Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Miscellaneous Items with No Better Home

A tweet last night about odd things older relatives store prompted me to share a picture of a file I found while clearing my parents's house:

This got me thinking about the other oddities we found. My late parents were inveterate hoarders - possibly something to do with being the wartime generation that couldn't afford to just throw things away, but not entirely....

Mum always despaired of the unnamed, dis-assembled pieces of mechanical detritus ("little iron dingbats" as she called them) which dad would bring into the house and then leave on the arm of his armchair, the coffee table, etc. They ran a dancing school and amateur theatre group (for a fuller picture of them, click here), and we lived 'above the shop' so space was a bit limited and our family Christmases tended to be a race against time to tidy away all the costumes before Father Christmas arrived!

When they retired, they converted the house back to a conventional 4 bedroomed house in anticipation of their retirement to Devon. When the time came to move, I was advised to take a trip home to pick up anything that belonged to me that I'd not already collected. We were in the process of buying our own house, too, so it was the perfect time to collect my dolls house (!) and some furniture they no longer wanted. I distinctly remember a conversation with dad which went something along the lines of:

"We're having a good old clear out, as we can't take all this to Devon and it will be less for you to sort through when we die."

This was in 1993. They did multiple trips to the local tip, donated all their costumes to local groups, and off they went to set up their new, streamlined home.

Fast forward to 2012. They were getting on a bit now, and no longer the active 60-somethings who'd moved in. Dad's tendency to stockpile bits of timber (when they bought a new sofa, rather than send the old one to the tip he stripped it down and kept all the component parts, "just in case.") and mum's accumulation of fabric, flower-arranging kit and teddy bears (a late-onset obsession) meant their house was full to bursting. Down for a week over the Easter holidays with the grandchildren, I volunteered to clear out dad's workshop, which was looking like this:

Beneath that lot you can just make out mum's old bureau and a barbers' chair, several sets of tools (dad's, his dad's) the number plate to a long-crushed Vauxhall Cavalier, the strimmer which broke several years before and which he'd attempted a repair with Araldite (as a child, I thought the whole world was held together with this). 

Reader, it took me a week to clear it. 

Fortunately, I had the foresight to catalogue what I found, so I can now treat you to the highlights. Bear in mind, most of these had been transported 250 miles across country in order to sit there for 20 years:

This was a vacuum cleaner which he'd kept because it had an attachment which converted it into a paint sprayer for decorating. It plugged into the light socket. Last used: 1968

A broken mug. To be fair, there is a story to this. We painted panto scenery in the cellar, and there was a hatch in the floor through which flats were lifted and dropped back in. Dad and a friend were painting in the cellar with the hatch open and my sister brought them both a cup of coffee. "Where do you want it?" she asked. "Oh just bring it in" they said, so she backed in through the door in plunged straight down the hatch. Luckily, heavily-painted hessian broke her fall. And the mug (above).

"Why on earth did you keep this?" I asked. "I always intended to make it into a novelty lamp for your sister." he said.

I have no idea of the provenance of this, but it's older than me and probably a fire risk.

An Oxo tin full of sash pulleys. The house was fully double glazed in uPVC.

Three light bulbs he rescued from a skip when his office was refurbished (he did a lot of skip-cycling). They are oversized, screw-thread 200w bulbs that didn't fit any light fittings we either owned or were aware of, at the old house or this one. Again, transported across country.

A box full of dowel rods, "just in case". The yellow ones are from my cot.

This is the other end of the workshop, after I'd cleared it so he could get to his circular saw bench. As I said at the time, "pondering the wisdom of an 82 year old using a circular saw, but let's park that for now..." 

Note also the one spare toilet seat we let him keep of the five he had stored there, "just in case"; the bathroom cabinet from the old house; a home-made light box and a set of plywood circles, purpose unknown; and my grandmother's white stick (she died in 1976).

A wooden box, containing.... stuff. "You can't throw that out, it belonged to Uncle Bert" - this was the man who sold my parents their old home. He wasn't an uncle, but some kind of family friend of my mother's. I left it there - I'm not heartless!

This was a home made inspection lamp, fashioned out of a 'Party 7'-style beer can. "It's only a bit illegal" he said."It's not earthed."

A dolls' wardrobe, given to me by a family friend who is now a grandmother herself. Not sure how/why it made the trip to Retirementland.

Reclaimed window glass..... yes, you guessed, "just in case"

The ladder to our childhood bunk beds, long since replaced with new bunk beds (with an integral ladder) for when the grandchildren come to stay.

My first record player, a very old Garrard deck which dad replaced with a newer one in 1973.

A Gestetner duplicator, the photocopier of its day, which used a wax-coated stencil onto which panto scripts were typed and reproduced using a horribly sticky ink. Making corrections was very difficult, though, so on one occasion Prince Charming declared that "Cinderella shall be my bridge!"

Oh, and there were these in the bathroom cabinet. Corfe's the Chemist had ceased trading before I was born.

At the end of the week, I had the workshop looking like this:

Emboldened, the following year I cleared the attic (well, I needed something to keep me busy while the Royal Wedding was on). Upholstery, old bank statements and the five spare kettles that were stored up there. And the next year, my daughter and I redecorated their bedroom, taking the opportunity to clear a few of the bags full of carrier bags, etc, that were in the cupboards.

And then, in 2016, everything changed. In February, dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and as his health deteriorated, we had to make adjustments to the house to accommodate his increasing frailty and lack of mobility (Note: don't think just because you future-proof your home by installing a stairlift that old age won't defeat you - eventually, just getting on and off the stairlift is a challenge). As a result, my sister and I had to empty their dining room/study to make room for two beds. Part of the clearance included finding the file that prompted this post, but also some other gems. 

Why, for instance, was his map of all the doodlebugs which fell on Kent in WII stored next to the dishwasher instructions?

His annotated copies of some promotional videos:

And with this over-taping, I swear he was just trolling us...

Sadly, both mum and dad died within a few days of each other and once their joint funeral was over, my sister and I had to clear the house. Despite the clear-out before they retired and my sporadic life laundries over the years, there was still so much to do. My sister's trips to the tip were so frequent that the staff honestly thought she was identical twins! Every utility bill, including the gas bill for the year before they left the old house. Details of every car he'd ever owned. The full pupil registers and exam reports of mum's dancing school from 1948-1992, and the books, the books...

We still have most of these and more still in boxes, waiting to be sorted. We are both book hoarders too, so we now have four people's libraries in the house. Mum and dad's aren't in great condition - mum tended to use paperbacks as coasters - but I don't want them being pulped just because a charity shop can't shift them. We may be e-Baying these for years....

Other items captured for posterity include:

"Seriously damaged. Cannot repair" (but still kept).

Bought for my A level Graphics course in 1979... 

From left to right - dad's 1940s edition of Pigeon Post (bought for him by his elder brother); my rather more battered 1970s edition; the mug I bought him which he kept especially for hot chocolate.

Mum's barrel bag - very modish in the 1950s and it fascinated me when I was little. Not sure I'll ever use it, though.

And finally, I found a swatch of the wallpaper from our childhood bedroom, which stayed up, much to my chagrin, until I was 14.

And now the house and its clutter has gone, and I really need to start sorting things out here so my children don't have exactly the same thing to deal with when the time comes. These were all small, inconsequential objects but contain so many memories of my parents, and the daft-ness of some of them is really evocative of the people they were. As memorials go, this is a fine way to remember them.

[With thanks to @rhodri for giving me the idea.]

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