Life in the Arts Lane - week 133 - What to do in the car.



When I imagine what an antique dealer drives it is always a Volvo estate. I see it coughing and spluttering down the road with a large piece of furniture sticking out of the back restrained with scrag ends of string and a ragged bungee cord. The car itself is in a parlous state of disrepair, one door is a random colour, the bonnet or some other body part is yet a third. The whole exhibits poking out brown stains of rust like a fat mans belly creeping out of the seems of his voluminous shirt. 


But this image is out of date. These days the smart boys from Pimlico drive BMW estates with automatic opening and closing boots, blacked out windows and some fancy letters, that I do not understand, attached to the model number at the back - proving it's credentials for speed and swank. Further up west they drive Range Rovers and occasionally they don't drive them at all - a minion does. Lower down the pecking order the choice still veers away from the Volvo as dealers all fear falling into the cliche.


But whatever your chosen steed it seems an immutable fact that as an antique dealer you are going to have to travel by car many a mile. A 300 mile day is not exceptional. At home idle hours can be filled browsing the internet for research or shopping. But on the road you are a sitting duck, there is only the radio and eating. 



Take for example the purchase of my lacquer cabinet. Spotted in a saleroom in the darkest countryside, I cannot tell you where; or if I did I would then have to kill you - so best not. A two hundred mile day. I was hoping to buy it and therefore my beloved Saab 93 soft top is left parked outside and I venture forth in the Subaru Legacy. This car is savagely unglamorous, it is about as plain as a car could get but I love it. It is green and an automatic; I decided many years ago that changing gear was too much like hard work. It has leather seats - great when you are as clumsy as I am because you can wipe them down. But for me the USP is the large boot which allows Mosca the dog to roam around and fidget to her hearts content and me to load up the back in the traditional antique dealer manner, with a cabinet today - hopefully. In the photographs on the internet I can see that it ticks all the right boxes of proportion and originality. The actual cabinet is English; made by using cut up panels of Japanese lacquer - probably a screen. The base is japanned, that is to say decorated to simulate oriental lacquer but using pigment and varnishes. It is black. The risk and why I wanted to see it in the flesh before buying was that the quality might be poor and the restoration might be too much to take on. So I had to go.



In the car there is a DAB radio with bluetooth connectivity and two fresh bags of sweets. The radio allows me to play my iPhone and so i mix Spotify play lists with podcasts. I find hours of music slightly wearing and relentless and so I lard speech with music, or is it the other way round. “In our time” with Melvyn Bragg, or World Service Documentaries and for light relief the “Kermode and Mayo film review show” from radio 5. These are each suitably long to fill a good period of time and afford mind wandering reflection which is an integral part of a solo journey. Sometimes silence is best as the thrum of the car and zipping past landscape is just what you need. Whilst the radio is good the sweets are amazing. I have recently discovered Lidl lemon flavoured boiled sweets. They are admirably cheap but more importantly they taste of sharp lemon and the past. I have primal memories of hard square sugar-dusted sweets in tins and Lidl have somehow manage to capture exactly that. It is almost as if Chinese figs were back in the shops! (a real test for sweetie aficionados if you can recall them). Those are accompanied by M&S jelly babies, which have rather dreary colours to prove their healthy credentials. I do like the classic ones but after nearly a whole packet I start to feel weird and hyper, rather as if I have imbibed too much coffee. The same thing happens with the addictive sweets ‘Tangfastics’. Too many and you get the sugar sweats which can last for an hour or so. As you pay for your petrol the line of sweets by the till is usually extensive and horribly tempting. In supermarkets it is now frowned upon to put in the way of queuing children lines of narcotic sugary delights, but for adults in the petrol station this is seemingly acceptable. Why? Are middle aged adults not just as susceptible, can we not whine, plead with the one paying and get damaged by too much sugar? Thank goodness it is there. My particular weakness when queuing is the large Twix. And so it is today as my Jelly Babies and Lemon sweets are joined by a large Twix. The joy of a Twix is that you get two. Not just one biscuit wrapped in caramel and chocolate but two. Sometimes I tease myself by eating one and making myself wait for the second, sometimes I gobble them both up straight away. These little games or rituals that you play fill the time in the car. In the old days I used to kill car time by ringing the Mallett staff up and asking questions or setting tasks. Now I have my beloved Esther who rarely answers the phone and does not like to be belaboured with tasks. The other great driving challenge is unwrapping a sweet whilst driving. Admittedly with an automatic it is quite straightforward but not always. Having wrestled with a particularly recalcitrant and sticky boiled object of desire you get an adrenalin rush of triumph to add to the sugar and that thwarts sleepiness and tedium for a few minutes at the very minimum.



Foreign travel is much lauded in a myriad of sources but for me one of the joys afforded by abroad is access to novelty sweets. Some sour, some fruit flavoured, some hard, some soft - no matter as long as they come fresh to the field and ready to intrigue, perplex and delight. As I pull into the foreign petrol station the buzz of a potential novelty urges me in to pay and shop with great excitement. 


And so a car journey ceases to be merely the space between A and B and morphs into a smorgasbord of sugar and aural delight. If I end up buying something it can be almost as a sort of extra.