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Pandora's box (or, according to a stonkingly bad Lou Ferigno film, her jar) was the supposed repository of all the troubles man is heir to. We now have a box in house which has at times seemed to be the spiritual heir if not the original itself, spiced with Apple of Discord into the bargain.

Troublesome box - I should say so. But not for very long, really, and thanks to the friends named hereunder it all turned out well in the end. It has to be hereunder, though, otherwise I'll get it in the neck from Chris for telling a story backwards again.

It all started, if you like, when I was five or six and first quietly got my hands on something special. Desire, as is so often the case, started to become a problem only later in life, and by the summer of 2000 I couldn't fight it any longer. I placed a carefully-worded small ad in a specialised monthly, and then spent a few weeks politely rejecting people who weren't able to offer exactly what I was after.

Then we went to Sheffield to visit friends and family. Saturday afternoon, Chris decided he wanted to go and buy some shoes; knowing how tempered my enthusiasm at this prospect would be, he suggested I should go and browse secondhand bookshops. I decided to see what Abbeydale Road and its junk shops, charity shops and so on had to offer, because the Angela Thirkells still missing from my collection don't seem to show up very often in bookshops these days.

The first briefly tempted me with a picture-book of Cleveland, Ohio – how is it that almost any Then and Now photo collection leaves Then looking so much more attractive? But I don't know anyone in or from Cleveland, so left the book where it was and carried on. Fireplaces, crockery, bedsteads, several hundredweight of Patience Strong and Mills & Boon, teapots without lids and lids without teapots, but not a Thirkell to be seen. Then, close to Highfields and its elegant row of early eighteenth-century houses, something made me slow down and turn into Thos. Goode's full-to-bursting house-clearance shop. I stood there in the doorway, transfixed. On the far side of the unlit shop, a pale oblong no bigger than a match-box and a disk just over an inch across had caught my eye. More pleading than puppies, more persuasive than the Psammead, something over there was saying "Buy me! buy me!"

But if I continue the narrative at this pace... Ruthlessly, I'll explain that one stop and a sliver of a white key had drawn my attention to a genuine French harmonium, bult in Paris by Césarini of rue de Richelieu and sold in Sheffield by Low's of Bow Street. And now is the moment to admit that I had come to Yorkshire that weekend with every intention of acquiring such an instrument; I'd just expected to start negotiations on the Sunday, not the Saturday. I clambered over the intervening miscellany, uncovered enough to be sure it was what I hoped, talked to the shopman and promised to come back on Monday. Which I duly did, and after the instrument had been collected and moved to different safe houses it finally reached Vilvoorde in December 2000. Ideal winter rebuild, as the bike-ads used to say, but I have every hope (and intention) of restoring it to playing order.

Thanks to all the following for their often unplanned contributions...

  1. On the Sunday, I found a copy of one of the Thirkells in a secondhand bookshop in Saltaire
  2. A couple of weeks later, thanks to Jan the deacon, I went to Aalst to collect another harmonium from the Carmelite convent there

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