Train-spotter's guide to kitsch and tat: John Windsor dons his anorak and goes in search of the stuff you would not have in your house

IT IS not obligatory to have an implacable hatred of proletarian culture to be a tat hunter. Being a snob is sufficient.

What I really wanted when I scoured Brick Lane market last weekend was one of those abstract string-and-pins pictures. Or a framed steam locomotive made from watch parts. They seemed to be fresh out of them. Which was a bit worrying. Disbelieving the old saw that 'everything is collectable', I had thought I had the market in tat to myself.

Sensing competition, I have now embarked on a different game: trying to make the uncollectable collectable. It is all a matter of what marketing people call 'product definition'. Tat, you understand, is not rubbish. Nor is it kitsch. Tat is the sort of junk that ends up with owners unspoilt by either education or taste, persons able to tuck shirt into underpants without a qualm.

Let me explain. You know what junk is - cheap, secondhand goods. Take away from it rubbish (as dustmen do) and kitsch (as Jeff Koons does) and you are left with tat, secondhand fancy goods which inhabit a Shangri-La of their own.

In this twilight Tattyland, wood smoke is rising from thatched cottages with rose-entwined porches. In the freshly ploughed fields, leather strops of bright brasses jingle round the necks of sturdy Shire horses. In the lane, a new-fangled automobile, carrying the squire and his antique firearms to a shoot, honks its polished horn.

There is a place for everything in Tattyland. Letters have their own racks. So do periodicals. There are even matchbox-holders and 'spec rests'.

Inside the cottages, everything is tiny. There are tiny gongs to bang for tiny teas. There are tiny warming pans and tiny ornaments made from tiny shells. Tiny shields and tiny swords on the wall are a wondrous sight for tiny tots who shed glistening tears as they listen to stories of the Good Old Days.

More tears of joy are shed by the vulgar old codgers at the inn, who quaff from tankards marked 'Went to P, leave this drink alone'. They never stop smiling because they are allowed to drink and smoke 'like Helen B Merry'.

All around them are comforts which are cheap, old-fashioned and good. Their cheap, plastic tankards (20p) are shaped like good, old-fashioned barrels and have chunky handles made from good, old-fashioned wood.

In Tattyland, if a cloud crosses the sky it is necessary only to look at the image of a good, old-fashioned cottage or barrel or laden galleon or horse brass or steam engine or heraldic shield to bring dimples back to the cheeks. There is nothing like a repro Staffordshire spaniel (50p, good originals fetch pounds 700- pounds 1,000) to spread a glow of good living. Or an ice bucket with a horse's head, tiny stirrups and what look like thongs of genuine leather ( pounds 1.50), to rekindle the noblest aspirations.

Such is the conceptual art of simple-minded Tattyland. Do not mock. If you do, your simple- mindedness will disappear and your tat will transmogrify as kitsch. Then you will be sorry.

Jeff Koons, the wicked American wizard, turns tat into kitsch by making it out of expensive materials, such as his stainless steel cast of a rubber-balloon rabbit (1986).

To protect your tat from the wizard, you must make sure it is made from cheap materials such as plastic or plaster. The big round wall plaque with cottage in relief ( pounds 2) will never become kitsch because it is made of plaster. Nor will the pair of cheap plastic-and- velour praying children wall decorations ( pounds 1). But the wood and alloy pistol ( pounds 5) had better beware of the wizard because someone put too much craftsmanship into the metalwork. Pistols in cast brass or plaster are safer.

Kitsch is as self-conscious as tat is simple-minded. Kitsch is camp. Tat is naff. Unlike kitsch, tat does not invite you to think twice. It is what it is: imitative in a forelock- tugging way. Kitsch is sentimental. Tat is sentimental and nostalgic. Each piece of tat is a happy reminder of things past. Which is why all souvenirs not made of solid gold are tat.

It was the souvenir industry which liberated fancy goods from the dictates of the design-conscious. Why remain in awe of nature's handiwork in cockle and mussel shells when you can stick them together to make a funny bunny to sell to seaside holidaymakers? The same holidaying Tattylanders appreciate gnomes made of fir cones, pictures of flowers made from sliced shells - and a mustard pot disguised as a tiny teapot (marked 'Dartmeet').

Beware invaders in Tattyland. The half-dozen Sixties miniature coloured-glass tumblers in the wire boat are tat, but the boat itself with its wire-and-blob 'coolie' ferryman was inspired by the late-Forties 'New Look'. The piece is collectable and probably worth 10 times the pounds 2 I paid.

The ceramic teapot cat with paw for a spout (on telephone stand, pounds 5) is highly suspect. Is it innocent, badly designed tat or a provocative piece of kitsch? Remember that while kitsch poses, tat simply pretends. What is this pussy cat up to?

The Sixties glass fish is a changeling. It started off expensive and kitsch, is tat today but could be kitsch again tomorrow. Traders are forever trying to turn tat into kitsch. In Brick Lane I was offered for pounds 5 a glazed postcard of the Mona Lisa with passe- partout frame ('It's a work of art,' the trader said) and for pounds 20 a pink plastic table lamp in the form of a Deco- style lady described first as soapstone and then, when I raised an eyebrow, as Bakelite. Both genuine tat, worth 10p and pounds 1.

But I got a shock when I stumbled across a genuine tat shop, 'Wally's North London No 1 Antiquated Shop' at 217 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16. There was my 20p 'P' tankard priced at pounds 5 and my pounds 4 glass fish at pounds 10. The proprietors' regrets that they could not supply me with a string picture were accompanied by no knowing smirks, no nods or winks. I became aware of the delicacy of the situation. A careless jest or curl of the lip from me and the whole stock of cheaply bought tat might disappear in a puff of smoke, only to reappear as kitsch. I zipped up my anorak and left.

Wally's (081-985 6068).

The Jeff Koons Handbook (Thames and Hudson, pounds 9.95).

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Love but not marriage: property is one area where cohabiting couples are in danger of losing out

How couples can protect their financial interests when cohabiting

People who simply live together cannot assume they have the same rights to each other's assets as spouses or civil partners. Michelle McGagh sees how they can protect their financial interests

India could be jewel in the crown for investors

With a new government and an ambitious prime minister, the country offers the prospect of strong returns. But there may be hiccups ahead, warns Simon Read

Child Maintenance Service to replace Child Support Agency - but is it better?

Reforms to the vexed question of child support payments by absent parents mean extra charges for both sides. Neasa Macerlean reports

Barclays's new life insurance heralds a revolution on the high street

The new product marks a shift towards 'clear, straightforward and standardised' banking products, says Simon Read

How to protect your assets if the stock markets begin to head south again

Are you worried about your portfolio? Nick Paler asks fund managers and investment insiders for advice
Fuel poverty campaigners united in criticising the delays in helping those in fuel poverty

Plans to tackle fuel poverty are slammed by campaigners

Charities and action groups believe that the Government's proposals are woefully inadequate
Sell it with flowers: competition is 'intense' for homes with outside spaces

Gardens add a tenth to the value of your home

A London estate agent yesterday put a price on having a garden. David Pollock of Greene & Co reckons it can increase a property's value by a tenth.

Spectators at the Isle of Wight music festival watch the World Cup on the big screen. Betting promotions were a feature of the tournament
Lenders have been accused of persuading vulnerable people to borrow expensive credit

Payday loan firms accused of bombarding vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls

Payday loan firms have been accused of bombarding financially vulnerable people with nuisance phone calls, after a debt charity reported that a third of its clients were plagued by the messages.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

    Asset Finance Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

    HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

    Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

    £475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment