Monday, September 14, 2009

Finders Keepers

Friday Mrs H and I take some quality time-out together down the Portobello Road, saying we must come back with the eldest daughter, who at 10 is very interested in small things from bric-a-brac stalls.

Saturday This excerpt from Victoria Coren's new book appears in the paper...

I am 12 years old, in Portobello market with my father. He thinks it's time for me to start collecting something. So we are rummaging around the antique shops and the bric-a-brac stalls, looking at ornaments and knick-knacks and pictures and hats and stuffed animals and silver trinkets, deciding what I am going to start collecting.

It's a beautiful day. The air is soft and warm, smelling of jasmine and hot-dog stands. All the stall-holders are chatty and ready to haggle. I've got a toffee apple. In the back of a dusty little shop near the Ladbroke Grove end of the market, my father picks up a china boat. It has a funnel at each end, also made of china, and if you lift them out they are salt-and-pepper shakers. The boat is a creamy-pearly colour, with blue piping, and on the side is printed "A Present from Southend-on-Sea".

"How about that?" my father says.

I think it is the cleverest, prettiest thing I have ever seen. It is a lovely shiny object anyway, but it's also a salt-and-pepper set and it's also a boat!

"And it's a present from Southend-on-Sea," my father says. "You could collect china seaside souvenirs. You could look for ones that said Bournemouth and Weymouth and Margate and Clacton. That's about right for a collection: bit difficult to find, but not too difficult."

We buy it for £12. "Just enough to make it a significant purchase," my father says, "but not enough to cripple you." The man from the shop wraps it up in newspaper and gives it to me. And as we walk back down the street, me gingerly clutching what at this point constitutes my entire collection, my father says, "One day, when you're all grown up and I'm not here any more, you'll remember the sunny day we went to the market together and bought a boat."
My throat feels tight because, as soon as he says it, I am already there. Standing on another street, without my father, trying to get back.

I try to soak up every aspect of the moment, to help me get back when I need to. I feel the weight of the chunky parcel under my arm, and the warmth of the sun, and my father's hand in mine. I smell the flowers with their sharp undertang of cheap hot-dog, and taste the slick of toffee on my teeth. I feel the joy of an adventurous Saturday with my father and no school, and I feel the sadness of looking back when it is all gone. When he is gone.


I've had this post-Tamla Four Tops song about fathers on my brain for the last few days; I found it in a junk shop years ago. It's a curious old thing with it's wah-wah pastiche of the Whitfield/Strong Temptations 'protest' sound and its contrasting call to absent Dads to quit said protest and get on back to their families where they belong. I like the tune though, and the pink Probe label.

The Four Tops - 'Keeper Of The Castle' (1972)


  1. oh gawd - the keyboard is now tear driven. i've been thinking a lot about this sort of thing recently. off up north next week and i will try my hardest to treasure every moment

  2. Thanks for that. In an alternative universe I'm married to Victoria.

    I have found and continue to find myself in that particular frame of mind quite often over this past year. Strangely I find myself listening to random classical pieces and going through it then, despite the fact that my mum's music was country (and western). God knows what will happen if I hear country.

  3. I've loved this song for some years myself, It's nice to kno you like it too.

    And like Ally, I got a little weepy there.

  4. Love the tune, love the text. Quality blogging.

    And if you've still got both parents - you really must make the most of them

  5. You are lovely people x

    I like your new pic (and T) Mondo.

  6. Morning Davy,

    Sorry for non post related comment but I got back from the stag weekend last night to find Ubik waiting on my doormat - so just to say thanks very much. Currently zipping through the very funny Me Cheeta at the mo, but Ubik next.

  7. Crackin' - glad it made it through the post strikes 'Tog....

  8. Wardrobe, watch and turntable all from eBay - I get most of my tees from there. Gutted I missed out on this nugget for £6 though

  9. Ha! Just checked again and found it 'buy now' for £8 smashing

  10. And good to see you spinning The Stranglers, no doubt in tribute to Keith Floyd (RIP)

  11. George Melly and Stranglers team-up on the b-side of that one'Old Codger'. There's The Damned peeping in with picture disc and Kiss Alive II (the kids love the cover)under The Strang's - this is a fairly reflective spread though

  12. Victoria's excerpt brought a tear to the eye. Thanks.

    I love that pink Probe label too. Picked up my copy in a 2nd hand shop only last year. Song's not bad either.

  13. It's lovely, the Victoria piece, isn't it Darce?

    And clear all those bloody records off the table Mondo, it's time for your tea.

  14. Lovely piece by Ms Coren. It resonates, as they say. For effect, one should play Luther's "Dance With My Father" while reading that. I get choked up just thinking of the devastating effect of that combination.

  15. I have to tell you that the Luther and me do not see eye to eye at all dear boy, but I defend your right to....etc.

  16. Luther in general, or the song? I'll defend the song, but I'd have greater difficulties to persuasively argue that Vandross produced consistently fantastic music, or much worth hearing -- apart from Dance With My Father -- after 1990.

    Still, his version of Superstar is wonderful.

  17. The song I'm afraid. Sorry : (

  18. I'm sorry too, but the perfect oxymoron for me was always ...
    "The Essential Sound of Luther Vandross".

    Any road, on a wobbly bottom lip family-type sad-eyed mortality-choker front, I saw the new Pixar/Disney film called 'Up' recently. Perhaps as good as 'Finding Nemo' - he says controversially. So, if you like that kinda thing, go along and see it (released in UK next month). The old guy in it is the spit of my old father-in-law.


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