In July 2022, our writer in residence was Soobin Kim, who came to Norwich in a residency supported by Literature Translation Institute of Korea. Soobin Kim is an investigative journalist, who won the IYAGI competition hosted by Strangers Press and was selected to translate a short story by the legendary Korean writer Park Wan-suh.
During her stay in Norwich, Soobin explored the antique shop St. Gregory’s, and has written about all the delightful knick-knacks she found there.
A few years ago, I started to find it harder and harder to walk around aimlessly. I used to log ten miles a day easily if I didn’t set a destination, but it was like something in my knees had unravelled and I could no longer walk. I think I was afraid of all the detours and dead-ends I would confront if I were to stray from the paths I knew well. But at the same time, the thought of staring at a succession of the same sceneries and making the same turns every time filled me with dread.
For some reason, when I got to Norwich, I didn’t mind poking around. Maybe because it’s petite enough to map out with my feet. And once I set off to do that, a centre emerged – St. Gregory’s Antiques and Collectables. Whenever I found it towering over me, I would step inside.
It’s housed in a former church, though I’ve never found it particularly holy. There are too many anti-theft signs preemptively shouting at shoppers.
There are things of practical value, like filigree chairs and mirrors. To me, they’re no different from flat-pack furniture. But I’m delighted by things that are utterly useless – what any person in their right mind would call “junk”.
I’m talking about the old knick-knacks. Take a minute to rummage through the faded tins that used to hold biscuits or rough-cut tobacco or antiseptic throat pastilles. They’re usually next to crumbling boxes of tea cards and cigarette cards, or old stamps. Being antiquated is their only function.
And do stop to admire the old drinkware – brass goblets, pewter mugs, cranberry cut-glass champagne flutes. They tell better stories than paper cups from Starbucks. I especially like the cobalt-blue apothecary bottles that look like they’ve been retrieved from the bottom of the sea.
Towards the altar, old books are spread out on one side and neatly arranged on bookshelves on the other. Their spines might be cracked but they certainly aged better than their writers, didn’t they? I sometimes have to suppress a modern-day instinct to appraise them. Like, If I can dig up a first edition Brontë with an author inscription, how much would it fetch at a rare book fair?
When it comes to appliances, of which there are plenty at Gregory’s, I’m only drawn to ones that have been optimised out of existence, like typewriters or rotary dial telephones. I like the exertion it takes to press a letter down onto the page, or to drag the dial to a click and let it unwind over and over.
When you thumb through old sepia photographs of strangers, you’ll realise that you can invent a whole family lineage that goes back generations, though if you’re me, you might not be able to convincingly argue you’re related. I often wondered what it takes for a portrait to end up in an antique shop. The best I could come up with is this: Don’t be so important that it’ll be displayed in a museum instead.
Once I’ve circled St. Gregory’s about eleven times and breathed over half their stuff, I feel prepared to face a charmless and mostly disappointing world again. And when I step back out, rubbing the dust off my fingers, I find myself mysteriously invigorated. I’m not sure what it is about antique shops that does the trick.
Soobin Kim is an investigative journalist. She won the IYAGI competition hosted by Strangers Press and was selected to translate a short story by the legendary Korean writer Park Wan-suh. Her residency was supported by Literature Translation Institute of Korea.
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