Monday, September 14, 2009
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)