A Spawn of Possessions
Lee Park (one widow, one spinster. A dead child, a lost adolescent, a war hero and a handsome surviving son) met Blackheath Park (one good daughter, one naughty daughter, one soon-to-be-dead-son, one would-be-rich son.)
Lee Park equalled cluttered oriental porcelain from South China, silk screens, dolls houses and parasols.
Blackheath Park, ancient records of light classical music, Victorian bronzes, sideboard, feather beds, glazed earthenware casserole dishes, bone handled cutlery and an early television and wireless with a huge walnut cabinet.
Lee Park and Blackheath Park marry and give birth to Brook Way, Kidbrooke Gardens and two sisters: Kidbrooke Gardens already containing the possessions of a deceased Methodist missionary.
Kidbrooke Gardens bore a transistor radio housed in a small turquoise and white suitcase, a brown Dansette two tone stackable record player, A Ferrante TV (slim line!) two cast iron cockerels and a 10 piece breakfast set that travelled in the back of a red and white Ford Zephyr all the way from Assisi, via the Boulogne Dover car ferry.
Kidbrooke Gardens became Morden Road and Wilton Row SW1, with belongings that were quarrelled over. Lee Park still had some disputed treasures that bypassed Wilton Row, the Spode dinner service now heading North from SE London to Camden Town, Wilton Row meanwhile selling a large antiquarian book collection but returning a Christmas gift of a Shetland wool sweater.
Meanwhile, a collection of Portuguese hens and ornamental owls eventually left a life lived in SE3 for a new home in SW19, and a smaller world. The piano once resident in the good girl’s house went away on a long loan.
The Italian breakfast set chose North London together with the small coffee cups from Kyrenia whilst the Wedgwood plates were reluctantly relinquished and put up for sale. From past treasure to the burden of possession. The Casa Pupo yellow and cream bedspread enjoyed its home in Putney with the elder child of the daughter of Kidbrooke Gardens together with a set of crystal glasses and a portrait of Aunt Lizzie, from Lee Park.
The small world of SW19 became smaller as the owner chose to throw away her possessions and jewellery into a leather waste paper bin.
Camden Town moved 30 packing cases to Hackney and 40 to North London, bringing a small child with two teddy bears and a modest wardrobe.
A much-mourned death in the small world gave rise to distress about the loss of the collection of ornamental owls, the mansion in Blackheath Park now reduced to one black Wedgewood teapot (lost), an Edwardian desk, some photos and personal letters in a brown envelope and a large oil painting of the Porte St-Denis in Paris.
But life amongst the possessions spawned from these long relationships continued to flourish. North London, five floors, 3 daughters, 30 years.
Vaughn Road. Two suitcases, clothes and a goldfish. Pinner, a double bed. Holloway and Kentish Town, kitchen utensils and sheets. Three addresses in St Andrews reaping a harvest of IKEA household goods and clothes from Top Shop – sufficient to require the services of a white van from Scotland to London. Stuff increases. Stuff leaves. Stuff returns.
Meanwhile, across the Solent three tea sets from Blackheath Park wait to be claimed by their prospective owners. The Edwardian desk from the family home via the smaller world, drove to enjoy an academic life in Cambridge with a daughter of the Georgian house.
That house, with never less than five inhabitants, still bursting with treasure. Bursting with detritus. Piano music with a price of 2/6. The photograph cupboard of a million family images in prints, many brown with age. Recipes, ribbons, paper, videos, cards, matches, string, screwdrivers, hairclips. Devices for removing cat fur. Sellotape, tea lights, spanners, manuals of defunct electrical appliances, nail clippers, paperclips, Christmas decorations, fuses, batteries, single socks and more.
Treasure. The picture of the Porte St-Denis. The breakfast set from Assisi. The glazed earthenware casseroles that belonged to grandmother. The coffee cups from Kyrenia.
Elsewhere in the house sit two carrier bags. One contains clean Calvin Klein underwear and a photograph of someone’s shadow belonging to the ex-boyfriend of a friend of a daughter. The second, some books and an SLR camera belonging to a former flatmate of another daughter of the Georgian house.
I picture a night -time party where the possessions talk over their history and advise each other on matters of self-regulation.
A burgeoning, bursting, continuing crop of Stuff. The ephemera of deaths, and the continuation of lives.
A life in drawers
The history of the drawer that people put it into when they didn’t know where to put it.
