A few years ago I developed an unusual – and luckily fleeting – habit: I started looking forward to my Sunday night TV appointment with the BBCs Antiques road show. The program could be wrapped in more layers of nobility than a Victorian lady in a ruffled petticoat (think plum presenters with hair painted like a shiny dining table; a celebrated mound of land as a backdrop, the Theme song), but what really makes it worth watching are things that are way more delicious.
First, there are the unsuspecting people who don’t know that their ancestors were likely thieves. They come with two ornate silver candlesticks and a half-baked story about how her great-grandmother was so loved by the family she worked for that they told her to take whatever she wanted when she retired. Of course they did, dear. Then there used to be all sorts of colonial and military booty, which I suspect may no longer be broadcast these days: roof tiles that were pressed out of the Forbidden Palace, the underpants of a maharajah. But what I’ve always enjoyed was watching the show suck the breath away from people’s dreams of immeasurable wealth before your very eyes.
Sometimes the moderator explained that the object appeared to be a later imitation, glued back together, or was more commonplace, making its owner feel both poorer and publicly degraded. For example, even if they loved an old grandfather clock, they would add, âIt could fetch Â£ 100 at auction.â The poor guy now realized that they had basically wasted their lives on this ugly beast (clock, not moderator ) but now they were sitting in front of a television camera and had to kind of pretend they never bothered about the money. So they kept saying the same sentence through clenched teeth: “Oh really, so much”. And then the moderator would use the equally reliable phrase: “The most important thing is that you enjoy it.”
Value. It feels like a solid, reliable word. What we stand for, what things. What monetary or personal importance we attach to something. But some days it’s a strange concept to deal with.
This week we gave something to someone we know whose life is not easy, and probably not as organized as most of you reading this column would find comfortable. There are no drugs or drinks, but some problems are safe. The gift was of modest monetary value, but they had indicated that they would wish and appreciate it. However, on a phone call 24 hours later, they told us that they had gone to the local pawn shop and sold it – for a pathetic low price.
Try to untangle the value we tried to attribute to a gift. The fleeting value it held for someone whose life is not easy. The value that a pawn shop places on it. What was it actually worth? I just do not know. But I found the experience annoying – and inappropriate, because it was really none of our business whether it was valued once it was out of our hands.
You will also remember earlier this year that I talked about my partner’s aunt’s death and everything related to it. Selling a home after someone dies in the UK can be a lengthy process. First, you need to obtain an estate (my partner’s work as an executor) to liquidate the estate. Then you âswapâ with your buyer during the sale – that finally happened on Monday – and that is the moment when nobody can get out. And then “done”. The date is set for October 25th. Keys are handed over.
While most of the possessions have long been scattered, now is the time to get rid of the furniture, and this week has been a painful revenge re-enactment for Antiques road show. In our post-coronavirus world, pictures of potentially valuable items are sent to auction houses and a young man with a posh name – Archie, James – sends his valuation opinions back. It turns out that a Georgian cabinet is “of little commercial value”; Sets of glassware are accepted, but “please remove all sherry glasses as there is no market for them”; even many of the things they want have reserves suggested so low that renting a van to take them to the auction house runs the risk of wasting potential profit. How can a table that has been cherished for centuries be worth less than a new MDF table from Ikea? But we cannot keep these things; we have no place. So we have to hope that someone else will buy and appreciate them.
And maybe that’s all our friend did. Simply thought: âI hope the gift ends up somewhere where it is valued; it can’t stay here because at the moment I need money. âAnd maybe the answer when the pawnbroker made his ridiculous offer was relieved:â Really, that much? â