When news broke that an ‘Antiques Road Show’-style event was coming to Hastings, I immediately contacted the members of my family. We, like any family, have our fair share of heirlooms and were eager to have their, no-doubt, astronomical value confirmed to us once and for all. For those unfamiliar with the process, an Antiques Road Show is an event whereby you turn up with some ancient artefact to have it appraised by guys in tweed jackets with elbow patches and gold rimmed glasses that sit like birds on the ends of their noses.
I don’t know the names of the appraisers, but I imagine they’re along the lines of ‘Humphrey Thirstburger’, ‘Aubrey Nimble – Twerp’ and ‘Algernon Thwistlestick’.
As for the evaluations, they fall into two distinct categories. The first is best summarized as ‘we’ve had this sitting at the bottom of the broom closet for thirty years and I was about to toss it out but thought I’d find out its worth’. Almost without fail, if the person says this first, then the object they present – whether it be a ceramic vase, silver samovar or used gym-sock, will be worth an absolute packet. Thus, an object that was destined for bin night is elevated to the status of heirloom in a matter of moments. However, it does not work out this way for everyone.
The other category is best described as ‘disappointment’. This is where people present their object as though it was the holy grail itself, only to learn that the item in question was a promotional giveaway in 1976 with every bottle of schnapps sold by a now-defunct discount liquor store and is worth about as much as a postage stamp. When this withering verdict is delivered, the job of the person whose hopes of an early retirement have just been dashed on National television is to take it on the chin and say that the sentimental value of the item is all that matters. Whether the object then survives beyond the next hard-rubbish collection would, I feel, make a fascinating sequel. Surely the path from the Antiques Road Show is littered with remains of discarded relics in much the same way as abandoned beer bottles and high heel shoes clutter the route leading from the Spring Racing Carnival.
As for me, I had only one object in mind. Original artworks, antique crockery and what may well be pirate currency have no interest. Rocking up to have something evaluated is much like getting an audience with the Wizard of Oz – you may only get one shot and it’s best to make it count. I needed answers, dabmabbit, and here was a perfect opportunity to get them.
Contacting my father is no easy matter. I emailed, but then realized that he only checks these on a monthly basis, at best. After repeated phone calls, I finally got through. Panicked that time may well be running out, in a voice nearly worn hoarse with excitement I said just four words: ‘get the spider tie.’
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Granted, that’s often the case, but in my father’s house beauty is in a locked mahogany chest next to the Pianola. Within its chiselled walls lie all manner of treasures, including the greatest neck tie known to humanity. And just as true fashion never goes out of style, the same is true of any item of apparel that is hopelessly and gloriously out of fashion. It is as simple as it is beautiful. The spider tie is a single, deceptively flimsy piece of silk that has a picture of a spider on it and a large, embroided web. It was worn by my father, just once, in 1954 to a local ball. Since that time, no occasion has been deemed important enough to warrant its resurrection.
For those of you who may feel that a spider tie is in poor taste, you’re missing the point. In fact, stop reading, get a torch and a shovel and start searching. When you think you’ve found the point, then (and only then) should you continue reading. For the rest of you, the point is this: back before the first rubber chicken was patented by Humphrey Thirstburger in 1972, the spider tie was the greatest achievement in comedy to that time. Surely this apocryphal, arachnid artefact had assumed an exalted status in the decades since and would be worth enough to make my entire family eligible for an episode of ‘The Secret Millionaire.’
My father, sadly, did not share my enthusiasm. According to him, the spider tie was not worth very much at all. If this were true, then why on earth had it been kept under lock and key for more than fifty years?
As it happens, my family had suggestions of their own. Given that the point of Antiques Road Show is to give value to something that’s extremely old, my brother suggested we offer up the contents of my father’s pantry. My sister in law thought the antacid tablets in the medicine cabinet were eligible. All fine suggestions, but nothing with the knock out ‘wow’ factor of a spider tie. My hopes were, officially, dashed to pieces. Dispirited, I then swept up the pieces into an old pillowcase and headed down for an evaluation. Aubrey Nimble – Twerp took a long, hard look and declared them worthless.
I kept a brave face for the cameras and thanked him for his effort. Deep down, I knew he was right – their only value was sentimental.