September 4, 2020

Grilled Cheese | Part 1

This is the first in a series of stories about collecting.

Grilled Cheese | Part 1

The phone vibrated suddenly.

“I’m going to an auction later, do you want to come?”

That’s how it started.

The questioner-in-chief was my Dad. For seven weeks I’d been signed off work and had hardly been out of the house. What started off as anxiety had morphed seamlessly into depression. I embraced the solitude. Being alone meant I didn’t have to pretend. The great fear was that everyone would sense my illness. And, a consciousness that there was a chance that it would make others uncomfortable. I still hadn’t processed everything and I wasn’t ready to have a constructive dialogue on the subject.

I imagined strangers taking one look at me and knowing instantly that I was ‘mentally unwell’. Yet, it was those that knew me that concerned me the most. Being with family and friends who knew what I was going through was hard at times. There was a feeling that they were doing an assessment to gauge whether my condition had improved since we last engaged. My concern was of their concern for me. I didn’t want them to worry. Which, of course they naturally did.

There was a special subset of friends that I wanted to avoid. The people that knew me but didn’t yet know I was unwell. My ability to make people laugh is unquestionably a blessing. But at that moment in time, it felt like a curse. My ability to act happy had taken an extended sabbatical. The potential for awkward conversations as the realisation set in, was too much for me to cope with.

I can write rationally now of how I felt but, at the time, it was simpler - humans were to be avoided.

I surprised myself by saying ‘yes’.

My Dad is like me in many ways. One shared mannerism is our fear of being late. Dad picked me up and, as we approached the auction room, he noted that we were too early. He suggested we go to Forte’s Cafe. That name might not mean much too you. But this was the cafe we used to go to before football matches when I was a kid. I hadn’t been their for thirty years. A wave of instant nostalgia washed over me. The 8-year-old me savouring a Coke Float. Competing memories clashed inside my head. As my brain returned to reality I grabbed the menu. Was it possible that they still did it? The answer was yes.

A grilled cheese roll.

It was every bit as good as I remembered. Better even, as it came with a side serving of comfort. Comfort that one thing, at least, was the same as I remembered. Sharing that moment with my Dad was special. We talked about the ceramic figures he was going to have a look at. We talked about memories of Forte’s. We talked easily about everything and nothing.

At the sales room, we walked the aisles together before going our separate ways to explore at our own pace. It wasn’t like the auctions you see on TV where interesting and valuable artefacts are around every corner. It was a cornucopia of crap. Bizarre mixed lots bundled together and united only by a lot number. Many of the lots were clearly part of a house clearance. A life distilled into a collection of shoe boxes. Every now and then though, there was something to catch the eye. Something of interest. A beautiful watercolour painting. An old railway station sign. A 19th century writing desk. Objects I could appreciate without necessarily having any interest of owning.

There were a few objects I recognised from my own childhood. Games. Toys. Books. The familiarity again transporting me back in time. Then I saw them. Tucked away underneath a table, a box of Corgi trucks and lorries. They were all in their original boxes. I recognised a few of them from my own childhood collection. I knew they were collectable. The guide price, if I remember was £20-£30. I did a few more circuits of the sales room, but I always ended up back at the Corgi collection. The magnetism of memories. Dad materialised behind me and saw what I was looking at. He picked up one of the boxes. He commented on their excellent condition and got out his phone. My Dad, being something of a collector and bargain hunter, is no stranger to eBay. He went into research mode.

“That one alone has sold for £30 and that one went for £25.” And with those words a chain reaction was set in motion. We looked at each other, locked eyes and telepathically communicated. Yeah, we were having these!

Dad let me do the bidding. If memory serves me correctly, there was one other bidder but they only made one bid. The Corgi’s were ours. I tried to play it nonchalant, but there was a sense of complete euphoria. A joy that I hadn’t experienced for a long time. We won. They were ours. We’d got ourselves an absolute bargain. The conversation on the car journey home was one of excitement and of possibility. We laughed, yet, as we got closer home we were both thinking exactly the same thing.

“Mum’s going to love this.” I said.

This time it was a proper belly laugh.

Mum did a great job of feigning incredulity at our bizarre purchase. She was well used to Dad’s collecting habit. She shook her head and smiled. Over a cup tea, the three of us talked. None of us aware of just how significant a role that moment would play in my recovery.