I’ve gasped with awe at the Himalayas and the Rockies, I’ve sat on palm fringed beaches in the Caribbean and on deserted islands in China. But, for just a couple of weeks, while the blossom is out, and the trees and the hedgerows are freshly green, and the ducks down on the canal have nine thimble-sized ducklings trailing haphazardly after them, there is no lovelier place in the world than the British countryside.
And what do you do in the midst of such loveliness? You go to a bank holiday car boot sale, of course.
I blame the Americans. (Careful, Ed) They invented the idea of boot sales, although I don’t think they call them that, but they have now become a truly British institution. Once, at this time of year, we used to be happy to go to a fete, watch our kids dance round a maypole, and chuck a wet sponge at the vicar. Now, it seems, all we want to do is take our tat to a field, sell it and come home with other people’s tat. Napoleon was right. We are truly a nation of shopkeepers.
So we went, myself, husband, son and daughter, each with our secret little hopes for a bargain, to the biggest boot sale around, in the parkland of Overstone Manor, deep in Northamptonshire. You could look one way and there was a sea of cars and people selling everything from toasting forks to deck chairs. But, look the other and there was an empty grass track curling down to an ancient stone bridge and then continuing up to the house, drowsing in the sunshine. Eat your heart out, Downton Abbey.
The house is Victorian, built in 1864, and is now a girl’s school, but there has been a manor there since, well, since forever, probably. The first mention of it seems to be in the 11th century when, according to British History Online, Maud the daughter and heir of Niel Mundeville married Ruallon d’Avranches. The history of the manor is long, and peppered with bizarre sentences such as, ‘in 1365 one Edmund de Morteyn claimed that his greatgrandmother Constance was seised of the manor in the reign of Edward I, but his pretensions were without foundation’ or ‘Walter le Mazun complained that she had unjustly ejected him from 1 virgate of land’. Suffice to say (here, I’m doing it, now) Henry VII’s grandad owned it at one point, and God knows what he would have done if he’d seen 2,000 serfs milling about in his parkland eating chips and buying second hand George Foreman fat-busting grills.
So there we were, wandering in the park among the knick knacks, listening in, willy nilly, on other people’s conversations.
Last time I saw you, I was on a horse. Or was it you that was on a horse?
I said to him, I said, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ and he said a painting. So he came home and I bought him two.
I’m having the baby in August and my boyfriend’s going to come and see me every Wednesday.
And when we had finished we sat on plastic chairs by the tea wagon and shared a plate of chips. (With mayonnaise, natch, because even in the country we know all about café society.)
‘Oh, God, mum, not more kitsch,’ moaned my daughter, when I presented my haul of five Devonware egg cups, two embroideries, a teaspoon from Aberystwyth and two pots of parsley.
Why is parsley kitsch?
Son had bought two box sets of DVDS, containing the entire series of Lost, and a broken BB gun. ‘There was this enormous hunting knife, too,’ he said rather despondently. ‘But dad wouldn’t let me have it.’
‘That’s because we don’t want to spend this afternoon in A&E,’ I explained, heaping mental brownie points on husband’s head.
‘Also, it was a rubbish knife,’ said husband, immediately being seised of said brownie points.
Daughter laid out heaps of clothes. ‘Look,’ she sighed. ‘A real Moschino belt. And it only cost 50p.’
I was watching QI the other night, the one on kitsch – and after about five minutes my daughter looked at me and said, ‘We have to be the kitschiest family, like, ever.’
Really? Like, Ever?
‘I’m not in the slightest kitschy, ‘I said haughtily.
‘Tiffany lamp shades,’ she said. ‘We have millions of those.’
‘Yeah, but they’re not real.’
‘Exactly,’ she said witheringly.
Kitsch, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way. So I suppose fake is more kitsch. If we had real Tiffany lamps, we wouldn’t have them for very long. I would sell them, so I could afford to loll about on a beach in the Maldives while some hunky bloke was standing ready with a strawbarry daiquiri. And that in itself, I have to admit, is pretty kitsch.
‘Lava lamps,’ she said.
‘Yes, but I’ve put most of them in the back bedroom now. Having them all in the living room made us look as if we were weird religious types with an altar by the telly.’
‘But you haven’t thrown them away,’ she went on inexorably. ‘And what about the nodding cat that gives you wishes?’ And all those blue jugs with place names on them?’
‘They’re collectables,’ I said weakly. ‘And I like having a jug called Stansted Mountfitchet.’
‘Toby jugs?’ she said, quick as a flash, and then starting reeling off lists of stuff I’d never even thought of as kitsch. ‘Your pencil case, that pink clock, your tea cosy, egg cosies, for God’s sake, those biscuit tins…’
I zoned out. The thing is, the person responsible for all this is my mother. Of course. Aren’t mothers to blame for everything? She was the one, when I was a child, who adorned our living room walls with those portraits of green-faced oriental women. She felt they teamed nicely with the carved cedar wood lamp stand (it looks as if it has a dragon twining around it). It was my dad who bought the G plan furniture, though. I’m not sure who started the collection of Bunnikins rabbits and china Disney models from The Lady and the Tramp. By the time I’d got to withering teenage mode I don’t think either of them would admit to buying any of the by-now chipped cutesy figurines, even though they were permanently on display (and religiously dusted).
Back to reality and my daughter was still droning on about my shameless lack of taste. ‘A caravan,’ she said sudddenly. ‘We had a bloody caravan. And you can’t get much more kitsch than that.’
‘We had some good holidays in that,’ I said.
‘It was lined in green brocade,’ she said. ‘With bobble fringes on the pelmets.’
‘Yes, but you cut those off,’ I argued.
‘Because I have good taste,’ she said.
And you can’t really argue with that, she does have good taste. But kitsch is cool right now. The seventies are in. And she has just bought herself a pair of platform sandals in wet-look leather. Cool? Straight out of the fridge, daddio.
This just made me laugh. I particularly liked the dalek planter captioned ‘germinate!’.