My mother has been a keen collector of antiques for decades. In the home in which I grew up, I slept in an antique bed and the walls were covered in antique prints. Our garage was so full of antique furniture and collectables, there was barely enough room for the modern day car and bicycles. I later found out that a genuine Korean War landmine sat on the shelves next to the paint and toolkit - just next to my beloved bicycle. We were never really sure whether it had been deactivated properly ...
On Sunday evenings, Antiques Roadshow time was sacrosanct and hush was enforced. So when we heard the Antiques Roadshow was coming to Aberglasney, we simply had to go. Aberglasney is a recently renovated estate in the scenic Twyi Valley that traces its history back to medieval times (if not earlier), so the event and the location were appealing - but the weather was not. In the days before it had rained ... and rained ....and rained some more. But my mother, with her unflinching blitz spirit, was determined to go. On the eve of the show - and despite another gloomy foreacast, my mother declared: "We'll take lawnchairs and umbrellas."
The next day we loaded the car with antique prints, silverware, ceramics, militaria, a mysterious ladies' compact and our friend Agnes. The rain persisted, the sky was grey, the route was misty - but off we set off with great anticipation.
On arrival, we were surprised and pleased that so many people had defied the forecast. Despite the stubbornly abysmal weather, there was definitely an upbeat mood among the queues of antiques enthusiasts, and we were pleasantly distracted by the exquisite geometric layout of the gardens on either side of the cloister walkway.
As we approached reception, a small temporary gazebo-like structure which lay at the centre of organised chaos, we spotted Fiona Bruce, striking in a turquoise rain poncho. She was busy assessing people’s booty in order to direct them to the most appropriate queue - be it ceramics, militaria, portraits or the popular (read ‘very long’ queue) miscellaneous queue. Our receptionist advised us to go to the shorter ‘silver and jewellery’ queue.
For about an hour, we progressed forward. Agnes went off to explore the gardens. My mother started chatting to the couple in front of us, while I fell into conversation with the lady behind who had brought a doll collection with her from Cardiff. The weather hadn't managed to dampen (pardon the pun) our enthusiasm!
At 4 o’clock we finally reached the promised land – the realm of the Antiques Roadshow experts. They had clearly been ‘processing’ people all day and yet, despite the endless queues and the fact that many of them were still trying to finish sandwiches left over from lunch, they welcomed each new face and item with politeness and interest. No doubt, they must have heard the same stories before but they treated each situation with fresh eyes – something which was much appreciated by everyone.
Agnes returned from her tour of the gardens just in time for the pièce de resistance. At last, my mother found herself sitting across from silver and jewellery expert, Alastair Dickenson. First items up were a pair of Georgian cheesewarmers. Although they were very similar, they weren't identical. Still, Alastair said that it was highly unusual to have a pair. My mother smiled, pleased with her ability to spot antique talent. Alastair explained that wells built in beneath the dishes could be filled with hot water through a hole revealed when the handle was removed. Clever. Personally, I thought the warmers had a future as fondue dishes.....
The next item my mother presented to Alastair was a solid gold, Austro-Hungarian era compact. Alastair discovered a secret compartment which held a miniature lipstick with a surprise feature: a real sapphire stone. We oohed and aahed. Alastair presented it to his colleague who also looked intrigued. Having weighed it on a scale he valued our treasure at £750. My mother was thrilled. She only paid £10 for it at a boot sale! This had been a worthy climax to an exceptional day.
Beaming, but a bit emotionally and physically drained, we headed for the Salutation, a local pub. Within minutes another group of ladies came in. They had the Antiques Roadshow ‘glow’. They too were veterans. We swapped stories about our shared experience and everyone said how much they had enjoyed the day. But for my mother it was definitely one of the highlights of the year - and well worth all the waiting in the rain.