You can’t overcook a mushroom

It is a time of mysteries at the Oxfam bookshop in Petersfield and that is not a sentence which often forms itself around the mundane life of our bookshop and what is more, they are nothing to do with books.

I will leave the most recent mystery to last, and start with the first.

( This is a long story, dear reader, I must warn you, so either get yourself a drink and settle down or decide you really must break off and go and clean out the fridge. I will quite understand.)

We have an art sale of books and pictures about twice a year and they are, by our standards, a big money spinner.

Most of the art we get is not, shall we say, of the highest calibre – amateur daubs, dreary and not very good Victorian prints of Bath, watercolours of geraniums in France, that sort of thing.

But now and then we get some good stuff.

(Three large oil paintings did a treat as centrepieces in the window and though they were not worth the £200 we originally thought, they did sell for £50 a piece.)

Then, by complete chance, a week before we were due to do our sale, the nice man closing down his art shop in a nearby town, brought us all he was left with. Including, a large image of Marilyn Monroe that he had paid some £300 for. (Whether we can get anything like that at auction – for that is where we will sell it, remains to be seen but, be assured,I will let you know what happens.)

I assume by now, if you are not clearing out the fridge, you are asking yourself what is, in the remotest sense, mysterious about all this – well, nothing.

But, as I was rifling through art donations, I came across this:

Now I am a sucker for any painting with snow in it and any Russian painting with snow in it gets my heart beating a little faster.

But I am not sure whether this is an amateur daub worth diddly-squat or the nice early piece by an up and coming Russian artist – and Russians are willing to pay quite a lot for their art these days.

I put out on Facebook the image of the cyrillic and what I presume is the translation on the back and asked for help – and indeed got it not least via the Polish friend of a French friend.

But no one has come back with any information about the artist.

It took it to a local auction house who said they weren’t sure either and the only way to tell whether it was a rare find or a piece of nice junk, was to put it in the auction and see what happened.

Oh, dear reader, my dilemma. I want that painting. But I also want Oxfam to get as much money as possible. So, what to do?

I brought it home and asked another auction house – where I happened to be, bidding for stuff but more of that in another blog – even if you have stayed with me this long, there are only so many diversions and sentences you can put up with.

They said they had an art expert and send over some picture of the painting and they would get her to have a look.

All excited I did that – but she is away for two weeks.

Then I Googled for longer and with more patience than is usual and found that there is a register of several thousand Russian artists but it costs money – remember this is Oxfam so we can’t go mad and short of crowd-funding the registration fee or getting my best-beloved to pay up on what might be a wild goose chase, that is not going to happen.

The Polish friend of my French friend suggested I got in contact with the union of Russian artists, and I did, and I have heard nothing.

In the village is someone who deals in East European art and in the ways of villages and I am thinking of contacting him and asking for help.

The second mystery is about three photograph albums which belonged to, we think, the son of the more famous father, Lord Raglan – in case you re racking your brains, the father sent off the boys in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

But you can get the full details of that story in a previous blog. All that remains is to see what they fetch at an April auction.

So, the final mystery.

I had been sorting and sacking a depressing amount of books on Monday and needed a rest.

So, I went upstairs and rooted around the Old and Interesting shelves to get them in some order.

It is my contention that in our shop you can put something down and it might well be there several years later but then again, if you need it be there two days later, it will have vanished.

It is also my belief that there are all kinds of hidden treasures to be unearthed if only you have the time to rootle behind and under shelves and desks and boxes.

Anyway, on this occasion, I found, on a windowsill and god knows how long they had been there, two postcard and picture albums with a handwritten slip in one which read, ‘My parents Eileen and William Shackleton holidays in Switzerland 1906 -1913.’

There were indeed images of Switzerland – but also, I have to say, Llandudno and other places.

I know that anything relating to Ernest Shackleton is priceless but were these people related.

My Googling has not yet been extensive enough to find out and right this minute I need to go and cook a nice risotto for the best beloved so I will ask any reader making it this far and who has any information, please let me know.

I am pretty sure that is a very long shot, but thank you anyway.

PS I had to leave off and go cook that risotto but I had left those mushrooms cooking and realised (too late) that you can over-cook a mushroom, so it will be a ham and pea risotto…..



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