Gregory Peregrin's Gallery was
one of those antique shops in Piccadilly that intimidate you before you set
foot on the doorstep. It had an answer-machine entry system - which hardly
encourages the curious browser to step inside. The gallery attendant, visible
at the Chippendale desk inside, looked over-groomed, forty pretending to be
thirty, spindly heeled and impeccably Armanied. There were only two or three
antiques to be seen at any time, each displayed on a marble stand and lit by a
single spotlight. Gregory was best known for his excellent taste for antique
metalwork: a Tang Dynasty mirror, a Ming urn, a previously unseen gold torc
from a Roman hoard. Each piece had that special 'Gregory's' something about it.
Gregory could find metalwork of unparalleled quality and colour, the deepest
richest patination - the lustrous signature of age.
At one time there was a
dark-metal Buddha in the window, serenely seated, one hand raised in blessing,
eyes shut. Diverting his ancient eyes from the modern depravity of commerce,
looking away from the objects around him - plundered, stolen and set on
plinths. He was a beautiful colour, the metal had aged over the centuries to
the dark tone of chestnuts and rum. Gregory's window was not the right place
for a Buddha. It seemed obscene and degrading for it to be sold for a figure so
unimaginable that it was never spoken of if you had to ask the price you
could not afford it.
Gregory was a man of trim
figure, his grey hair dyed so well that from a distance you would think it
natural, features that had once been boyishly handsome before they drooped and
grew jaded. Yet, in a crowd with dim lights, there was still something vampiric
and dangerously attractive about him. Experienced, certainly, a man who
flattered women and charmed men. The type of man that women of indeterminate
years adore: at home at any dinner party, exquisitely mannered, sometimes
waspish, occasionally bawdy and always apposite. But there was another side to
Gregory, one that I saw when they cut down a tree. The tree had lived, against
all odds, behind our office. Each season it had thrown out blossom and leaves,
despite the smog of traffic fumes, until one spring its branches stayed
lifeless and it was unceremoniously removed. Without it our small office
overlooked a series of courtyards and one of them was at the rear of Gregory's
antique shop. Gregory would often be seen taking a hurried cigarette or a quiet
half hour, when the weather was nice, to fumble with 'Spindly Armani'.
Then one day a shining boy
arrived a statue of a boy in gleaming metal. Gregory had him placed in
the middle of the courtyard. I watched as Gregory emerged into the amber
evening light one summer's day and stalk around the statue as if assessing it,
hands behind his back, eyes set greedily on the gleaming frame. Then, to my
surprise, Gregory paused and arranging himself within striking distance, he
sent a perfectly aimed jet of urine all over the statue. This ceremony was
performed regularly. Sometimes visitors were sent out to anoint the statue.
Gradually the shining metal darkened until one day, patinated and prematurely
aged by the repeated showers of urine, the small statue was placed on a marble
plinth in the antique shop.
It says something about how we
see antique dealers that it would be easy to persuade people that they are
corrupt but impossible to convince anyone that they are unsanitary. Had I rung
on the doorbell and cried out 'They made it look old by weeing on it'
I would probably have been laughed from the door. I suppose it made no
difference to the people who bought the antiques. What did it matter where it
came from if it looked beautiful? What did it matter if the passage of
centuries or the passage of a hundred bladders accounted for the deep lustrous
hue to the metal? Poor benighted Buddha, I could not help thinking of him, his
expression of divine peacefulness and serenity strangely at odds with the
humiliation he must have suffered in the back yard at Gregory's. As for the
shining boy who had lost his shining splendour and youth in Gregory's back yard
to become darkened to burnished coal. He was sold.
My darling where did you
get that gorgeous boy? Did you buy him at Gregory's? He has that special
something don't you think.