Make Me An Offer

We have a fireplace at home but we never light a fire. It’s part of the march of civilisation. She Who Must Be Consulted, however, thinks a fireguard might look nice. Not to protect against sparks, but to block the view of the grate. The view of the grate does not inspire without a fireguard, especially when we haven’t dusted the logs that huddle there, never to be lit.

Meandering in Monmouth, I sense the vibrations given out by an approaching collectibles shop. It always happens, as though the orphan status of abandoned bric-a-brac becomes alert to my approach.

Where does all that stuff come from? You always want to give an orphan a home, even when it’s The Greatest Hits of Winifred Atwell, a Jeremy Clarkson first edition or a stuffed otter. (Check that: Clarkson can go fend for himself, the parentless waif – metaphorically speaking.) Winifred was a popular pianist of ‘yesteryear’, a word I use when it refers to my era but I don’t care to disclose my age. That’s just the intellectual stuff. There are also golf clubs and stringless Fender Stratocasters, just in case you thought my era didn’t take in rock music. Why do they never have strings?

Any road, outside said emporium were some free-standing heavy goods, including a rusted fireguard. ‘Isn’t that what they call stressed?’ I asked, trying to anticipate SWMBC, who, I could tell, was imagining what it would look like rubbed down, de-rusted and painted a nice shade of beige. In truth, it wasn’t a bad design, in its simple, mass-produced way, but before I could offer an opinion she was inside, about to haggle.

I don’t do haggling, even in an Istanbul souk, ever since a dealer driving a new-ish Range Rover bought fifty books from me at a giveaway price after reducing me to tears with a story of hard times and mouths to feed. Or rather, I don’t haggle downwards. But SWMBC has been schooled by TV antiques David Dickinson and Tim Wonnacott. If someone is trying to flog it, she’s ready to bargain.

I loiter outside, looking through the window to see if I can lip-read what the hagglers are saying. At my feet is the forlorn piece of wrought iron, with its £20 ticket fluttering importunately at me. ‘Make that £12,’ my deal-doing other half says, emerging victorious from the shop five minutes later. All that remained was for me to meander to Homebase the following day and buy two cans of spray paint. Beige has had a bad Press: it’s now Tinted Eggshell or Mellow Cream.

But there’s a limit to SWMBC’s proprietorial tendencies when it comes to objects discovered on our travels. About to ascend the Sugar Loaf from somewhere near Fforest Coal-Pit outside Abergavenny, we came across a ram’s skull with a full set of horns. I was about to stuff it in my rucksack when I was asked, ‘What do you intend doing with that?’, as though I were some kind of Dennis Wheatley character seeking items with which to enhance a devilish ritual. ‘I’m taking it home, boiling it up and using it as an artefact,’ I said, unconvincingly. Even I wasn’t convinced.

Serious doubt, not to say scorn, was poured on my claim to have seen Alan Titchmarsh using a skull as a garden ornament at the Chelsea Flower Show. So I left this one on a wall, where it probably frightened a few innocent wayfarers before being nicked by a passing biker on a Harley and paraded menacingly outside a series of local nursing homes.

Monmouthshire’s towns boast some interesting charity shops, which are collectible emporia selling for a good cause. No haggling in them. They used to mark the extent to which a place had become run down, but are now part of the commercial scenery. I’ve been meandering in them for years, hoping to find a porkpie hat, but had to give up and buy one on ebay. I only wear it when SWMBC isn’t around. My nephew runs a shop specialising in vinyl records (LPs to you), so I’m always fingering boxes of secondhand ones in the the hope of finding something I regard as priceless but the rest of the world thinks is rubbish, such as The Greatest Hits of Winifred Atwell or a rare 10-inch LP by Freddy and the Dreamers. Go on – make me an offer.

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