OMG as Octavia would say, how did I not know of this amazing Aladdin’s cave in SW8? That’s Vauxhall, one of my favourite neighbourhoods. WTF? as I am more likely to say since Brexit and Johnson have corrupted my language. You may have noticed in photographs of MasterB taken inside my home that I have two dining chairs whose seats I habitually with thick cloth. There are two reasons for this. One: to protect them from Himself; two: because the covers are in a fragile state and need to be replaced. The chairs are worth little if anything, certainly nothing like the amount I paid to have the joists fixed after I inherited them from Mother and realised they were in grave danger of falling apart altogether. My friend, carpenter and restorer Andrea, did the work and explained the joists had been forced apart by the covers my father had put over the originals. Basically there wasn’t enough room, and although they had been snug to start with, time and use had had an inevitable effect. Now a sensible woman, a woman not prone to wasting cash on useless items, such a woman as myself, would at that point have consigned the chairs to a skip and headed for IKEA or more likely a second hand shop. But these are the dining chairs I have lived with my whole life, and I am nothing if not sentimental about these things as some of you may have realised when I expressed my sadness at having to consign my kettle to the electrical recycling. The chairs are UtilityUtility, designed to save on materials in the 40s. You can see chairs like mine in the Geffrye Museum. My parents presumably acquired them early in married life. I have two, one of my nephews is looking after the other two, or at least I hope he is, should the day ever dawn when I move to somewhere where I have room for two extra chairs.
In the spirit of a new year and trying to keep my mental health healthy as we hurtle to the self inflicted catastrophe that is Brexit (no reciprocal health care across the EU for us in ten days. WTF?) I have looked about my home and decided the day has come to get some things fixed. First off the stereo which was making strange crackly noises, and sometimes channels were going silent, rather destroying the stereophonic experience. I went to MCQ. Of course I did. I live in Walworth. Clyde’s emporium, a shop that would cause Mary Portas severe pain, but is a complete treasure trove of almost everything musically electronic/telephonic and whatever else has caught Clyde’e eye down the decades, is up the road. Moreover my speakers, cassette deck and CD deck have all been nursed back to health thanks to Clyde. Could he, I asked, recommend someone who could come and diagnose the problem. He could. Enter David, a softly spoken, modest, gentle giant who lives down the road. The amp needed cleaning and the arm on the record deck needed attention. Off they went to Uncle Clyde and his nephew Gary. After forty years in Walworth we are almost family. They came back yesterday. I am listening to Bob Dylan who is moving at 33rpm as I type.
You have probably guessed that the chairs were next on my list, a close tie with the paper trimmer. I rang a number and got through to the London Upholsterers. Or rather I got through to their answer machine which seemed to be the voice of Joanna Lumley (confirmed today as her voice; she’s a local, a customer and a friend of the family). A conversation, an email with pictures of the chair and I was ready to follow up with a visit. On their recommendation I first went to a blacksmith in Clapham Junction with my paper trimmer which I believe belonged to my great grandfather, and is still a very useful bit of kit, to see if he could replace the broken spring. He couldn’t. So one stop on the overground to Vauxhall and off in to a side street I have never visited before.
Oh heaven, oh miracle, oh magic. And there was a dog, actually two, a bull mastiff I met en route who was an eight-year-old puppy masquerading as a grown up, and a gorgeous GSD at the business premises, also eight, called Artemis, who gave my trousers the more than once over before retiring to a well sprung bed.
I was in heaven. I wanted to move in, or at least have a Saturday job. The ghost of my father was at my elbow. Gosh he would have loved this place. I hadn’t brought my camera so these are phone photos.’
Crafts people, restoring, making, loving their work. The wallpaper was beautifully displayed in old cabinet doors rescued from skips.
Once I had been advised on a hard wearing, cat proof, material for the chairs, and we briefly discussed which colour, I got the tour.
Curtains, blinds, reupholstery.Everyone there totally engaged with what they were doing. By now it was dark and these workshops shone bright in more ways than one. I was taken to see the man who would recover the seats. My father’s ghost, not that keen on the curtains and wallpaper leapt up again and stood beside me, smiling and at home. It was like stepping back into an enlarged version of my father’s workshop: the tools and the day they were displayed, the small cabinets, the jars of screws, nuts, nails of every description. and a barometer. After being demobbed from the Royal Marine Commandos, my father was a horologist before the need to earn more money to support his family turned him to electronics. I have a barometer he restored for me. After he died, I brought it home. Seconds before it went on the wall, it fell over and the glass tubes broke. I also have a station clock he restored for me which needs a good clean to get it ticking again.
We had the briefest of chats about my chairs then, as he said, “we talked the hands off a clock” while he showed me some of his treasures and I spotted memory joggers. Next time I’ll take my camera. I had been feeling tired but I left him reenergised for the walk home, and just took one more picture of the business premises across the road which was the laundrette in the film My Beautiful Laundrette. WTF.