Julian’s idea of hell was to be dragged out to some remote countryside venue, for a “vintage” or “decorative living” fair. But the thought of letting Camilla, his vintage-addicted wife, loose amongst all the stalls was a thought too frightening to contemplate. Her enthusiasm for linen cushions, wobbly chairs, patchwork quilts and endless amounts of pretty china was boundless, unlike her bank balance. Julian’s Modus Operandi was to control the otherwise unchecked spending by casting a gloomy spell over any of Camilla’s proposed purchases.
Thus it would be common to find Julian firing up the old Range Rover to transport Camilla to her latest vintage outpost. Inevitably, the satnav would fail to bring them to the appointed spot, often leading them on a wild goose chase to some dead-end or impassable off-road track. Camilla’s skills as a navigator were found wanting and only by dint of pestering hapless locals on pushbikes were they able to find their way to Little Bathouse on the Avon or other such hidden gems. Parking the monster 4X4 on a single track lane was always a challenge, leading to much bad language from Julian and much fluttering from Camilla.
Camilla would almost break into a run in her excitement of seeing the glint of galvanised metal in the watery sunshine. Some carefully chosen vintage wares would be artfully laid outside the venue de jour, to lure in the customers. Julian would lag behind, hoping that at least the café would live up to its promise of “delicious home-made cake” – the highlight of his day.
Camilla would then begin her orgy of indecision and impulse buying. Weaving from stall to stall, drawn by the sight of anything pink or a faded textile, she would pass amongst the heavily laden tables. Her gushing over the glories on offer “such a dear little jug” or “I simply adore that cushion” would trigger Julian’s crushing remarks “What do you want that old thing for?” or “Haven’t we already got enough cushions”. He was blissfully unaware of the scowls and glares of the stallholders as he passed by on his path of righteousness. Camilla, however, was undeterred by such negativity, choosing to ignore it entirely.
On the odd occasion, Julian would spot something that he actually quite liked. Usually, something in leather or wood, or an old print tucked way, almost apologetically masculine in a sea of femininity. He would seize the item, like a drowning man grasps a lifebuoy, and engage the stallholder in conversation about its provenance. All the better if the item was in any way connected with fishing, cricket or the war. Of course, Julian would think nothing of spending a large sum on an item for his own collection. But Camilla was on his case and would frequently bear down just as the purchase was about to be made. “Darling, where will you put that old thing – your study is quite full and I really can’t have it in the house”. Sheepishly, Julian would put the item back with a rueful smile at the stallholder, now frustrated at losing a sale of the old bit of tat she had been dragging around for months. Once in a while, however, Julian would sneak a purchase before Camilla spotted him in the act and he would enjoy a quiet moment of triumph at his own skulduggery and stealth.
Bored by the endless chatter at each stall, and the excessive “oohs” and “aahs” of delight over a piece of “old rag” (his words), Julian would take refuge in the “country café”. Joining the queue, he would wait to buy over-priced coffee and cake served by two dithering and largely inefficient girls, Alice and Sophie.
Julian would find a quiet table, usually amongst other similarly disenchanted husbands, and would enjoy his first moment of peace for the day. Perhaps a word or two would be exchanged with the other men about the cricket, the road conditions or some other matter of world importance. But no talk of cushions, fabrics, china, interior design or gardens would be contemplated or indulged in.
Finally, Camilla would appear and the peace would be shattered. Julian would be directed to various spots to collect the vast array of purchases. Often, the item would be a large piece of old furniture, inevitably in scruffy old paint with woodworm holes, to be levered into the car boot somehow. Equally awkwardly shaped items such as tin baths, large and fragile plants and cast iron garden implements would need to be accommodated. Finally, the European Cushion Mountain would be squeezed in around the other objects leaving room for nothing else. A contented Camilla would then fall asleep on the long journey home, leaving Julian to battle with the tempramental satnav alone.
Back at home, Camilla would spend happy hours on the phone to her girlfriends chattering about her latest finds. Julian, meanwhile, would have his reward listening to Test Match Special whilst mowing the acres of lawn on his new ride-on motor mower. After all, a chap has to have some fun!