REFUNK YOUR JUNK
People drift in and out. A 10 year old boy has found something interesting. A pair of African bongos made out of carved wood with goat skins stretched over the top.
“Are they for sale?” he asks his mum.
“No darling”, her attention is focused on a dining table with an extendable leaf.
“What do you think?”
“Yeah, buy it,” the boy is indulging her in the hope of getting the ball rolling. Mum wanders away, mobile to ear; giving directions to her husband who’s taken a wrong turn.
“How much are the drums?” he asks Peter while his mum’s distracted. The price is written on a playing card, the way items are tagged in here. He pauses to stroke Molly, a cross between a sheep dog and a spaniel, belonging to owners Peter and Jonathan. A short while later dad arrives with a younger brother, both are wearing football kits.
“Can we buy these?” The kid intercepts mum’s table agenda. Peter says they can have the drum for half price.
“If you work it out…” Dad turns it into a test.
“Seventeen pounds fifty” he calls his Dad’s bluff.
“You’ll have to share it with your brother”.
“No arguments; “says Mum.
I realise I may be staring, so wander away to the space next door. I’m looking for a coat stand for my son’s student flat. I have a choice between a black atomic sixties version, with orange hooks reminiscent of lipstick tubes, or a curly pine type adorned with furry granny hats. When I come back Mum and Dad have bought the dining table, and two happy boys are clutching a bongo each. Peter says he gave them a knock down price.
There is an atmosphere of bonhomie and Bohemia. You can tell from the jaunty hats and scarves of the clientele that we’re in the midst of galleries, book centres, music venues and alternative cinema. Directly overhead is New Bridge Street, just one of three soaring bridges in the Ouseburn valley. Looking across the yard I can see the criss-cross fencing of the viaduct, pale blue in the afternoon sun and behind that the concrete metro bridge. At fifteen minute intervals I hear a low rumble into a roar as the grey and yellow metro passes. Then the chugging noise of a goods train with a squeaky wheel on the mainline.
A man comes in looking for railway sleepers and buys a copper bucket – his wife is silent in navy blue. A young couple from Sunderland ask about courier costs – £15 – which they think is reasonable. They are looking for a corner unit, in two pieces, who knows why?
What are the best things about the business? For Peter it’s the returning customers, and when Jonathan comes back with a van full of stuff containing something magical. He tells me he sold a James Bond chair before I arrived for £450 – white leather G Plan, the type Dr Evil sat in stroking his cat. I’m sorry I missed it but before long I too have bought a leather chair. It’s Danish and black, a squat version of the Mastermind chair – I swing in it from side to side. I think I may have been swept along by the spirit of the bongo boy.
A man on a bike wearing a bright yellow tabard, who comes in looking for something to keep his shoes in, tells me he writes songs. A spray painter from Nissan, with a designer friend from Japan is looking for something to up-cycle. A woman who’s on her own buys a stool.
“A project?” Peter guesses correctly.
Up-cycling has been given something of a revival with programmes like the Great Design Challenge on the BBC. It is how Jonathan and Peter started out six years ago, with a group of artists. Pieces were stencilled, painted and wallpapered, much to the horror of their neighbour Al who occupies the unit next door; he’s been re-spraying cars here for 18 years. He used to tut and shake his head at their paint job, but over the years they realised it wasn’t worth the effort, and now leave that side of things to the customer.
What are people looking for? A bargain? Inspiration? A woman sits in a seventies Ercol rocking chair and says furniture was made better in her parent’s day. A dad shows his six year old daughter how a Singer Treadle Sewing machine works. She looks at it like it’s an item in a museum. “Your Gran used to have one of these” – he says. I spy a shiny pair of roller skates with red leather tops on which Jaco is etched in gold letters. It takes me right back to Christmas 1965 when Santa brought me not only a brand new bike but skates exactly like these. He’d never got it quite so right before or since.
It’s not just about gauging trends, Peter says. It’s about soul. I presumed he and Jonathan had a background in art and design, but they met working abroad in the travel industry. Peter studied journalism in Poland, and will casually drop in a poetic description of what they’re doing. He describes delivery day, for example, as “dancing with wardrobes “. He also tells me they have a magic box where they put broken furniture and it is miraculously repaired. I begin to imagine I’m in Brigadoon.
They acquire furniture from the public via their website, or from traders, and no doubt other sources that are a ‘trade secret’. They attune to fashion trends by watching US series like Madmen, which apparently used a lot of Danish design furniture, of which you will find plenty in the shop. There are also a number of Chesterfield sofas which regularly appear in American law dramas.
Over several visits I notice the displays changing, pieces washing in and out like lost cargo from other people’s lives. A fifties kitchen cabinet painted yellow with opaque sliding doors takes me back to my Mum’s kitchen in the early sixties. My brother pushed my head through one of those bobbly glass doors. Another time there’s an American tapestry rocking chair, or an enormous rustic whiskey barrel. A tandem hangs on the wall with the legs of two black mannequins astride it. A gold standard lamp in the shape of candelabra is draped with glass diamond beads. A bright blue typewriter and a copper kettle sit on an oak shelving unit.
Peter tells me about his grandmother in Lodz, the third largest city in Poland. About Pierogi, his favourite stuffed dumplings, about International Children’s Day when every child was allowed a free bus ride from one end of the city to another.
I look out to the wasteland under the rail bridges, and notice the trees are looking tired in the dusk. Older, demented. I feel tired, and wonder if I too need a refunk. I watch Peter wrestle with a white wardrobe that he needs to deliver. Oh I forgot – he calls it dancing. Candelabra and Chandeliers are left rocking in the space left behind. I decide to write a poem about it.
I have to leave by five, which is closing time. I have to or I may find a hundred years have gone by before I come back.
On the way home there are pink clouds in a turquoise sky.
DANCING WITH WARDROBES
Dancing with the White Wardrobe
He limbos under chandeliers
Swaying to a forgotten tune.
Swivel, heel click, Mazurka style,
Pivots his heavy partner
Through improvised pirouettes.
They slide step together
Past bookcases, bureaus, sideboards,
Settees and chests.
Dislocated from another time,
Another home, another country;
Each one could tell a story.
The room gasps;
Dishevelled candelabra gently rock
In the empty space.
REFUNK YOUR JUNK
Tides of objects ebb and flow
Through memories of people drifting in and out.
A fifties kitchen cabinet, painted yellow,
Where three year old fingers traced patterned dots
On opaque sliding doors.
A Singer Treadle Sewing machine;
Grandma had one of those,
Her whole body rippling to the rhythm of the pedal.
Sputnik style coat stands in black,
With orange lipstick hooks
Remind us of the swinging sixties – when everything was groovy.
A woman sinks into an Ercol chair
Swept along by the flotsam of other people’s lives
Washing back to the strand line.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicki Hornby is studying for a Creative Writing MA at Newcastle University. She joined the course to hone script writing skills, but is embracing the opportunity of writing poems and prose. She works as a BBC Journalist, and has made documentaries for Radio and TV. Originally from the Wirral she moved to the North East in 1986 to run a Health Food Shop. She’s been writing on and off since Primary School, and her ten minute Radio play was broadcast on BBC Newcastle in 2005.