I have been having dreams for the past few years about a strange little shop in a Victorian building. It is full of vintage furniture, handmade Egyptian perfume bottles that twinkle from dark corners, and the walls are covered in framed prints.
The shop is Feathers in Canterbury. I used to go there all the time when I was a student at The University of Kent. I have never really come across another shop that is quite like it. Winston Feather, the picture framer and furniture maker who runs the place, was always friendly and helpful. He sold me a folding table from Morocco at a discount as he had yet to restore it, and talked me through how to do this myself. My first boyfriend bought me a mirror that Mr Feather had made from salvaged wood. I find the shifting colours and tones beautiful. Then there is my 1950’s side table and curled top perfume bottle.
I promised myself that when I had a house of my own to furnish that I would go back to Feathers and look through the treasures on offer. I keep dreaming of it and the shops that I would walk past on my way into town, worrying that the store might close down before I could return. It was my favourite place in the whole city.
My university experiences were not all that wonderful. I went through some really hard times, and for years I found it hard to imagine why I would want to go back to a place where I had felt so unhappy. I lost so much while I was there and had to fight so hard to reach my goals.
This week I returned. It was seven years since I graduated and I last visited. It was my birthday and my fiancé Mark said that we could do anything I wanted. I decided that I wanted to go back to Feathers and to buy myself a birthday present. The shop was still trading, painted a vibrant blue, and much as I remembered it.
Image from Google Maps
Mr Feather welcomed us and I excitedly whispered to Mark, pointing out a box full of vintage maps, the hanging signs proclaiming “Happily Ever After”, and the ancient doors that were gradually being fitted with legs so that they could be turned into tables. Mr Feather was talking to a lady in a grey coat, and we over heard him telling her that Feathers was going to close in a few weeks. He felt that the demographic of the city had changed too much for the shop to remain viable and he wanted to retire.
We had come just in time for me to say goodbye. It was such a suddenly bitter-sweet moment. I told Mr Feather that I often used to come to the shop and about how special I had always found it. He was thrilled that I remembered the shop so fondly so many years on, even the name. The lady he was with brought him the plants I used to see stacked outside the shop beside postcard spinners and wooden chests. I told them both how sorry I was to learn that the shop was closing and that we had travelled down for the day mainly to buy something there. Mr Feather told me that as he was closing down and I was a regular that he would give me a discount on the set of framed prints I had chosen. He re-did the tape on the backs and carefully packaged them, while we discussed the city as it once was. We spoke of the people, places, and things that we had lost over time. The lady had recently lost her mother, and friends when she was a student. I told her about a friend of mine who passed away in her early twenties and how that changed how I think about life.
Mr Feather gave me a pink perfume bottle and a card as a gift. Mark and I said goodbye and walked back to the car. We stayed in Canterbury for a few more hours. I had booked an escape room and there were other places that I wanted to show Mark. The park, mostly. We walked around the city walls hand in hand while I pointed down to a line of trees that my ex once had to carry me between on his back late at night because I had worn a pair of high heeled boots that tore up my soles.
That was October 2009, during the Canterbury Festival. We had gone to see A Midsummer Nights Dream. I never wore the shoes again, and the boyfriend didn’t last much longer.