Seen from the street, the shop itself seems
neither eager for me to browse, nor to push me away.
It emits an air of indifferent dignity; the sense that –
should I frown – it will ignore me, yet if I show interest,
its welcome will be warm.
The window holds yesteryears’ extravagant
trinkets and treats;
their sepia hints pricked with the kind of modest pride
typical of old gold and porcelain.
If these elite items vie for purchase,
they do so with quiet grace.
Inside, gifts of both love and duty, mingle with acquisitions
of status and desire.
They pose in glass cases and perch on polished shelves,
with large sculptures artfully arranged within their own floor space.
Some might conceal untold secrets, while the tales of others
were told and retold long ago, by glazed grandparents
to children who wriggled with impatience, their minds
scrabbling for cake tins or trees to climb.
Old treasures are looking-glasses of the dead –
those whose eyes are blind, who leave
no mist on the filigree mirror –
such pretties contain no memories;
yet they retain an air of history, even when separated
from the ghosts who wrote their stories.
Were the proprietor other than Mark Parkhouse,
I might suggest that the glinting acquisitions
were the pillage of thieves, but
I trust this antique dealer.
As I enter, a female assistant greets me.
Mr Parkhouse is a man who knows how to dress;
his quiet presence is such that I hardly
have time to register the grey suit
before my attention becomes concentrated on his face.
It is only when I walk away
that I picture all of him.
As I explain my mission, he rises
from behind his tidy desk and speaks in a warm tone.
I open the box, show him the brooch,
making my usual apologies; I doubt
that this example of costume jewellery has more
than miniscule monetary value,
but it is a beauty, and while I would like
to offer our customers the opportunity of ownership,
I want to charge whatever is due to it.
A lesser man
might fling it aside,
arrogantly spitting the words, “ten quid”,
but he shows respect for the charity that I represent
and for the small vanity which glitters in his hand.
Examining it, he tells me what to look for
and recommends a ten pound ticket.
When he says it hails from the 1930s,
I can’t resist a smile; it matches
The box contains two other brooches;
a slightly damaged, but charismatic marcasite
plus an attractive 1950s piece – another correct guess from me;
I’m getting better at this, but I am still
He takes the trouble to value
my humble offerings.
Before I leave, he exhorts me
not to be shy bringing my optimistic discoveries;
he will willingly impart
the knowledge of his forty years in the business,
and one day Oxfam might hit the jackpot.
Walking back to Oxfam,
a wide grin splits my face.
I let it stay, making the most of the moment.
My heels and my joints are suddenly
Mr Parkhouse knows a lot. This
is what he doesn’t know:
raising the maximum for the charity
matters a great deal to me, but more to the point,
this gentle, rare man
adds bonus points to my store of happiness.
It doesn’t matter that when I see him,
he doesn’t seem to recall having met me before,
all that is important
is that he is
©Jane Paterson Basil