Friday, 28 November 2014

Swap facts for sweeties: Visit The Knowledge Emporium

When I heard that something called The Knowledge Emporium was coming to town, I was instantly enticed by the delicious quirkiness of it: A 1956 Airstream caravan that travels all over Britain, inviting people to come inside and give a piece of their knowledge. It could be a fact, an anecdote, a joke, a quote, a recipe, a secret. Whatever it is, they'll pay you for it ­– in sweets! What's more, before they move on to another city, they'll turn the knowledge they've collected into a performance for anyone to come and watch, for free.

“Instead of going to the newsagents after school to get your Friday sweets," I said to my daughter, "We can go there and get some!” 

It was a cold, dark, drizzly afternoon and the caravan looked glowy and inviting. 
“Come in, come in! Have you got some knowledge for us?” asked two bouncy women in flowery aprons and pumps.
We did. My daughter was ready with a joke, one she’d made up herself. And I thought I’d give them the recipe for Frogspawn Tea.

They got us seated and comfy and presented us with a jumbo-sized notebook for us to write our donations in. The front cover said: THE BIG BOOK OF EVERYTHING WE KNOW. 
As we scribbled, more people arrived. They hovered with their knowledge. “We’ve got a fact about Einstein,” said some kids. Others were dithering. “Ooh, I don’t know what to write,” said a Spanish student. “What about the recipe for tortilla?!” suggested one of the women. A middle-aged man poked his head in the door. “Can I do this, or is it just for kids?” he asked. “Absolutely!” they told him. "It’s for everyone.”

I'd imagined payment would be something like a pack of Haribos, but no, it was much classier than that. We were each handed an empty ice-cream sundae glass and told to help ourselves from the jars of old-fashioned sweets lining the shelves of the caravan: humbugs, flying saucers, pineapple cubes, pink shrimps … 
Then they tipped them into stripey paper bags for us and we went on our way, as others came in. The caravan was steaming up with people and knowledge now. 

Two days later, we went back to see the bouncy women – joined by an even bouncier man –  perform a reading of some of the material they'd collected over the weekend. They'd been given over 500 pieces of knowledge, they told us. My daughter was really hoping her joke would be included. I was just hoping she wouldn't be bored. I mean how interesting could they make it? A reading of random information from random people’s minds?

Extremely, as it turned out. The knowledge was delivered with gusto, humour, creativity –  and lots of props! Not that some of the facts weren’t interesting in themselves:

A cat sticks up its tail when it likes you.
A frankfurter lasts for three years in landfill.
Babies all over the world make exactly the same noises for the first six months of their life, whatever their language. Their 'goo goo ga gas' are all the same.

But as the bouncy man explained, “Knowledge is not fact. Knowledge is something we think is fact.” And some were indeed a little dubious:

If you clench your fist, that’s the size of your brain.
Penguins DO have knees.
An octopus can squeeze through a hole the size of its eyeball.

Some gave sensible advice:

Socks first, then shoes.
If it moves and it’s not meant to, use gaffer tape. If it doesn’t move and it’s meant to, use WD40.

Some were jokes, like my daughter's (she squirmed on her seat with pleasure and self-consciousness when they read it out).

And some just begged to be tested out – and were, with the help of willing audience members:

The roof of your mouth is the only place you can tickle yourself.
A banana will float on water.
It is possible to lick your elbow.
If you put an After Eight mint on your forehead, you can move it down into your mouth using your face muscles only. (That'd be a great game for a kid's party, I thought.)
Mini Cheddars dipped in Nutella are actually rather delicious. 
(A tray of them had been prepared for everyone to try and a thumbs up/thumbs down vote was taken. Definitely a thumbs up from us.)

We left with big smiles on our faces and snippets of information swirling round our heads.

On the way home, my daughter asked me if she'd be allowed Mini Cheddars with Nutella in her lunch box next week and showed me on a scrap of paper how it might be true that penguins have knees.
Meanwhile, I pondered if the set of knowledge they collected from each city showed a different personality? I mean, was Oxford’s more learned than Norwich’s? Was Hull’s earthier than Edinburgh’s?

Not long after we got home, it was time for my daughter’s bath. I popped her in and went off to google the whole penguin knee thing.

“Can I have a banana?” she shouted from the bathroom.

Find out more about the The Knowledge Emporium here.What piece of knowledge would YOU give them?! 

If you like this, you might like The Lifesize Hansel and Gretel House.


  1. Love this, it is indeed quirky! What a fab idea - I am going to check it out to see if it is coming anywhere near us! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great, isn't it? I emailed them to ask them which cities they were visiting next and they told me they don't know yet. Maybe they go where the wind blows them!