Simon and Father
My object is a ceramic cat, which stands about fifteen inches tall, I think. It’s a yellow cat with blue spots...I guess blue spots? It’s got blue spots on it and it always sat at the foot of a staircase in my childhood house and I am very pleased to have extracted it from the rest of the surviving family and brought it up here.
So I didn’t know that I was going to inherit this object. I don’t think it was ever discussed, because my father was quite a serious antique collector and dealer. He really specialised in older and rarer things and in fact this cat is not perhaps typical of his taste at all, because although he loved it (and I have no idea how he came by it) it was sort of a decorative item. So very much the thing about it was that it connected the shop with the house and family... because the shop was in the house, sort of in a wing of it...and there was always this demarcation and also confusion about what was business, what was family and I think perhaps the cat formed a bridge between those two things for me. Yet it wasn’t on his list of things I was going to inherit.
I think the thing about the object is in terms of my dad who died sort of...probably 3 years ago now, nearly...in a way it doesn’t represent him for the reasons that I’ve just given. Because he was a connoisseur. He loved English oak furniture, he loved early textiles, rare things. He was very good at going and finding rare things and interpreting them and giving them their history and either selling them on or donating quite a few of them to museums, eventually. And art nouveau, it really wasn’t on his list; for one thing it was too late. When he started antique dealing in the thirties, it would have been miles off being a proper antique in the first place. And he was a very interesting man. He was a sort of self-made man in many ways.
He more or less taught himself all he knew about antiques and set great score by the knowledge he had. And he was a very serious man in some ways, quite religious in some ways. Quite grave, he could be very grave, rather solemn and he had quite a default kind of solemnness to him, which really used to annoy me as a child. I was always trying to undercut this. It always made me behave more badly than I might have one otherwise, if I felt him going into that mode. He was a great one for inviting you to come and have a talk with him, then shutting the door, and I really hated that absolute privacy and seriousness... but on the other hand, he was a bit of a showman.
He had this, I don’t know where he got that from, but he had this showman’s streak in him. He was suspicious of the theatre, because of his religious upbringing, but he loved going to the theatre – his taste, he had a very popular taste in theatre and he used to do magic lantern shows. He did them for us at Christmas time, but he would also do them in the village and in public as the years went by...and it was kind of like two personas... and the reason I value the object, the cat, is because I think it represents his playful side, for me, and I think that’s why I always wanted to have it as a memorial.
So I think the object is like my father in one way. I think it’s... I think it displays his playful, slightly performative side to his character. He was a great raconteur and he would drive us all mad by telling stories endlessly sometimes, particularly at meals. But on the other hand, he could absolutely fix your attention with a story of somewhere he had been where interesting things happened. I mean, he was probably as proper a story teller as anyone I’ve come across since then, doing it professionally or in any way.
If he went on holiday he would love all the opportunities to buy touristic memorabilia. One of the good memories is that he would always bring stuff home and it would always be interesting, even if it’s not what you wanted or thought you were going to get, and he managed to do it without spoiling us. There would be that sense that I’ve brought this back for you because really I had no choice; because it is just so fantastic, just look at how it does this. That’s a particularly good memory.