Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

On Sunday morning we went, Oscar and I, to a vide grenier in the ancient, picturesque Provençal village. Vide grenier means 'open attic sale' -- which is the French equivalent of our car boot sale. Oscar had [euro]20 with which to buy homecoming gifts for his Mum and her partner, and his three half-siblings. The stalls were set out under the shade trees of the village boulodrome. Ex-dustman Grandad loves browsing in skips and charity shops and at car boot sales and he was in seventh heaven.

At the first stall, I was very drawn to an old hand-tinted framed print of two peasants standing in a furrowed field. The sun was setting, their shadows were long. The man had his hat in his hand and was thanking God for their harvest, a pathetic basket of potatoes. His wife's head was also humbly bowed in prayer. My first instinct was to laugh, my second was to mourn, my third was to ask how much. If he had one, Oscar kept his opinion of the picture to himself. The stallholder, a ruddy-faced 16-year-old lad, was entirely indifferent to it and said that yes he could easily change a twenty.

Further on, Oscar was attracted by a row of miscellaneous animal teeth on a table. He thought one of these might make a suitable gift for his Mum's partner. He hesitated between a boar's tusk and a huge tooth whose origin we could only guess at. The stallholder was squatting on a wooden crate and shaking the dregs of a bottle of rosé into his glass. An elderly woman behind him was standing and buttering a lump of bread. The loudness and cheeriness of the man's greeting suggested that we had had the good fortune to catch him at that moment of alcoholic lift-off when the day looks altogether brighter and more absurd. As well as animal teeth, his stall specialised in fossils, second world war army bayonets, tiny wooden birdcages and video cassettes. We were tempted by the boar's tusk, we told him, but which animal did this other tooth come from?

Normally an expression of interest like this brings the stallholder over like a shot to tell you how rare, old or exquisite your chosen item is. This chap remained fixed on his stool and shouted that it was a wild boar's tooth. He described the dentition of sus scrofa, and the position of the other, mystery tooth in the boar's jaw. After some consideration, we decided that Dan would prefer the offensive tusk to the utilitarian tooth, and asked the stallholder how much. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.