Weird and wonderful: how to buy objects that bring joy to your home

You might think the Observer’s architecture critic would surround himself with beautiful souvenirs from his travels, instead he accumulates objects that defy the rules of good taste

One day in Évora, Portugal, my travelling companions and I walked across a square hammered with 40-degree heat. A little delirious, having just visited a chapel decorated with human bones and the hair of young brides, we entered the apparent calm of a shop selling household items. Except our day of the macabre was not over. One of these items was a hat-rack made of four sheep feet, their still-grubby hooves varnished, bent at their joints into L-shapes, and fixed none too elegantly to a moulded piece of wood.

I bought it. I held on to it even after it became infested, in the style of a Dalí painting, with ants. I brought it back home to Britain. Only with great reluctance, and under duress from members of my family who found this increasingly dilapidated object for some reason disgusting, did I throw it away. I still mourn it, as if it were a missing limb. Much as a sheep might feel, indeed, whose feet had been made into a hat stand.

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