So once again it was a Saturday that we spent wandering around Leeds with our father, me and Ned, maybe it was one of his “Doghouse Days”, days when he’d just shrug his shoulders and say “Oh heck, I’m in the doghouse again”, the days when he and our mother had fallen out over something, or maybe it was just one of those Saturdays when he’d been tasked with our management while our mother got on with cleaning up the immense amount of trash that me and Ned generated in the house.
It would be shortly after we’d moved to Cookridge so that places us in 1964 or 65 and I know that it was just after we’d moved into the bungalow because this story is all about the cat lamp and the cat lamp was a permanent fixture in our house right up until me and Ned chucked it in a skip as adults clearing out the parental home after they’d both dropped off their respective perches.
We were wandering through the outdoor part of the Leeds City Market, Leeds Market is huge but not as huge today as it was back in the 60s as back in the 60s it dominated Leeds city centre, if you went shopping in Leeds then everyone always ended up at the indoor market or the outdoor market, or as is more likely you’d walk through the indoor market, through the outdoor market and thence the bus station – clever buggers those planners of ancient Leeds, placing the bus station behind the markets like that.
As per normal the outdoor market was ram-packed with Saturday shoppers amid its row after row of metal and wood stalls, each a hollowed out square of trestles with a canopy above so that you could shop in the outdoor section in the rain simply by dodging down the long aisles of canopies and fending off the stall holders bargaining pleas by a wave of the hand and a “Not today love, I’m just keeping out of the rain”.
This day though was a fine day and as we strolled the aisles our dads attention was drawn to an auctioneer’s stall which had also attracted a lot of other people.
I’m sure you know the type, an auction of tat by a jack-the-lad, usually of kitchen wares, usually of “tea services” or “dinner services”, usually starting with six dinner plates which the jack-the-lad would spread up his arm to display to the housewifes who eagerly crowded the perimeter of the stall, “Look at these lovely plates ladies” he would beseech of them, “look, top quality china, gold leaf line around the edge, look, feel that love, top quality that is, six dinner plates for yer husband to eat his sunday lunch off…”
And then he’d pause and turn to his side-kick, usually a scrawny little man who never spoke but who would perform juggling tricks with plates before passing them to jack-the-lad.
“Hang on a minute missus, put your purse away, I’m not done yet, here, look, six side plates as well…” and he’d stack them on top of the six dinner plates on his arm and the women would look at each other and say “Ooooooh”.
“Right darlings, six dinner plates and six side plates, these’ll look good on your sideboard won’t they, hang on a minute missus, I haven’t finished yet, Arthur, pass me those six tea plates as well” and Arthur, the scrawny man who never said a word would juggle with six tea plates before throwing them one at a time across the stall to Jack-the-lad who would stack them on top of the already teetering pile of plates on his arm.
“Bloody hell Arthur, can we afford all this” he’d ask and Arthur the scrawny man would just nod, “Hang on a minute love” he’d call out to an imaginary woman in the front row, “I haven’t finished yet…”
And when he had finally finished stacking dinner plates, side plates, tea plates, cups and saucers on top of each other he’d start to bargain with the housewives who by now would be stood several deep all around the stall to watch the entertainment…
“How much would this lot be in Lewis’s love ?” he’d ask someone at the front, “£25 did you say ?” and all the women would nod and look at each other and confirm that, yes, £25 at least in Lewis’s, “Well I’m not asking you for £25, or £20, Arthur, what am I asking for these top quality dinner services, never mind Arthur, I’ll tell them, I’m not asking for £25 ladies, I’m not asking for £20, get your purses out ladies I must be going mental, you can have all this lot for just ten quid, who’s first, form a queue ladies, don’t all push at once, have the right change please and don’t forget ladies no receipts at Honest Jacks, I’m here every week, any problems you just tell your old man you bought them at Abduls in the Merrion Centre…”
There would be raucous laughter and women would scrabble in the bottom of their bags for their purses and then stagger off towards the bus station with half a hundredweight of plates and cups and saucers in their bags pausing only at the very last stall on the outdoor market, the fruit stall, for some grapes, all the housewifes bought grapes at that stall, if I had the power of a time machine I’d go back to the 1960s and rent that last stall to just sell grapes and become the grape millionaire of Yorkshire.
This day we stood at the back of the auction crowd and our dad laughed along at Jack-the-Lad, shook his head at the gullibility of the housewives who didn’t even try and bargain with the stallholder for they already believed that he’d more than halved the price and who could be fairer than that, in fact thats what Jack-the-Lad asked them, “Can I be fairer than that ladies ?” he’d say and they’d all shake their heads and say “No dear you can’t be fairer than that” and hand their housekeeping money over for a crappy dinner service that they didn’t really need.
And then during a lull our dad pointed at something on a shelf at the back of the stall and shouted above the womens heads “How much for the lamp ?”
Ned and I stared at him in horror, oh my god, our dad wanted to buy something that wasn’t second hand, and our eyes followed his pointing finger to the back of the stall to…
The Cat Lamp.
It was a china Siamese Cat, sitting upright, about two feet high, with a lightbulb and shade stuck on its head.
In mitigation I have to say that it was trendy in a 1960s sort of way, the Disney film “Lady and the Tramp” had just made Siamese cats trendy, our new next door neighbour had turned up with Willow, a Siamese cat, Siamese cats were the next big thing, and it looked like we were going to have one in our living room, with a lamp shade stuck on its head.
“The Cat Lamp mate ? Fifteen quid”
If the word “LOL” had been invented in 1965 then our dad would have just said “LOL” right back at Jack-the-Lad, as it was he just made a noise like “Pffft!”, waved his hand in a dismissive way and half turned to walk away.
“Hang on mate, I didn’t mean fifteen quid, I meant a tenner, its top quality you know…”
“Too bloody dear” our dad shouted, “too bloody dear by half, I’ll leave it” and he took two steps away from the stall
“Eight quid then, seven quid, I mean a fiver…”
Our dad finally got the cat lamp for £2.50, cash, no receipts and if our mum thought it was rubbish then he had to tell her that he bought it from Abduls in the Merrion Centre.
And I’d like to say that I learned everything I know about bargaining that day and its served me well for the rest of my life so far, truth is I was mortified to be stood next to my dad while he reverse auctioned for a cat lamp at the back of Leeds market and worse still, while he paid Jack-the-Lad he handed the cat lamp to me to hold and all the housewifes stared at me as if they’d wanted it all along and couldn’t believe that we’d bought it for just £2.50.
Still, it served 35 years sterling work on top of our telly before Ned and I consigned it to the skip-of-a-lifetimes-belongings.