Gregory Peregrin's Gallery was one of those antique shops in Piccadilly that intimidate you before you set foot on the doorstep. It had an answer-machine entry system - which hardly encourages the curious browser to step inside. The gallery attendant, visible at the Chippendale desk inside, looked over-groomed, forty pretending to thirty, spindly heeled and impeccably Armanied. There were only two or three antiques to be seen at any time, each displayed on a marble stand and lit by a single spotlight. Gregory was best known for his excellent taste for antique metalwork: a Tang Dynasty mirror, a Ming urn, a previously unseen gold torc from a Roman hoard. Each piece had that special 'Gregory's' something about it. Gregory could find metalwork of unparalleled quality and colour, the deepest richest patination - the lustrous signature of age.
At one time there was a dark-metal Buddha in the window, serenely seated, one hand raised in blessing, eyes shut. Diverting his ancient eyes from the modern depravity of commerce, looking away from the objects around him - plundered, stolen and set on plinths. He was a beautiful colour, the metal had aged over the centuries to the dark tone of chestnuts and rum. Gregory's window was not the right place for a Buddha. It seemed obscene and degrading for it to be sold for a figure so unimaginable that it was never spoken of – if you had to ask the price you could not afford it.
Gregory was a man of trim figure, his grey hair dyed so well that from a distance you would think it natural, features that had once been boyishly handsome before they drooped and grew jaded. Yet, in a crowd with dim lights, there was still something vampiric and dangerously attractive about him. Experienced, certainly, a man who flattered women and charmed men. The type of man that women of indeterminate years adore: at home at any dinner party, exquisitely mannered, sometimes waspish, occasionally bawdy and always apposite. But there was another side to Gregory, one that I saw when they cut down a tree. The tree had lived, against all odds, behind our office. Each season it had thrown out blossom and leaves, despite the smog of traffic fumes, until one spring its branches stayed lifeless and it was unceremoniously removed. Without it our small office overlooked a series of courtyards and one of them was at the rear of Gregory's antique shop. Gregory would often be seen taking a hurried cigarette or a quiet half hour, when the weather was nice, to fumble with 'Spindly Armani'.
Then one day a shining boy arrived – a statue of a boy in gleaming metal. Gregory had him placed in the middle of the courtyard. I watched as Gregory emerged into the amber evening light one summer's day and stalk around the statue as if assessing it, hands behind his back, eyes set greedily on the gleaming frame. Then, to my surprise, Gregory paused and, arranging himself within striking distance, he sent a perfectly aimed jet of urine all over the statue. This ceremony was performed regularly. Sometimes visitors were sent out to anoint the statue. Gradually the shining metal darkened until one day, patinated and prematurely aged by the repeated showers of urine, the small statue was placed on a marble plinth in the antique shop.
It says something about how we see antique dealers that it would be easy to persuade people that they are corrupt but impossible to convince anyone that they are unsanitary. Had I rung on the doorbell and cried out – 'They made it look old by weeing on it!' – I would probably have been laughed from the door. I suppose it made no difference to the people who bought the antiques. What did it matter where it came from if it looked beautiful? What did it matter if the passage of centuries or the passage of a hundred bladders accounted for the deep lustrous hue to the metal? Poor benighted Buddha, I could not help thinking of him, his expression of divine peacefulness and serenity strangely at odds with the humiliation he must have suffered in the back yard at Gregory's. As for the shining boy who had lost his shining splendour and youth in Gregory's back yard to become darkened to burnished coal, he was sold.
“My darling where did you get that gorgeous boy? Did you buy him at Gregory's? He has that special something don't you think?”