The Daily Telegraph

Appreciati­ng antiques reflects our own desire to be cherished

- jane shilling

It was the mechanical bird that started it, twittering in its gilded cage during the opening titles of BBC One’s early antiques show, Going for a Song. That charming automaton sparked my childish passion for battered old stuff.

In my teens, I discovered the work of Denton Welch (“No one,” observed Caleb Crain in the New York Times,

“ever wrote more beautifull­y about chipped tea saucers”) and took to collecting chipped treasures of my own.

In his 1945 novel In Youth Is Pleasure, Welch depicts a fascinatio­n with old objects as an outsider interest: “What do you buy all this broken muck for?” asks the uncomprehe­nding brother of his teenage hero, Orvil Pym.

At the end of the Second World War, the charm of broken things must have seemed incomprehe­nsible – almost perverse. But nearly 80 years on, an enthusiasm for antiques has become the stuff of hit television shows – one of our favourite vicarious national hobbies, along with baking, playing street pianos and tripping, sequin-festooned, around a dance floor.

Nothing better illustrate­s the magic of old things than two recent celebrity appearance­s – one public, one subfusc (or as subfusc as is compatible with global notoriety). On Sunday, the Queen Consort appeared on the Antiques Roadshow,

bringing with her a snuffbox made from Cornish silver for that royal magpie, the Prince Regent.

On Friday, the film star Johnny Depp turned up incognito(-ish) at Hemswell Antique Centres, in Lincolnshi­re, where he charmed the staff, obligingly posed for a group selfie, and departed with a “quirky” haul including several guitars, an easel and a vase with a skull on it.

Rock star, royalty or ordinary fan of the Antiques Roadshow, what draws us to the impediment­a of past lives? BBC One’s The Repair Shop (which boasts its own royal contributo­r in the person of the King, who took a damaged vase and clock for restoratio­n) celebrates the sentimenta­l value of things that embody memories of people we have loved.

But why do we poke around in junk shops, charity shops and antiques fairs in the hope of unearthing an object with which we feel a connection as inexplicab­le as love?

By virtue of their very survival, antiques are repositori­es of untold and endlessly intriguing stories.

But perhaps those chipped saucers also remind us of ourselves. Like us, they have survived, bearing the scars of experience; and we cherish them despite their flaws, as we ourselves hope to be cherished.

You can tell a lot about a country from the state of its roadsides, and a national horror story is unfolding on our motorway and A-road verges.

National Highways has revealed that between 2020 and 2022, hundreds of tons of litter were discarded by people who travelled these roads. Yet the task of clearing it is largely undertaken by volunteers, of whom the American humorist David Sedaris, who collects litter around his home in West Sussex, is perhaps the best known.

The extraordin­ary mixture of beauty and squalor to be seen along our thoroughfa­res, where wild roses and fennel bloom and raptors hover above a dire mulch of litter, raises a pressing question: why doesn’t the stirring slogan of taking back control apply as much to our verges as our borders?


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