FIRST AMBASSADOR: Thus, then, in few.
Your highness, lately sending into France,
Did claim some certain dukedoms, in the right
Of your great predecessor, King Edward the Third.
In answer of which claim, the prince our master
Says that you savour too much of your youth,
And bids you be advised there's nought in France
That can be with a nimble galliard won;
You cannot revel into dukedoms there.
He therefore sends you, meeter for your spirit,
This tun of treasure; and, in lieu of this,
Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim
Hear no more of you. This the Dauphin speaks.
KING HENRY V: What treasure, uncle?
EXETER: Tennis-balls, my liege.
William Shakespeare (Henry V, Act I, Scene II)
I LIVE IN A GROUND FLOOR FLAT and have no attic, so any items that might be converted into cash some hungry day are pretty much within plain view. In fact, I don't even have built-in cupboards (what the Americans call closets); I make do with a gigantic wardrobe that fills my bedroom. This is so tall and deep that it takes a considerable effort to move and remove the suitcases and boxes I store on top of it. Inside, the wardrobe is spacious and I'm fortunate enough that I can admit that it is really quite full of clothing. If I get fearfully bored and lonely I can push through the coats and trousers and visit Mr Tumnus. He's a nice chap, reminds me of James McAvoy. It's a very English wardrobe.
We have a great many television programmes that involve items found in attics, loft spaces, cupboards, garages, storage units and enormous wardrobes being identified, valued, and sometimes sold at auction. The owners, on discovering that their old box is worth thousands always say: "Of course, it's a family heirloom; we'd never part with it." And then they make the arrangements to sell the treasured thing as soon as they can get out of the valuation room and grin silly and ecstatic grins. "We can be in the Seychelles for Christmas."
There are a number of game shows on the television here in which teams compete to buy items in bargain shops, in flea markets and at car boot sales, and then sell them on at auction or at another thrift sale. The items in these shows tend to be small potatoes in the antique market. Read, for that, junk. "This isn't just plastic … it's Bakelite."
I suppose the best-known programme, that has been running for three decades, would be Antiques Roadshow. The items valued on location, usually in grand country homes or castles, are not sold … Well, as mentioned, not right away. However, from time to time, the Roadshow does an update programme and one hears about some of the astonishing prices people got for the old painting from the cellar "We had no idea it was a Turner!" or the Jacobean crockery they'd kept hidden because it was so ugly, but great-auntie had passed it along on her deathbed. Native American and Inuit artefacts seem to do very well. "Uncle Bill brought it back from the USA in the 1850s, got it in exchange for something pointy."
A favourite programme of mine, mid-day viewing if I'm home, is Cash in the Attic. I got hooked on this show in Bermuda: Attic was aired on one of the cable channels I subscribed to. The host was, at first, usually Alistair Appleton, a most personable presenter with a plummy accent. When Alistair spoke of Art Nouveau with one of the regular experts, Paul or Jonty, called in to select and value items for sale at auction, one felt that he knew what he was talking about. A good accent in the auction business is everything. Alistair Appleton now presents a real estate programme; he finds homes in the country for city dwellers. He's a some-time actor and Buddhist, holds spiritual retreats and, is openly gay. My sister was crushed to hear that, she'd been having fantasies in the attic with Alistair. "Are you sure he's gay?" "It's on his web page."
On the subject of accents: Most of the people clearing their attics or buying up knick-knacks at French yard sales are ladies with shrieking accents that I file under "Fishwife", or "Monty Python Woman", and they are irritating in the extreme. One woman, madness in her eyes, was asked if the nasty bit of tat she'd brought in to be valued might be important to her. "Oh, yes," she screeched. "It's a family hair-loom." When asked how long it had been in her family, she said: "My mother got it at a flea market six years ago." I'd not make a very good presenter for this sort of show as I'd soon lecture people on pronunciation and good taste. "Talk slowly and softly, you silly old moo; we're not in Grimsby."
I've watched the American version of Antiques Roadshow, which pales against the UK version. American history is only a few decades old, hardly a lifetime. While I live with a castle built some 800 to 900 years ago outside the kitchen window, the best an American can hope for is a Sonic Burger Drive-In. American "Indian" items do well on the Roadshow there, photos of Sitting Bull, that sort of thing. American history is actually that of other peoples.
This morning a couple of women on Sun, Sea and Bargain Spotting bought up several hundred pounds (each) worth of rubbish on the Continent, getting pounds and euros confused, and brought back all their bits and pieces to a market in England where they sold the things for the best prices they could. The woman making the most money in the market would win a bowl. Neither woman had any sales sense, they'd been unable to barter back on the Continent and had considerably overpaid for what seemed to mostly be electrical fixtures (which had the incorrect fittings for British wiring), and their method was madness: Accept any offer. They didn't even ask for what they'd paid. At the end of the competition one woman had spent £350 in Europe and sold the items back in Britain for under £150, a loss of over £200. The winner lost only about £120. It's not just corporate bankers and insurance executives that haven't a clue.
Oscar Wilde said that a cynic was a person who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Oscar said that because it was his job to write cute, irritating lines for his players. Oscar would love to have written the story about the hair-loom bought six years ago at a flea market, though his characters never stooped so low that I recall. Lady Bracknell would never have uttered such a thing; she was anything but a fishwife.
The two oldest-looking things in my flat (besides my reflection in the bathroom mirror) are a teddy-bear and a frog, both dressed in rather eccentric clothes. Both were actually made in China and purchased (new) this year. New is the new old.