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Comfort of strangers

  • Touching the past (2)


    Columbia Grafonola sold at auction7ed3c89b8295fae68f5b2998c9edffb3.jpgWhen I was a little boy my mother used to visit auctions. With good taste, little cash and a canny eye for a bargain she furnished our cottage with lots from the salerooms of Martin & Pole and Vanderpump & Wellbelove and from the charity auctions she helped organise in our village.

    One day around 1970 a van turned up with her latest acquistion - a wind-up gramophone. Not the portable sort favoured by picnickers in 'Three men in a boat' style expeditions, but a proper piece of dark oak furniture with the sounding horn concealed behind double doors. Choose a 78 from the stack of classical recordings (I especially remember a set of Swan Lake excerpts); make sure the steel needle is nice and sharp; wind the handle and for a good two minutes the sound of the orchestra fills the room.

    I was entranced by the beautiful mechanism - the shiny tone arm, the heavy disks in their seductive brown sleeves in the cupboard below and the way it just worked, for just a few quick turns of the clockwork handle. The tin horn that sprouted so mysteriously inside its wooden case intrigued me above all. Three louvres behind the double doors directed the sound. I discovered that if I called inside my voice echoed back, changed by the horn within. I slipped my small boy's hand between the narrow gap between the louvres, curious to find the source of the sound.

    I remember reaching in, my knuckles knocking on the tin sides. I followed the horn's shape deep inside to where it narrowed to a small square compartment. Unexpectedly my fingers touched something soft. A cord-tied black cloth bag full of the most gorgeous glass marbles I had ever seen: spiralling meshes of twisting colour: reds, blues, oranges and yellows. Several large marbles (tolleys) the throwing of which would start a game. Suddenly I thought I saw another small boy, perhaps 50 years before, reaching inside the gramophone, just as I had done, and finding the perfect place to hide his precious set of marbles. Almost four decades have passed, the gramophone was sold long ago and I am still intrigued. Why did he leave them there, and what became of him?

    Phonograph ephmera site 



  • Gentleman's outfitters?

    medium_DSC00061.jpgAbercrombie & Fitch sound a little like 'Are You Being Served' but young Mr Grace would have a very funny turn if he'd been in there during the first few weeks of their 'flagship' London branch off Saville Row. A shirtless young man who (err) looked like he needed a good meal was in the entrance and beyond it was more club than shop... I was asked if I wanted his photo so thought I'd try out my new cameraphone and got this - Francis Bacon would have approved. What they meant was that I could have a Polaroid of him - which is here for comparison.


  • In Brighton and on a train

    Just outside Brighton, on Devil's Dyke, the freckled fellow who spontaneously offered me the chance to try out his vast two-handed kite.

    In the Lanes, at English's restaurant, the post-stag party that bought us all champagne and an Italian waiter called Tino who made me tea just like he did in Italy, from a teabag and mint leaves. He was all friendliness and spontaneous unprofessionalism and said he'd never made tea like that for a customer before.

    On a train back from London, delayed and en route to a replacement bus, a fellow dressed as St George who offered around chocolate cookies. And a slight young Albanian with faltering English and coal-black eyes, who three times offered me his coat as I shivered on the cold bus and on the station platform.

    Gratefully I took it, then put it back on his shoulders when I remembered that after all I had my cagoule. He had to be up in five hours for building work. He seemed not at all surprised that I'd thought of travelling to the land of the eagles, and said I should marry an Albanian, because they were very good. I waved and wished him all good luck and wondered if I should have done more in the cause of international relations...