1) A Charles and Diana memorial coin
2) Christmas Ho Ho Ho red and white woven cat collar
3) Blue handled pliers
4) Torch batteries
5) Flat felt Christmas Tree -shaped decoration
6) Single child’s glasses lens
7) Instructions for an Elvis playing card game
8) Feng Sushi take-away menu
9) Small brass padlock
10) Manky rubber
11) Boxed toothbrush and mini toothpaste labelled Regency Hotel
12) Small trinket box with illustrations of Istanbul
13) Glitter stickers
14) Ugly sunglasses
15) Sample of Lancome tinted moisturiser
16) Gold tape
17) White rubber Halloween bat
18) 1 Swiss franc
19) Window key
20) Rusty key to wine cupboard, never locked
21) Single floating candle
22) Small bottle of rosehip oil
23) Hay fever tablets
24) Paper clips
25) Laithwaite’s wine brochure
26) Return slip for one box House of Fraser crackers and another for pair of bootees
27) Single dimmer switch in distressed finish
28) 4 frosted brown coloured plastic buttons
29) Araldite China glue
30) Araldite china glue, one tube from kit missing
31) “Thank you Parents” label from a present
32) Old pair of prescription glasses with bent frame
33) USB port
34) Scarp of white ribbon
35) White tennis sneaker laces
36) 5 hair bands
37) Black plastic “statement” necklace with matching expandable bracelet
38) Box of matches from Roskilde Festival 2002
39) 4 Foot Fingers band badge
40) Two plug adapters
41) 4 stainless steel escutcheons and screws
42) Made in GB Union Jack label
43) Receipt for Ollie and Nick handbag
44) Set of screwdriver bits
45) Instructions for smoke alarm
46) Cool Hunter Guide 2006
47) 1 baby photo
48) Black and white photo of Sylvanian family collection
49) Postcard of Henry V111 coin from V&A
50) Blackheath High School Old Girls newsletter 2004
51) Junior Rider award with photo in rusty horse shoe
52) 2 Kent combs
53) 2 mini ski badges from Steamboat Springs Colorado
54) Toy Fiat 500 car
I set up home with my now husband when we were young, penniless students. Other people’s stuff played an important part in our daily lives, much of it scavenged from white elephant stalls and charity shops. Some came our way as elderly family members made their exit. Each of these house clearances told a thousand stories.
‘I’ve seen my bike!’ he said. ‘But I can never ask for it back.’
His grandmother had died the previous Spring. Helping his mother to clear the house, he had found a bicycle in the attic. Taken apart, oiled and waxed, the pieces had been lovingly wrapped in canvas and stored by his uncle the year he emigrated to the US.
‘That would have been in 1951,’ said his mother.
‘The year I was born,’ he said.
The bike spoke a mystery. The uncle was supposed to have hated England, to have had no intention of returning. ‘Why keep it?’ I asked, but she brushed the question away with the dust of the abandoned house.
He renovated the bike – added dirailleur gears, a dynamo – and was heartbroken when it was stolen. Months later, in the works car park, he recognised the distinctive frame under its new coating of paint. His colleague had bought it from a second-hand shop.
‘It goes like a dream,’ he said.
My mother adored clothes, though she wouldn’t waste money on anything new. She combed the dress agencies for bargains, ‘It’s designer, you know,’ she’d say as yet another find was squeezed into a burgeoning wardrobe. When she moved into the home, we began to clear her house. Every nook and cranny was stuffed with shoes, handbags, dresses, suits, some still in their wrappings, never worn; well, never worn by her.
‘Let’s give them to the British Heart Foundation,’ I said. They had to make several trips.
We sat on the floor in front Great Aunt Cilla’s homely treasures, three girl-students with rented flats to fill. ‘Who’d like this?’ asked Brenda, wielding a potato masher. We hesitated.
‘You have it, Annie,’ said Liz. I’m sure you need it.’
‘Maybe Rachel would like it more,’ I said.
After a good deal of persuading, Rachel took it. Half an hour and many pieces of domestic brik-a-a-brac later, Rachel said, ‘ I’ll take the rolling pin,’ Annie, ’cause you’ve got the sieve and I could have done with that.’ I bridled.
Brenda held up the double saucepan. ‘I want that!’ I snapped. He nose turned ever so slightly upwards in disgust.