins owned by the pubs in my town of Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire. Usually this meant sneaking into the pub car park, hoping not to be spotted, but sometimes more furtive measures were required – I do recall scaling a towering wall to get into an area where some bins were locked away, only to be caught rooting around in the pub’s detritus by a rather cantankerous landlady.

The wonder drink

The wonder drink

My interest in beer mats was largely the fault of my granddad. He used to frequent local working men’s clubs and on one occasion when he was supposed to be looking after me, he took me into the Town Band Club in Higham so he could have a quick pint. I remember sitting down at a table in this smoke-filled room and amusing myself by gathering up all the beer mats on the table. From then on I was hooked.

The king of crisps

The king of crisps

Although my collection grew through bin raids and donations from my granddad, who thought it was an admirable hobby for a youngster, it was through pure serendipity that a shoe box full of beer mats became an impressive collection.

Oh the good old days, when ciggie manufacturers could sponsor racing cars

Oh the good old days, when ciggie manufacturers could sponsor racing cars

Wandering along the track that led through the allotment (see there’s even a horticultural element to this tale) near my home during the school holidays, a friend and I passed a pit where the gardeners would dump their waste vegetables, old newspapers and other unwanted items. Normally, the rubbish in the pit would get little more than a cursory glance as we passed by, but on this occasion we stopped dead in our tracks – the large hollow in the ground was covered in a thick layer of beer mats and matchboxes.

Make mine a real ale

Make mine a real ale

There were hundreds, possibly thousands of them, which must have been dumped by a collector. Wasting no time we scrambled excitedly down the bank and started throwing the mats up in the air like an Ealing comedy crook, who celebrates his good fortune after a heist by tossing piles of bank notes in the air. Stuffing our pockets, pants and anything we could find with the loot we made our way home grinning widely from cheek to cheek. Sadly a solo return trip to the pit the following day to gather up the remnants dampened my spirits slightly, as someone else had come along and vacuumed up the rest. I suspected my friend who had been with me on the day of the discovery, but he always denied the crime.

World cup winning ale

World cup winning ale

Still, I was happy with what I’d found. There were mats advertising just about every brand of beer, cider and spirit you could imagine, along with those for crisps, cigarettes and cigars. Many were promotional devices for pubs and hotels, while some celebrated special events, such as the 1966 World Cup and the John Player Special Formula 1 championship winning car of 1972. Special mention should go to a Babycham beer mat the size of a 12in record and a German beer mat that had several holes in it – to a child weaned on Battle comic it had quite obviously had some involvement in the Second World War.

Saucy beer mat

Saucy beer mat

Today my collection resides in several of those large blue recyclable Ikea bags. Do I still collect them? Not really, although whenever I’m in a pub I can’t resist stuffing a beer mat into my pocket for old time’s sake.

What all the sophisticated girls used to drink

What all the sophisticated girls used to drink

12 comments to The Hoardiculturist #5

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