Friday, 2 March 2012

STUFF AND NO NONSENSE



In amongst the grim news and ill tempered comments pieces on the Guardian today, my eye was caught by this lovely article about precious objects and items in the author's life. Once you get past the slightly sensationalist headline, it's a touching piece about why sometimes stuff is more than just stuff. It spoke to me because I have always felt a connection with things. As a child, I collected small items from pebbles to stuffed animals to diecast toys and imbued them with personalities and backstories they didn't have to anyone else. Even the things I drew in my many brightly coloured crayon pictures all had lives behind their 2D looks. I'm sure of this came form my love of Enid Blyton books where every teddy and golly came to life once the children had left the nursery and was further encouraged by the gazillion times I read Harriet The Spy as she played Town and tracked her friends, family and neighbours in oh so glamourous New York. It was definitely fed closer to home by the sprawling attic just above my bedroom where items of my parents' lives before we came along were kept. And it came to life when we visited the rural antique shop my aunt worked in with its warehouse of things we could wander round inventing fantasy worlds while the adults made small talk over the Royal Doulton.

Things remained important to me as I got older. I don't know if it's because I grew to despise having my photo taken and because back in the wilds of the 90s, film and processing was so expensive on a teen budget, but I was never had fussed on photos to remind me of people and friendships. I preferred items. Objects fit into your life and impart or add things while photos sit impassively being ornamental. Items can be everywhere you choose them to be, but photos are limited to certain areas. The eagle eyed who have visited my flat will have spotted that there are no photos of anyone I know in it, but there is stuff. Stuff that I know exactly where it came from and what it meant to me. Stuff that adds practical value to my life and keeps those I care about close to me everyday.

I cannot imagine what items I would wish to save if my house was on fire (I imagine I'd be so distressed anyway that I wouldn't be thinking straight) as there are so many things that count to me I wouldn't even know what room to start in. In the kitchen, there's my grandmother's mixing bowl that means everytime I bake, I feel connected back to her and her farmhouse kitchen. There's her invincibly strong potato masher too adding extra Irishness to my spuds. There's cookbooks people have given me and one filled with hand written recipes that reach back generations and mark the stages of my own life. I had one like this before and when I was forced to leave my house, my flatmates destroyed the Muji notebook with hand written recipes and lovingly cut out scraps of paper that lived in my cupboard because they knew how much it would hurt me to lose something so personal. I still mourn for it eight years later for what it meant and what it contained, never to be replaced.

My living room is similarly full of meaning. My sofa, bought and paid for with part of my compensation cheque, is the most expensive thing I've ever bought and makes me feel like a proper grown up with roots and responsibilities. When no one is looking, it tends to be accessorised with a leopard print blanket I bought as the last birthday gift I received from my granny before she died. I nap under that blanket all the time and it's more than just cosy. And from my fleecy nest, I can see ornaments that remind me of people who have shaped my life and supported me unconditionally, some of whom are no longer around, some I could see anytime I could manage, all of whom it helps to feel I have close to me. And a wooden dinosaur, an Egyptian cat and a carved egret do that daily. Other items are tucked away in boxes, stumbled across occasionally when looking for something else and transport me on a wave of nostalgia to different periods in my life at different times.

My bedroom is made lovely by a selection of clothes and accessories. The ocelot hat that belonged to my Scottish granny. The suitcase my mum used as a child. Jewellery made my mum for me and others in the family. The 1920s vintage bright pink slip I hand accessorised with sequins and only wore once in 1999, but that reminds me of my sadly estranged friend Zoe with whom I bought it on a day trip to Dublin that was one of the happiest days of my life. My less grown up loves live there too. The stuffed monkey who was my faithful friend as a small child, bald and loved fragile, the feel of which transports me back to a time when life was simple and secure. The small toy dragon my mum gave me when I left home and who has quietly sat beside every bed I've slept in since. Chosen for his charming striped looks and amusing name of 'Daft Dragon', he also harks back to the days when I was teeny tiny, obsessed by dragons and held my mum's hand everywhere. And then of course my stuffed rhinoceros which still accompanies me to bed every night as if I wasn't 33. He's just the right shape to crook my arm round comfortably and he's also been a source of stability and comfort through a lot of upheaval in life.

Even the bathroom and toilet have items that means something. There's the now entirely white ceramic penguins that belonged to my mum when she was wee and have lost their black paint over the years but look at me when I shower. There's a watercolour painted for me by a family friend in the toilet that is so old these days it's inscribed to my original name of Sarah. Kept out of the sun for years, it's still as fresh as when it was given to me and is the one thing I have that reminds me of who I was when I had a different name. I don't think of myself as having much art in the house (certainly not compared to my childhood home) but looking round with fresh eyes now I realise almost every available space has a print or photo given to me specially, in some cases created just for me. Just walking to the kitchen reminds me what talented people I know and love.

My flat is the best thing that has happened to me in the past eight years. It is the foundation on which my whole life and recovery is based on. It was my determination (and some luck) that got me the flat when I did, but it's the little bits and pieces that make it a home. They connect me to other people who have had faith in me when I haven't been able to and make it a welcoming space when it could have felt like a prison I couldn't quite manage to leave. The stuff that lives in it have brought me great comfort and enjoyment throughout the years, as well as looking rather nice. And even though I'm shallow enough to sometimes judge the emotional attachment against the aesthetic value, I hope it shows that loving stuff isn't just materialism if there's more behind it that just having to have it. What about you? Do you have items you treasure or does stuff just weigh you down in life?