A treasure trove of memories
T.V. show, The Repair Shop, is just what we need in these dark and fractured times, says Adam LeBor
This article is taken from the March 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.
I lived for many years in Budapest, working as a foreign correspondent for several national newspapers, but there was one story I never got around to covering. Once a year, each of the city’s 23 districts organises its own Lomtalanítás, or “throwing out day”. Unwanted household junk can be placed on the pavement and anyone is free to take away whatever catches their fancy. Anything left is removed the following morning by local council teams.
Sometimes, among the piles of old books and magazines, cracked shelves, collapsed pieces of furniture and broken electrical items, there are hidden treasures
Lomtalanítás is a smart and efficient way to recycle — and can also be an opportunity to turn a profit. Gypsy families descend on the posh districts in the Buda hills at dawn to stake out their turf on the richest streets, each guarded by a fearsome matriarch.
Sometimes, among the piles of old books and magazines, cracked shelves, collapsed pieces of furniture and broken electrical items, there are hidden treasures. I once found an antique wooden ammunition box which my son immediately appropriated as his treasure chest. Another time, walking near parliament, I saw an abandoned art deco table with thick, rounded legs and a built-in extension that opened up. In truth, the table was not that lovely, but it was free and waiting for someone to take it home.
I soon discovered that it was too large and unwieldy to carry. I put the table down, looked around for inspiration. Lomtalanítás provided the answer: nearby stood a broken office chair with wheels underneath. I balanced the table on the chair and rolled it home.
There it stood in a corner of our lounge, gathering dust until one day the furniture restorer arrived to fix something else. He took one look it and immediately knew what to do: cut the legs right down, remove the extension, seal the gap, stain, sand and varnish the surface then top it with glass. We now have a very chic 1940s-style coffee table.
It would make very engaging viewing if we could somehow despatch the team from the BBC’s The Repair Shop to Budapest to see what they could do with the hidden treasures of Lomtalanítás. For now we must make do with their work in Britain. The Repair Shop is on its sixth series and it’s easy to see why. The premise is simple: viewers bring in a much loved article to be fixed and restored.
Along the way they share the story behind the object. The presenter, Jay Blades, and his teams of craftsmen and women talk us through the process of repair. Once the work is done, the renovated object is presented to the owners. They react with delight, appreciation and sometimes, tears.
The Repair Shop is on its sixth series and it’s easy to see why. The premise is simple: viewers bring in a much loved article to be fixed and restored
Blades himself has quite a tale to tell: he is one of 26 children sired by his father, whom he first met at the age of 21. This is public service television at its best. The Repair Shop is the very antithesis of the many television programmes that seek to exploit their guests’ trauma and misery. Blades and his team listen with kindness, empathy and genuine interest to the stories behind the objects they repair. They do their very best for complete strangers.
Each personal treasure gives us a brief and surprisingly deep glimpse into the lives of others, with often moving results. Many share tales of grief and loss, of relatives who have passed away with only a treasured heirloom to remember them by.
We British are supposedly a buttoned-up, emotionally repressed nation. But there are no stiff upper lips on display in The Repair Shop. Quite the opposite. They tremble as the participants often swallow back tears. Some are over-whelmed with emotion when they see the minor miracles wrought by the team.
In one recent episode Rose Werner and her sister Linda brought a family heirloom, a beautiful embossed leather box that had belonged to her late husband, Jim. His real name was Helmuth Werner and he arrived from Germany at the age of 13 on the first Kindertransport. His sister and parents were both killed in the Holocaust. I longed to know more about his life, but Jim and Rose seem to have had a long and happy marriage.
The box, given to Jim by a great-aunt, was the only thing he had that had been touched by his parents, explained Rose. Suzie Fletcher, the leather restorer, worked on the outside, while Jay found new fabric for the interior lining. When Rose sees the result, she gasps in joy and amazement. “While I have got that, I’ve always got Jim,” she says, her hand reaching for the wood, before wiping away tears.
Others bring childhood treasures, such as Peter Coxon. He hoped that the team could get his tin model of the Bluebird speedboat skimming across the water again. The rusty engine and propeller are replaced and the blue paint is carefully restored.
The team head to the nearby lake to try the Bluebird out. It slides over the surface as sleekly as the nearby ducks. Peter’s face fills with childish delight. “It’s so elegant again, I love it,” he exclaims, for a moment a boy once more. In these dark and fractured times, The Repair Shop is the healing that we need.
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