For me it's the ancient valve radio that sits in my study. The brown stained dials invite me to exotic sounding places like Hilversum and Luxembourg. Standing nearly three feet tall, it has pleasing curves in polished wood veneer and a mellifluous loudspeaker. I remember that the snap, crackle and hiss always melted away when the old beast used to welcome "The Navy Lark" into my grandmother's living room. I always imagined both grandparents gathering around the glowing valves to hear Neville Chamberlain declaring war in 1939 and Churchill celebrating VE day six years later.
The theme of "Stories of the World" (the second of the Cultural Olympiad’s Major Projects which launched today) is the powerful human stories that lie behind objects and artefacts – some of them priceless pieces in the glass cabinets of our world class museums – others just ordinary hand-me-downs which unlock a family history.
Young people all around the UK are re-interpreting the great collections in museums and galleries to tell amazing stories of and for the world, inspired by London 2012 preparing to welcome the world. Simon, a teenager from Bradford, was proud of what he called "a rather dull piece of brown worsted". Showing off a square of fabric to the assembled cast of media and museum experts he explained that the spirit of Bradford was woven into this humble cloth and the expertise of four hundred years of his own family in the Yorkshire mills.
Other young people chose to show Roman footwear from the Museum of London and a coffee pot from a far flung part of the British Empire with the myriad stories it has collected on its journey around the world. Tyne and Wear Museum has forged links with museums in the townships of the Eastern Cape in South Africa to swap collections, stories and young people's experiences.
Almost sixty museums will participate in fourteen different projects, each with a different theme. Scotland will look at carnival and fiesta in its various global manifestations, whilst three teenagers from Treorchy in South Wales became the prized models for their theme of "Bling" – a glittering look at how and why we humans adorn ourselves with largely function-less decoration. The East of England's 'East meets East' will see a Pakistani artist decorate an old Bedford truck and then drive it all the way back from the sub-continent to join the Luton Transport Gallery. The East Midlands will look at fashion and footwear whilst the theme in Birmingham draws on its African community for "Style Africa" celebrating the dazzling textiles and design from Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Engrossing though the objects are, it is the stories behind them and the sense of revelation from the young curators which make this such a compelling and simple proposition. It will be orchestrated over the next three and a half years, up to the Games in 2012, by the Museums, Libraries and Archive Council, working closely with the National Youth Agency. The MLA's Chair is the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, so I dare not paraphrase him. He put it like this;
'Much of our museums' collections come from all over the world; brought here through exploration and trade and uncomfortably tied up with our imperial histories. These stories have often been described from the same, familiar perspective.
'Stories of the World makes a break from all that. It is a real opportunity to do something that's bold and creative on a national scale like never before. It's hugely exciting that curators and historians are taking a back seat and we are connecting museum collections back with the people and communities they came from. It's equally as exciting to see young people engaged with museums and objects, helping to curate exhibitions and making them relevant to Britain today.'
Find out more about Stories of the World
…and then dust down your own family heirloom and, before its too late, tell someone special its story of the world.