Howard Croft column: Unsuspected connections of our dear friend, Derek

Businesses on The Shambles, Malton, Howards friend Derek operated from No 7 Antiques.
Businesses on The Shambles, Malton, Howards friend Derek operated from No 7 Antiques.

The name Derek Garrator was I suspect less widely known than the man himself. He it was who sat in the window of his unit in the Shambles (Malton), always in a flat cap, from which he sold antiques. Derek died towards the end of March. About 10 years ago, shortly after we came to live in North Yorkshire, Mrs Croft and I bought from him a delightful Victorian wooden high chair for use by grandchild number one, Archie, who refused to be put into it. Grandchildren numbers two, three and four also refused.

We subsequently bought a number of items from Derek, quickly grew fond of him and appreciated his accommodating willingness to allow us to take things home, without payment, to see if they “fitted in”. On one occasion, having bought a small wooden egg box from him, I asked him if he could find for me an old brass padlock. I told him that the box was to be used as a secret place for hiding chocolate eggs for visiting grandchildren. He found me the lock and because it was intended to amuse children he refused to accept payment – a gesture that I came to realise was typical of him. A feature of our Saturday morning shopping routine has been to call in on Derek for a chat. No hard sell there, which probably explains why Mrs Croft made so many purchases, some of them wholly unsuitable, of course. As Derek might have said, but never did, you’ve got to give a sucker an even break.

It was only when we attended his funeral that we realised how little we knew about him – that he had trained racehorses, that his life-partner, Peter Concannon, had been a jockey and that they had been together for 54 years; since they were teenagers, in fact.

Funerals of people you haven’t known very well (and some that you have, it has to be said) can drag on a bit, but not Derek’s. Although it lasted 40 minutes (I noticed the vicar anxiously looking at her watch during the final 10) it sped by, thanks in part to a moving and brief address by an elderly clergyman, a neighbour of Derek and Peter’s in Rillington. Brevity is not always to be found in clergymen – prolixity, rather – but we were lucky on this occasion, and we were moved.

As is often the case on such occasions, I was surprised to see so many familiar faces – people that it had never occurred to me might have known Derek – and to discover unsuspected connections. The elderly clergyman who gave the excellent address, for example; I was told that his name is Pip, an unlikely name for a clerk in holy orders, but there you are. After the service I went over to him to say how moving I found his address and to thank him for it, not mentioning of course my admiration for its brevity. He was very friendly, thanked me for thanking him and, emboldened by his friendly manner, I pointed out to him that he bears a striking likeness to Michael Ramsey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. “Now, that is a compliment” he yelped. He told me an amusing story about Ramsey.

It was only later that I discovered that he is my wine merchant’s father-in-law, a charming and unsuspected connection. The idea of Paul Tate Smith having a father-in-law who resembles a former Archbishop of Canterbury (and York, let’s not forget) is little short of hilarious.

I suppose that the highlight of this melancholy event was hearing a professionally made recording of Peter singing a delightful song, rendered professionally I thought. I didn’t mention this evaluation, not with my famously tin ear, but I did overhear someone else with exactly this view and I am happy here to endorse it.