A few Fridays ago, I set off on a walk to The British Museum for some late night culture, via the mulled wine stall in Camden market, of course. At just before 7pm, I didn’t expect many of the shops to still be open but the warm light from Curiosity invited me in. I have been to Curiosity a few times to look at the eccentric nick-nacks. I’m a sucker for old photographs with writing on the back, colourful tins with old fashioned branding, enamelware for the kitchen and teapots in the shape of anything that isn’t tea related (like cottages and pigs). But this time was special because I got talking to Florence, who works there part time between studies and who told me about some of her favourite things that had passed through the shop. According to her, her flat is crammed with all of the things that she can’t see go; for a time she insisted on being paid in old radios. She told me about a collection of drinks miniatures, all unopened, that came in a box with old photographs of the bottles. Obviously the person who collected them was very proud and that thought makes it all too beautiful to sell; the bottles are on display, with the photograph, but not for sale. She also told me about a box of items that they picked up at an auction that had, perhaps accidentally, got a pair of old spectacles inside. Florence took out the lenses and gave them as a gift to her significant other.
Hearing these stories about the items made me very conscious that everything in the shop, and everything that I’ve been buying from flea markets and carboot sales and antique markets recently, has been a part of someone else’s life. That vanity tray that I picked up from Bermondsey meant something to another woman. She was used to seeing it on her dressing table. And now it means something to me and I’m used to seeing it on my dressing table. It’s obvious when you dissect it like that but often I don’t think about it. Now I’m staring at the vanity tray and imagining all the items that the woman stacked on it and I love it even more.
So Curiosity isn’t just a second hand shop, it’s a collection of other people’s lives and stories. Now I’ll not be able to pass without popping in and imagining where everything has come from and where it’s all going. And I’m sure that in time my flat, like Florence’s, is quickly going to fill with jumbled items and the stories I dream up to accompany them!