She always was a sucker for the sort of bargain that wasn’t a bargain really, for the sort of junk that no-one else bought, the Betta-Ware man was a constant at our doorstep with his things for fishing stuff out of drains and plastic gadgets with no purpose whatsoever, my mother would buy junk off anyone if it was cheap and she felt sorry for the person selling it.
Which is why she would come home from Benidorm every time laden down with cheap trinkets, junk, and absolute crap, and then proceed to hand them all out around the family as presents.
The very last thing that I do when I am on holiday is to buy everyone back home a present, its such a ridiculous concept, what have they done to deserve a present other than stay at home while you go on holiday, do you feel sorry for them, is it your condescending way of patting them on the head and re-iterating the fact that you’ve been on holiday while they haven’t, do you really think they give a shit about having received a dreadful mantlepiece ornament with “Costa Blanca” written on it despite their gushing gratefulness and do you really think that it won’t be in the bin before you’ve even reached the end of their driveway ?
It started on her first visit to Spain on what must have been one of the first package holidays there in the mid 1970s.
“Look at what I bought” she said proudly, displaying the sort of glass bottle that a nurse in a hospital would hand you when you are bed-ridden and needed to take a piss, except that this one also had a very long spout on one side, a cork on a chain and a leather case around it.
“Its lovely mother” Ned and I both chirped, “what is it?”
“Its Spanish” she explained carefully, “its what the Spanish use for drinking wine from”
“Don’t they have wine glasses then ?” we asked and she had to think about that for a while
“No, I don’t think they do” she replied, puzzled
We didn’t have any wine in the house, nobody in the UK had ever heard of wine in the mid 1970s and so she filled it with water and demonstrated to us how a person in Spain would drink wine from this strange vessel, involving tipping your head backwards over your chair and holding the spout of the bottle close to your open mouth, pouring the water/wine into your open mouth whilst moving the bottle away from your open mouth in a daring move designed to show how clever you were at pouring wine from a bottle into your open mouth.
Having poured water all over her face and the back of the settee she went to get a towel stating “Well it goes something like that anyway” and then placed the strange wine bottle/pouring thing on the mantlepiece as a nice decoration, and there it stayed until the cancer terminated her stay here on earth some years later, then we threw it in the bin.
Not to be outdone by the strange wine pourer/bottle thing she excelled herself the following year by bringing home from Benidorm a small (6 inches high) white leather dog which some Spanish idiot had stuck sequins to in the hope of making it more attractive as a holiday gift to gullible English people, my mother being one of those.
“Its lovely isn’t it ?” she asked Ned and I
“Mother” we both replied, “that is without doubt the ugliest thing we have ever seen” and it was, it served no purpose for the next ten years other than to look cheap and nasty on the mantlepiece and when visitors came Ned and I would take bets on how long it would take them after sitting down for a cup of tea to notice it on the mantlepiece and stop in mid-sentence to stare in disbelief at it, extra points would be scored if they actually exclaimed something like “Joyce, what the hell is that thing ?”
Over the next ten years Ned and I, and our father, threw the dog in the bin when she wasn’t looking, we probably threw it in the bin on a weekly basis when she wasn’t looking, but every time we turned our backs she’d pop out to the bin and retrieve it like a faithful old labrador and so it stayed on our mantlepiece until the cancer terminated her stay here on earth some years later, and then, even as the undertaker drove off with her in the “private ambulance” (why do they try and pretend that those vans are anything but body collecting vans), my father took the dog outside and drop-kicked it down the drive into next doors garden, where it probably still lies to this day.
Slippers, I’ve had a thousand pairs of slippers brought back from Spain, leather belts, I’ve had a million leather belts brought back from Spain, my eldest daughter once had a cigarette lighter brought back from Spain as a present from my father, she was eight years old at the time. He’d asked her what she’d like bringing back as a present the next time he came home to England, she was into horse riding at the time and so she told him that anything to do with horses would be just fine so six months later when he came on a visit he brought her a marble plinth on which was mounted a heavy brass statue of a horse, a very nice ornament we thought, until she discovered that if you flicked its tail, fire came from its mouth, “oh I didn’t see that bit” is all he said when we asked why he’d bought our eight year old a cigarette lighter.
He and my mother brought us back a small table lamp once, “They are all the rage in Spain” they told us, we took the Spanish plug off the cable and put a UK plug on it then plugged it in and looked for the on/off switch, it didn’t have one, “HA!” cried my father, “HA! You’ve never seen anything like this before, just touch the lamp shade and the light will come on, its a touch sensitive light”.
I did as he suggested, nothing, I touched it a bit harder, nothing, he touched it and touched it a bit harder, nothing, “Oh” is all he said, that useless piece of Spanish touch sensitive junk never illuminated in the UK, not even once, never mind touch-sensitive you could punch it as hard as you could and it wouldn’t light up, but then it wouldn’t, not being on the wrong voltage and all that.