This is going to be one of those rambling blogs and this morning tis inspired by two men emptying a garage accross the road. the garage appears to be filled with someones life… furniture, electrical goods, ornaments and papers. the workmen are sifting through it all…rootling through drawers, sorting into recyclables…sellables…and skipping what they don’t see any obvious value or use in. (yes i’ll be over to look in the skip when they’ve gone)…. but in the meantime i’m jealous.
Jealous that there’s been a treasure trove over the road all this time I’ve lived here and it never occurred to me to go and have a poke about. I guess its a sign of having grown up…
In my youth I was a great radger arounder… empty houses… factories…skips….anything. But especially houses. I don’t mean I used to break in to houses… and never if they were lived in.
But I had… have… a fascination in the minutiae of lives left behind.
When living in Nottingham I lived in a squat in The Park for a while… the Park is a private estate full of beautiful large Victorian houses… a fabulous place to live. Whilst we lived there we raided skips to furnish the house… the quirkiest find being an entire shed in sections that we took home and rebuilt in our sitting room and then sold when we got bored of the novelty of having a shed to sit in. At night we’d walk through empty houses that builders were gutting and modernising and come home with a single unbroken art nouvaeu tile from a pile smashed from a fireplace by a builder with his eye on cash and not beauty.
A carpet lifted would reveal newspaper from the 1940’s.
A room empty except for the outer case of a 1930’s radiogram.
Holidaying on Orkney I walked into an abandoned croft to find although the thatch had collapsed it was held up by a traditional wooden box bed inside. I carefully ducked my way beneath the fallen beams through a house just abandoned… everything was in place… a rotting patchwork quilt on the bed.. tea cups on the table. I came away with a couple of glass fishing floats… I filled them with pebbles and shells from the beaches.
In Eire… a house abandoned, again, as if someone had died and all their belongings were just left to rot in distant synch with the body. A calendar on the back of the unlocked kitchen door from the early 1970s, a row of ties on coat pegs (already knotted, just for slipping on and tightening as he left the house)… a china cabinet in the sitting room complete with contents teetering and unreachable on the edge of a collapsed floor. Upstairs suddenly I felt like the intruder I was as there were chairs arranged in a bedroom placed as though they had held the coffin.
Perhaps more honest would be to leave the body there too… to burn body, house and belongings together as with a Romani vardo.
But then what got burnt in the vardo was everything that wasn’t heirlooms… beyond our soul and the things worth passing from generation to generation our lives are just stuff. On death so much of that ‘stuff’ is worth so little to anybody. In most cases its worth so little to us even when alive… we just surround ourselves with it through habit far beyond need.
And what are heirlooms… the financially valuable, the much loved, the relentlessly practical?
A mixture of all three?
When my grandparents died as the youngest in the family I was allowed to potter through the small things… the unimportant things… the things nobody else wanted… I raked though drawers and cupboards already searched for papers and valuables. I took home jackstones from my grandmothers childhood… small ornaments… a lurex dress…old toffee tins.
Which brings me full and rambling circle back to a fascination with minutiae of peoples lives that get left behind…so many small beautiful parts of peoples lives… the unwanted things that each hold as much, or more of a persons life as the heirlooms. Heirlooms after all tend to be unused, kept safe to pass on.
I think it’s time I started to use my best china.
I’d rather my children could take their pick of the loved and the well used as opposed to something untouched and kept sterile for best.
Kept for no other reason than to pass it on…. and to pass on the responsibility of it.
Some of my most precious things are small things… found things… they will be far more of a memory of me than anything else.