My sister Abby (you know, from the comment box down there) has come to visit on the Queen’s Trains, accompanied by two small Charlie and Lola-style children. Thanks to the imparting of the National Curriculum as practiced in the more fashionable reaches of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the youngest one has developed an overnight fascination with The Life and Times of LS Lowry, so we have hatched vague advance plans to spend our Sunday scouring the publicly-subsidised cultural establishments of the city in search of portraits depicting picturesquely cholera-threatened matchstick men emerging in thousandstrong flocks from demonic early-industrial-revolution millbuildings, which the revered and long-dead Salford-based watercolourer would surely be astounded to discover have since been tastefully converted into Stunning Canalside Apartments inhabited by media studies graduates and international footballers .
Such high-minded notions are instantly shelved, however, when a hasty Google Search for ‘Events in Stockport’ reveals that the civic authorities have seen fit to mark our visit by laying on a ‘Make Do and Mend’ themed Vintage Event in the Town Square. Calculating that the Event has our party’s precise demographic written all over it (after all, at least one of the Charlie and Lola-style children has arrived in the North West resplendent in a chunky home-knit Autumn coat featuring saucer-sized buttons in several primary colours) we hop on the 378 bus from the leafy suburbs and, following a brief and unpromising short-cut through towncentre streets lined with brutalist towerblocks, find ourselves quite without warning alighting on the Old Town; a curious fifty-yard square of Victorian splendour which has somehow survived the Madness of the PostWar Town-Planners and whose handful of edifices (former banks, building societies, and solicitors’ offices), cower under the all-conquering concrete, huddled as if for protection around the quarters’ ancient centrepiece; the cavernous, glassfronted Market Hall.
After many years of neglect (actually, probably as a direct consequence of many years of neglect) the Old Town has been over the past few years colonised by keen-eyed purveyors of vintage goods, trading in houseware and other ephemera rescued from lofts within a twenty mile radius and available to the discerning amateur of Domestic Mid-Century Modernism at a mere 400% mark-up (and I’m robbing myself, Squire). For one day only these permanent commercial residents have been joined by itinerant hawkers of many niche specialisms, whose wares (vinyl records, kitchenware, roadmaps, hats and coats, badges, matchbox cars, typewriters) are layed across stalls more used, these past four hundred years or so, to the display and sale of onions.
After an hour of frenzied furtling among the assembled ephemera, we emerge blinking into the unseasonal Autumn sunshine (or in my case, sneezing; the accumulation of forty years of the household dust of the lofts of suburban Cheshire has done nothing for my interesting selection of allergies) to be serendaded by a hired-by-the-hour crooner belting out the classics of the American Songbook to general public indifference, and to survey our haul. It’s a fine haul, even if we say so ourselves, and features as its highlights:
--a tablecloth-sized piece of heavy blue patterned fabric in a 1960s style, perfect for fashioning into an Child’s Autumnal Greatcoat, Curtain, Tablecloth or Similar (£25 reduced to £20 on account of slight misunderstanding/ haggling with a keen-eyed proprietor)
--a 12 inch Long-Player by half-forgotten Glasgow Indiepopsters the Bluebells, featuring their unlikely summer 1984 Radio One favourite ‘Young at Heart’, as well as ‘Cath’, the equally jaunty ollow up single which enjoyed less commercial success (in that next to no-one bought it) but which nevertheless, indeed perhaps for that very reason, remains fondly remembered by the ageing one-time lovelorn provincial floppy haired shoe-gazers who made up the band’s fanbase back in the day, and who now, a shadow of their former selves and trailed by infants of various sizes, spend their Sundays sneezing their way volubly around the Old Towns of Northern England, to the consternation of nomadic hawkers of matchboxes and other precious lightweight items.
--A flowery brooch, ideal for attachment to a small child’s homeknit Autumnal Greatcoat, and featuring patent mid-century mass-production metal mechanism designed for that that purpose, pre-purchase inspection of the same revealing characteristics (rustiness, sharpness, length, inadequate state of general repair) rendering the piece as a whole in likely contravention of at least two areas of modern-day European Health and Safety Legislation.
--One of those two-tone coffee-cups made of pyrex encased by a green plastic holder-handle-thing; the two parts being separable, so if you wanted to, for example at a cocktail party featuring the hits of Demos Roussos, you could just use the pyrex part and drink Martini Rosso out of it.
On the bus home, sated and half-drunk on nostalgia for the ephemera of our bygone youths, we find ourselves already regretful for the loss of briefly-spied-never-to-be-seen-again items we had not quite been able to persuade our rational selves to part with hard-earned money for, despite the insistent attentions of the gimlet-eyed hawkers: the board game Mastermind (featuring on the front an Oriental lady in a white dress, and a stern-countenanced man in a double-breasted grey suit, who we always thought looked like any one of my dad’s colleagues in the Double-Glazing trade); an only slightly moth-damaged Kirsty McColl single (not New England, but another, less celebrated one, loved by the cognoscenti); a keyring featuring the 1970s logo of National, the still-extant car-tyre chain (no, I have no idea what long-submerged memory caused me to covet it so deeply; a short course of physchotherapy would perhaps be in order, after all it was fashionable in the 1970s, like pyrex, double-glazing, Demis Roussos, and industrial unrest).
All of this, and not an LS Lowry portrait to be seen. Well, he’ll still be there for the next visit will be Salford’s finest long-dead exponent of the watercolour, although I can’t be promising we’ll do any better at admiring the various publicly-subsidised exhibitions of his works; after all, on this weekend’s evidence, in any battle between iconic matchstick men of the early industrial revolution and the dust-covered ephemera of our 1970s/1980s youth trading at scandalously eye-watering retail prices, there is only one winner. Now if you will excuse me, I am off to listen to some long-forgotten jangly guitarchords of Glaswegian provenance, while gazing through tears of nostagia at my shoes. Thank you, and good afternoon to all.