Custard Factory

Alfred Bird’s wife loved custard, but she hated eggs. She hadn’t eaten custard in years but whenever she did, the antibodies inside her would react to the proteins contained within the egg whites. Mrs Bird’s immunoglobulin would attack the invading proteins and cause her skin to break out in pink blotches. Some of her mast cells would be ruptured during these attacks and the damaged cells would release histamine into her blood stream and her tissue causing the surface of her skin to swell and itch uncomfortably.

Alf loved custard too, nearly as much as he loved Mrs Bird and so he set about finding a way for them to both enjoy their indulgence without the consequences.

Alf invented custard powder. He made it with cornflower and it thickened to form a glutinous like sauce when it was mixed with milk and gently heated. People liked it and so did Mrs Bird. He called it Bird’s Custard Powder. Bird’s custard for Bird’s bird and he opened his Custard Factory - the Bird’s Custard Factory.

Now, any switched on marketer will know that the key to successful product promotion and advertising is to make sure that your marketing campaign connects with your customers. The text book says that you must identify the ‘head and heart’ story that inspired your product, or inspired the formation of your business.

Bird was ahead of the game, creating an irresistible brand made all the more irresistible by the fact that it was born out of love – a golden love. Bird made ‘Love’ visible. He made love that you could pour. He made love that you could take with other things that you love – double love. Comfortable custard over steamed sweet puddings; Caring custard over sweet crumble falling apart in your mouth; Kissable custard salivating its way through flakes of pastry wrapped around sugar saturated pieces of piping hot soft sin. Original sin. Adam just couldn’t resist Eve’s apple. None of us can.

We want to get it right – We want to know how to feed our bodies so that we can live forever. We want to feed our minds so that we can love and laugh forever. Science and Art.

A different kind of factory in China reportedly employs medical school graduates to peel skin, scrape fat off muscle and replace bodily fluids with soft plastic, all in the name of discovery.

The way they do it is routine. Once dissected, human specimens are immersed in acetone, which eliminates the bodily fluids. The body is then placed in a large chamber of polymer, and sealed. Under vacuum, acetone leaves the body in the form of gas and the polymer replaces it, entering each cell and finding its way through the body tissue. A catalyst is then applied to the specimen, hardening it and completing the process. This method of preservation creates a plasticized replica of the human form that will not decay. This offers thousands of unique learning possibilities for medical professionals, archeologists, artists, writers and poets.

Today, Bird’s Custard Factory is home to some of the creative glitterati of Birmingham. But, in its shadow, there stands, temporarily, a collection of preserved human bodies. Like butterflies under glass. Cleverly preserved by Chinese medical graduates but displayed in distractingly recognizable contexts – throwing a javelin, bouncing a ball – this type of thing. Not sure if this decision is the result of poor market research into what the West wants or a contemporary reference to Grecian ideas about successful sculpture – the discus thrower, etcetera. Isolated body parts are there too. Hundreds of internal organs balance elegantly upon minimalist plinths and occupying near invisible showcases. Focused beams of halogen illuminate polymer replicas of the human heart, a bronchial tree and the male prostate and bladder.

And the digestive tract is there too. Polymer preservation didn’t exist when Mrs Bird ate her last bowl of custard but if her digestive tract could have been preserved it would probably have looked like the one rotating slowly on its vertical axis in front of me.

The buccal cavity containing the salivary glands; the tongue and the teeth.The pharynx, esophagus, diaphragm, stomach, gall bladder, bile duct, liver, and duodenum. The Jejunum, the Ileum, The Cecum, the Colon , the Rectum and the Anus. It’s all there – a complete story. Beginning and end.

Outside and across the way is the Golden Pond Chinese restaurant. Good for steamed scallop dumplings and Singapore noodles. Let’s finish it off with that Chinese restauranteur’s reward for western palettes that venture east. Apple pie and custard.

Martin Hinchcliffe, January 2010 Bodies Revealed, The Custard Factory, Birmingham, UK.