Antiques Roadshowitis – or why we hoard

It\’s the middle class nightmare and it happens squirmily on screen in every time the  Antiques Roadshow is broadcast.

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Just in case you haven\’t got this show where you are, this is a very long-running and extremely popular BBC show in which experts on all kinds of antiques go around the country and set up in various picturesque and historic places. Then ordinary people for miles around bring in things they\’ve got in their houses that they think might be worth something. The experts give an assessment of the more interesting items, which is filmed, and hazard a guess as to the value and the owners say, \”No, it\’s a family heirloom and we\’d never sell it\” and everybody pretends to believe them. There are basically two archetypal scenes.

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Archetypal scene I: ordinary person brings in an odd-looking pot from their loo that they think might be interesting or even a Ming vase and it isn\’t, but then the weird- looking ceramic owl they bought when hungover at a boot sale for 50p turns out to be a rare kind of Elizabethan thingy worth £20,000.

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Archetypal scene II: ordinary person brings in a big painting that they bought for quite a lot because they thought it was a rare work by somebody famous but the experts tell them it\’s probably a fake and their world, finances and marriage collapse.

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And you know what? It\’s scene I that scares everybody, not scene II. Scene II isn\’t frightening because everybody watching knows that they would never be so silly as to think they could pick up a Picasso for a mere couple of grand and that that snotty know-all deserved the humiliation he got.

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Scene I is the stuff of nightmares because the joy of the ordinary people who bought the weird-looking £20,000 Elizabethan owl for 50p at a boot sale will be outweighed ten times by the agony of the ordinary people who sent Aunt Mildred\’s weird-looking owl to a boot sale in the first place. Families all over the land will be shuddering at the thought and wondering if there was anything like it in the boxes they took to the charity shop ten years ago.

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That, in a nutshell, is why neither I nor anyone else who watches the Antiques Roadshow can ever throw anything out. Because you Never Know. It Might Be Worth Something.

More boxes of books…

I\’ve just done another trip to Cornwall and back to see the boys and also… transport more boxes of books. One hundred possessions seems such a distant goal, I\’m still lugging heavy boxes around and wondering where on earth I can ever store them permanently.

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I know I should but I still can\’t let them go. And there\’s nowhere to store them in my mother\’s house either. That\’s because my mother\’s house is, naturally, completely stuffed with her possessions. Quite a few books, of course, but for my mother, the things she really can\’t let go of are clothes.

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Mind you, they\’re all really lovely and very good quality. My mother has always had a real gift for finding good clothes, often from charity shops or in sales. This is a talent that completely skipped me and landed in my daughter instead. But every drawer, every cupboard in a five bedroomed house is full of my mother\’s outfits, none of which fit me because I\’m considerably larger and a lot less elegant.

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And yet at the moment, my mother is wearing black corduroy trousers and simple polo neck jumpers pretty much every day. She looks a million dollars in them, but that\’s it. For special occasions she has a very smart skirt and jacket she wears with a red cashmere jumper. Most of the lovely clothes stuffed into the wardrobes haven\’t been worn for years, some not for decades.

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I\’ve just got rid of half the clothes in my wardrobe as well but I found that considerably easier than the books. For my mother, letting go of any clothes at all is impossible because she might need them one day.

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And that\’s the catch, isn\’t it? That\’s why even thinking of paring down to just (?!) one hundred possessions both excites and terrifies me. What if I get rid of something and need it one day?

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The fact is that even if I did need it again I almost certainly wouldn\’t be able to find it (a.k.a. the five hammers problem*). But it\’s the idea: fear of my annoyance if I found I needed something and I\’d given it away just a week before.

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Fear of shortage, fear of not enough. Considering we are the richest society and live the cushiest lives of any humans ever, this is pretty sad, really.

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*The Five Hammers Problem. I buy a hammer to do a job. I put it in a safe place. A few months later, I need a hammer but I can\’t find the one I bought. So I buy another one, use it, put it in a safe place… And so on. Until I move house and find five hammers.