words Sam Hecht and Kim Colin
While we're in the throes of the holiday season, we'll all be bringing back the usual suspects from our trips - wine, cheese and some chocolate, no doubt. But spare a thought for those things that stay in the same spot, untouched by tourists and often overlooked by locals.
It's these hardware shops, chemists and supermarkets, no longer found on the main shopping streets, that allow us to see what others can't. Useful things, full of use. Here are a couple of items we discovered for Under a Fiver on some recent trips.
Hidden in the dust of a small family-run Greek hardware store, among piles of bulbs that no one asks for anymore and the familiar surfeit of Chinese buckets and fly-swatters, was a remarkable and single-minded polystyrene plastering tool.
This odd piece, which at first we thought was discarded packaging, is the nemesis of the sleek and slender stainless trowel that we all think of when plaster is to be spread on walls. It's a throw-away item that's chunky but light. How effective it is we're not sure, but it's certainly a brave piece as regards to what it promises, considering the material is usually used for drinking cups.
"Yes, it works very well," said George, the shop owner. "In fact few Greek builders throw them away. They're very good for applying asbestos!"
Next was a beautifully clever key pull from Italy - found in a small shop teetering on the brink of closure. Brass keys are still very common in Italy, but this one has a twist.
It's a barrel-shafted key with a single tooth (the one shown in the photo is uncut) and a large bow - the part you would grasp to turn the key. This bow is hinged off the shaft of the key, allowing it be folded down, either to drop out of the way or to act as a hanging door pull. The utter brilliance of this piece means that it is possible to conceive of a door not having a handle at all, because the combination of keyhole and this key will do the job.