18 Jul

There were many beautiful things at the antiques fair. This painting of Sarah Brightman was not one of them.

Article one: Several pairs of vintage bolt cutters, crispy with rust and therefore useless.

Article two: A Victorian bath-chair which my father bought in his thirties, in preparation for old age (“If your mother loses the ability to walk before I do, I’ll push her in it. If I do, she can stand and I’ll sit.”

Article three: A 20ft sailboat that has yet to dip its bottom in the water.

Article four: A gypsy caravan, large enough for a family of four.

Article five: An electric bike, possibly one of the first of its kind, that looks so bulky and metal-heavy that it would need a motor just to get it going.

These are just a few of my father’s once favourite things. I say once because almost as soon as they were bought – some decades ago and others more recently – they have been sitting gathering dust in one of the large sheds that he has since had to build to provide a home for all of his unused possessions.

Every time my father goes abroad, I get a phone call from my mother telling me she’s doing a clear out “I’ve got four days before he returns. I’ve already filled three boot loads, but I’m not so sure that if I get rid of the boat he won’t notice. Having said that, when I dumped the three lawnmowers, it took him a couple of years to realise they were missing.”

My mother has her work cut out. Without her, my father might be a prime candidate for a documentary about hoarders. She makes sure that all of the superfluous crap that my father buys goes straight into one of the barns. Her method will only begin to  fail when there is no land left on which to build another barn.

My siblings and I have already decided that when my parents die, we will have no other choice but to set up a museum. It will have an eclectic collection, and the artefacts will be grouped and graded from the ‘Interesting but utterly useless’ through to ‘High Quality and useful.’

I’v never been a daddy’s girl. I think I might have read too much Sweet Valley High in my early youth, but I craved the kind of father who called me princess and took me to the mall and slipped me twenty quid just for getting good grades in Math (I also wanted everything to be said the American way).

Throughout my teens we didn’t get on. He thought I was a spoilt princess (the wrong kind) and I thought he was an embarrassing excuse for a dad. He wore clothes that would have made Jeremy Clarkson wince, and he drove the beige coloured camper van, with full on eighties German frankfurter coloured upholstery, to pick me up from school. Not once did he think to bring his Ferrari Dino, so that I could look cool for once. If he didn’t treat me like a princess (in spite of me behaving like one) I at least wanted to give the allusion to my friends that I was, indeed, his little darling.

We shared nothing in common. That is, until we started carbooting together. One Sunday morning, when I was in my mid-teens and we were being awkward with each other in the kitchen my father simply said “Carboot?” and I replied “Alright.” Our dialogue was limited.

Since then, we’ve never looked back. We rarely go together anymore (different countries) but whether we’re sifting through crates of premium toothbrushes at knockdown prices, or discovering a beautiful Edwardian claret jug in amongst a box of naff Argos crockery, we compare notes.

My father is back in the UK for a few days (my mother has already filled a car load and taken it to the dump.) Yesterday, I accompanied him to an antiques fair. His real job (the one that pays to build the barns which house his larger purchases) is as a jeweller. He has to find beautiful things, and either sell them in his shop, to other dealers at a profit, or use them to make other pieces of fine jewellery in his workshop.

He has been a jeweller for all of his adult life, and his knowledge is astonishing. I still can’t grasp how he is able to find the best sapphire or diamond ring in a cabinet full of more than a hundred pieces, in a less than a minute. I look at them all and think “Is that a Sapphire at all and if it is, why is it worth twenty times more than the ring sitting next to it?” I just look at the colour and think “Is that pretty?” But pretty does not always mean good.

I’m learning from him and it’s interesting. Over the years our relationship has improved. It’s not just the carboots, but the fact that my father is a very doting “Umpa” (grandpa) now to my three children. We don’t need to look for things in common, because when the children are present there are never awkward silences.

But if I had to put my finger on one thing that we share, it’s a love of old things. It would be great to say “Joy is not in things, but in each other” and this is often true. But when it comes to my father and me, I’d say we enjoy each other’s company when we’re delving through boxes, looking at paintings, and seeking out a bargain. We like the thrill and whilst luckily I have no desire to buy big things that require shelter (I discouraged him from buying a miniature working Cockerten vertical boiler yesterday) I often experience the same thrill as him when I find something wonderful.

Psychologists would probably say that my father and I like to constantly seek out the new (or in the case of fairs and boot sales, the old) because we lack depth in our relationship with one another. I say fuck that. Our travels may only take us to fields just outside the M25, but the carboot adventures we share are strangely joyous occasions.


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