I’m finally back from the last of my summer holidays – a quiet, relaxing week with Fireman in a remote cabin in the Spanish hills.
It’s been a real joy to be so isolated for a week; him painting, me working on a book, and nothing to think about but what we might put on the barby or whether it’s too early to open the first bottle of wine.
Now I’m home and unpacked, I realise there is another benefit to being so far away from civilisation. I have not been able to fill my suitcase with the usual junk that finds its way back with me to London every year. So far this summer I have acquired a gaudy plastic and lace fan (it was too hot, I was desperate); an oddly shaped oil and vinegar jar (they looked cute in the restaurant shop); and an oversized multi-coloured handbag (cheery in situ, euro-trash in London).
I’m not sure how it happens, but every time I go abroad I become a magpie. I find myself browsing in the kind of shops that I would scoff at in London as the worst kind of tourist rubbish. Even if I find something slightly tasteful, I never seem to learn that context is key; a salt cellar in the shape of a chicken may look sweet in a Croatian farmhouse but in South East London is looks more “batty old lady” than boho charm. And really, when am I ever going to open that bottle of Alpine Liqueur that appears to have pine needles slowly rotting at the bottom…..
Since I met Fireman I have been able to blame this clutter collecting on his mother. It’s family tradition to bring her back a fridge magnet from wherever they go and so tourist tat shops are largely unavoidable. But in truth I’ve been doing this for years. In fact for several years a friend and I used to compete to see who could buy the other the most repulsive present. That was the year of the flashing Eiffel Tower earrings and a tiny alarm clock in the shape of Paul Daniels. (From Italy. No kidding. Though now I think about it, it could have been Uncle Silvio…..)
In the end, I have thrown all these things away, as they began to fill draws and collect dust. But I have to confess that my very favourite is still hidden away in my desk drawer. It is a key ring, in the shape of the previous Pope’s head, which is also a Dictaphone. It is a work of genius, with the utterly brilliant name: “The Benedictaphone”. It only records about 20 seconds of material, but that’s more than enough to ensure the pope can order a triple vodka, do a verse of “Who Let The Dogs Out” or shout “Show us yer tits!” at passing traffic.
And all the years of collecting are worth it just for that.