With time on my hands yesterday and a new sculpture in the pipeline, I decided to visit the last remaining old fashioned ironmongers in Rute (ROO-tay). It is an extraordinary shop – similar to Arkwrights in that it will have Fork Handles and Four Candles as well as air conditioning machines and wheel barrows.
I feel, as I enter this homage to the olden days, that I must morph into a mole, because there is not one single light on in the whole shop, and a smell of damp pervades the air. Through the murk you can make out everything from chairs to heaters, watering cans to coffee makers – all dredged in a thick layer of dust.
I cough, call “Hola”, and wait. And, as ever, from around a mountain of tiny boxes housing every size of screw, nail, washer and bolt, comes the owner – a man in his 90s, who has not a hair on his head. And from the mountain of boxes to the counter, all of two steps, I watch him, quivering and shaking, as he takes minutes to cross the gap to greet me.
He gathers himself and looks into my eyes with his own rheumy blue pair.
I tell him that I have come to buy wire – the thinnest possible, and that I am in a bit of a hurry.
He explains to me that he can sell me however many metres I want, while trundling back to a vast pair of wire cutters. I am ordered to follow him so, remaining behind him, we walk, more slowly than the growing speed of an oak tree, to his back rooms, him shaking with a regular, almost soothing monotony, as he goes. He fumbles around for what seems like an age for a light switch, potters on – another light switch – potters on until eventually we arrive in a dusty damp infested room with cement bags and chicken wire.
I’m really beginning to realise that I should never have come here, and yet I am practically having an out of body experience with the surrealness of it all. Here I am, in some dank and dark back room with an extremely elderly man who is no gentleman, but I feel entirely safe as I could walk faster than he could run.
And he shows me his prized wire – huge rolls of oxidized and galvanised totally unsuitable stuff which I won’t be buying – so I thank him and say No, sorry to have taken your time, I need a much finer wire …..
I thought I had my opportunity at that moment to escape, as my eyes fell on the dustiest sewing machine for sale next to a chemical loo and floor rug – but he says No! Come here, I have more … and we walk back, achingly slowly, back to the very place we started where he shows me his thinnest wire – 0.6mm – too thick and galvanised …. But nevertheless presented with a pride you rarely see in shops these days.
And he starts the same conversation we had the last time I went in – you’re not Spanish are you? But not English either … Oh? You are English? Well, you don’t look English, and you don’t speak Spanish like an English person ….
Bye Bye, Mr Acorn Antiques …. Til next time ….