Monday 26 September 2016

Heartbreaking story of woman who lost her daughter (20) to leukemia impacts viewers of last night's RTE documentary The Collectors

Pat Stacey

Published 27/07/2016 | 08:28

Glenda with her Barbie dolls in The Collectors, the first ever European documentary shot on an iPhone

Helena, a mother and widow from Ashbourne in Meath, collects porcelain dolls.

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“They’re so colourful when you see so many of them together,” she says. “They remind me of my own children when they were small.”

In some ways, that last comment encapsulates what’s so lovely, so moving about last night's RTE documentary The Collectors. For at least some of the people here, collecting is not just a hobby, it plays a vital role in their lives.

One doll in Helena’s collection was the first her daughter Annemarie, who died of leukaemia at the age of just 20, ever owned. The doll wears a dress Annemarie wore as a little girl.

Meanwhile, coke is Lillian’s drug of choice. She eats, drinks, sleeps and probably even dreams it. We’re not talking about the white stuff, by the way.

We’re talking about the brown, fizzy soft drink — or rather, what the brown, fizzy soft drink comes in.

Lillian, a chirpy, irrepressibly effervescent mother-of-two from Cork, is one of The Collectors. “I have never followed the crowd,” she says. “I got married in pink.”

The pink has long since given way to red and white, the brand colours of Coca-Cola — and conveniently, the colours of Cork as well. It all began in 1984, when Lillian bought a can of Coke on the bus from Germany to Austria.

It was the first can she’d ever bought abroad, so she decided to keep it. She’s done the same in every other country she’s visited since.

But Lillian’s collection doesn’t stop at cans and bottles. Her home is packed to the rafters with every kind of Coke memorabilia and merchandise you can think of, and some you probably couldn’t.

Every room in the house is a shrine to Coke: red walls, red tiles in the bathroom, Coca-Cola wallpaper in her college student son’s bedroom. His friends, by the way, think it’s fantastic.

With another of The Collectors, Martin from Cavan, the obsession is die-cast model vehicles.

Not just the obvious collector’s items, like the famous Corgi Aston Martin from Goldfinger (I had one of those as a kid), or the car from the campy 1960s Batman TV series (had one of those too), but trucks, vans, trailers and anything else that rolls on four or more wheels, amassed over 29 years.

Martin’s house is lined with shelf after shelf of them, 22,000 little vehicles in all.

Robert, originally from Florida, is into comic books. He has somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 of them in the house he shares with his partner Liz. He calls her “the most caring person I’ve ever met”.

One of his prized possessions is a copy of The Fantastic Four #1, which set him back $7,000. His latest acquisition is The Walking Dead #1.

Jessica, who lives in Kildare but has a trace of an American accent, loves Lego. There are enough plastic bricks inside her house to build a complete replica of it. She and her son are “Lego buddies”, and acquiring her habit has brought the boy out of his shell.

Jessica’s model of Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where The Phantom of the Opera has been running for years, was bought by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and is on permanent display in his company’s HQ.

Glenda from Sligo, the youngest person featured, has a vast collection of Barbie dolls. She sometimes shows a modest number of them off at collectors’ shows. Her personal favourite is Barbie as Medusa, the Greek goddess.

She set Glenda back £120, plus post and packaging charges.

“Collectors are perfectionists,” she says. “Maybe a wee bit crazy too.”

Glenda is getting married soon and plans on making a display of some of her bridal Barbies part of her wedding reception.

For the shy, solitary Martin, displaying his model cars has provided a route to a more open life.

For Robert, his huge stash of comics is about more than just their monetary value. He has cystic fibrosis and spends 90pc of his life at home.

Liz has noticed, when attending comic conventions, that quite a few collectors and fans who engage in superhero cosplay have some form of disability. “My obsession has probably kept me alive,” says Robert.

The Collectors, directed and filmed by Eleanor Mannion, is the first full documentary by a European broadcaster to be filmed in 4K on an iPhone. But it has much more than just that to recommend it.

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