I hated Sundays when I was a kid, for many reasons. There was none of the sense of hope you got on a Saturday. Saturday’s were brilliant, weren’t they? Getting up and watching the cartoons and the loud and colourful morning shows, with the likes of Timmy Mallett, Michaela Strachan and Noel Edmonds, then later on there’d be the A-Team and football down the park, followed by the final scores (back when Spurs were great and Arsenal were shite); Sunday morning meant Grange hill repeats and being dragged around car-boot sales. And there was that awful dead period of TV on a sunday, from about 5pm (by when any possible footy that might have been on was over) until about 10, when Spitting Image would start. This dead period would be punctuated by such shows as Highway, Songs of Praise, Credo, Last of the Summer Wine, and – as if the car-boot sale experience wasn’t enough – Antiques flipping Roadshow.
Well guess what – they have it here too. But it’s not on Sundays, it’s on weekdays – it just feels like Sunday when it’s on. Oh, now don’t get me wrong – I actually do like the show. Really. The American version is very much like the British version, it’s not a glitzy win-fabulous-prizes in-your-face copy, and it’s on PBS, which means it has some dignity and no commercials. It doesn’t have Hugh Scully, but it does have Mark Walberg, and it’s not the guy from Planet of the Apes. I’ll tell you what I like about it though. While the British show ambles about the country from village hall to community centre, parading sensibly embarassed old folks trying their best not to show their elation / disappointment at the valuation of their old coronation teapots, the American one is a true roadshow, which really does get about – this is a big country, and yokel Americans can be really, really funny.
Last night’s one was in Mobile, Alabama (the place namechecked by a stuck Dylan on Blonde on Blonde), and you gotta love the Deep South, their colourful stories and their rocking-chair-on-the-verandah accents. One old fellow was talking about some event that happened back in his own history that was only vaguely connected to the rug or whatever that he was showing, saying how “we hadda rootin-tootin-good-tahm, yes sir!” They show such genuine love for their old family junk, especially such traditional Americana as blankets, and they really do practically fall off their chairs when told that the lampshade they picked up in a junk store in 1957 is worth ten thousand dollars. More than the human side though is the sense of American culture and history that, as an outsider, it’s often difficult to find otherwise. An old ‘Duke’ football, means nothing to me, but it turns out it’s from the ‘golden age of football’ (their football, not ours), which again doesn’t mean anything to me, but at least I could understand the warmth with which they spoke about it.
One of the more interesting historical artefacts that was evaluated was an old Confederate Army belt buckle. This guy, whose accent had such a twang you could play the fiddle with it, dug this belt up in his cotton field and was going around wearing it for many years. It turns out it’s a highly desirable item and, with it’s deep-rooted southern history, could easily pick up twenty grand at an auction, much to the evaluator’s excitement and old Zeke’s astonishment. What they never brought up, but I’ll bet they both thought it, is that this very same belt may well have been used to beat poor black slaves in that very same cotton field; it’s hard to escape that sinister image of the south. When you start to imagine the hidden history in such a seemingly innocent item as a belt buckle, well, it kind of puts complaining about Last of the Summer Wine on a Sunday evening in Burnt Oak into a little perspective.