Collections

In my fourteenth year, we moved houses from the inner suburbs of the east in Camberwell to the outer southern suburb of Cheltenham and during that move I took care to ensure that certain of my things came with me.

Precious things I had begun to collect earlier that year.

What is it about adolescence that we begin to see life differently, when the passage of time seems to race ahead so we’re constantly in a hurry, or else, the passage of time seems to drag with every hour, an imposition on your capacity to entertain yourself.

Or so it was for me, especially during the long summer holidays, when we had hours to spare. That’s when I began to collect the treasures of my life, the ticket stubs from the first movie I ever saw at the Balwyn Cinema, The Swiss Family Robinson. There on the big screen, a film which in my memory I confuse with Treasure Island,  Long John Silver and his peg leg.

I collected holy pictures in a cigar box my grandfather had thrown into the rubbish. Brazilian stickers glued to the front and the box itself of thin balsa wood, delicate to handle with its flip lid and still smelling of tobacco.

I collected slips of paper on which people who mattered to me, among them my favourite teacher, had written a few words of instruction, a message about when and where to meet, a sign always of our connection.

In the new house in Cheltenham, all white walls and shining laminated bench tops, stiff venetian blinds and no curtains, given my parents could not afford the extras, we took to putting our things into rooms in an orderly manner.

There was no room for clutter in this new house, at least not in the beginning, at least not while we could see the effects of newness all around us.

And so I needed to collect my objects in small containers, which I could stack neatly in the back cupboard of the bedroom I now shared with my younger sister.

It was a time of hopefulness, this moving time. A time for new beginnings that did not last long before my father reverted to his drunken marauding self and the once white walls developed the stains of what they soon witnessed and lost their innocent glow.

My husband and I bought a new car recently and the smell of the interior reminds me of this new house in Cheltenham. It’s pure unblemished state.

I have loved the sense of newness in most things I encounter. New shoes before they’re scuffed. New clothes before their crinkled and stained. New ideas, before I recognise in them something of the old ideas on which they’re based and they become familiar.

Everything becomes familiar over time and over time things get old. Old and no longer so useful.

These days, I am surrounded by many old objects, including the trunk below my writing desk that is filled to the brim with the memorabilia of my adolescence, collected since my fourteenth year and continuing well into my early twenties.

I have a large key in mock wood folded over itself so that people could sign the inside in honour of my then coming of age when I turned twenty one. I also have the pale blue gold embossed autograph book I received at the end of my primary school years and into which many of my friends and several members of my family have penned small verses. This from my brother:

The night was dark and stormy

The billy goat was blind

He ran into a barbed wire fence

And scratched his never mind.

I laughed at such verses then. Salacious to my young mind, not so now. Twee now, but that’s the way it is with so many elements from our past. They lose their piquancy, their sting, their fresh smell. They become musty, old fashioned and down right boring.

But I do not have the heart to get rid of them yet.

Next year, I tell myself I’ll get a skip placed strategically in the front yard and I’ll clear out my writing room into it.

I’ll clear out this room to make room for new ideas and fresh papers, though these days, papers become unnecessary when so much is available on the internet.

It’s not the same of course. Those material objects, the ones we can handle, the ones whose colour fades over time, hold the greatest pleasure for me, even as the typed or handwritten words on fading sheets of paper all but disappear.

4 Comments on Collections

  1. Sabine
    December 31, 2017 at 8:51 am (6 months ago)

    This is such a sharp memory.
    Strange what we keep – but it mattered, still does, to you. Don’t rush it with that skip.
    There is so much more to discover about life and the past as we get older. And who says it’s just for you.

    I have a suitcase full of my collections up in the attic, I know one day, but not yet. Meanwhile, I am sorting my way through my grandmother’s collection and 100+ years old pressed flowers are falling from the pages of her autograph book making me gasp with surprise.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      December 31, 2017 at 10:02 am (6 months ago)

      I’m lucky I only need to tackle my own memorabilia, Sabine. I can’t imagine having to get through grandmothers collection, but how precious these must be. And the pressed flowers falling from within. What a gorgeous image. Thanks, Sabine.

      Reply
  2. Jim Murdoch
    December 31, 2017 at 6:01 pm (6 months ago)

    I have collected things for as long as I can remember. I began with stamps. After Mum died my siblings and I went through what Mum had left for us and salvaged the things that mattered to each of us. There was no conflict; we all seemed to value different things. In Dad’s office I found the stamp album and flicked through it. What surprised me was how ugly most of the stamps were but then it was the sixties and the Faroe Islands had yet to turn churning out stamps into a lucrative business. I left it where it was and I suppose it’s in some landfill now. Maybe not. I suppose I went on from there to toy cars, Matchbox mainly. I gave that up just as the first Hot Wheels appeared on the market. The only thing I could find was a horsebox from that time minus the horses. The bubble gum cards and the Brooke Bond and PG Tips cards had all vanished. Pity. I had a lot of complete sets that might even be worth something today. The rocks were all gone and the fossils. And the comics although I never seriously started collecting them until I was about twenty. The oldest paperback I own dates back to when I was sixteen. I pretty much still own every one I ever bought apart from a couple I lent people and never saw again, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’.

    I don’t seriously collect things nowadays. I have amassed groups of things but I no longer collect for the sake of collecting. We’re simply running out of space. Carrie bought me another 1:76 scale bus for Christmas which brings my total to ten and very nice they all look lined up on the unit above the TV. She also got me no less than four Iron Men to add to the four I got last year and they occupy a whole shelf in my office now blocking out the books behind them. It’s been a while since anyone bought me a Garfield but apart from the bathroom there isn’t a room in the flat without one in it and there must be over a dozen dotted around the living room. The top of two bookcases is full of space craft (mostly Gerry Anderson) and cars (a mix of Captain Scarlet and various Batmobiles). I got a Borg sphere from my daughter and a Xindi starship from Carrie’s daughter which I’ll need to find room for somewhere. These are all basically ornaments. I never do anything with them but I like to be surrounded by them. They comfort me in exactly the same was as my shelves and shelves of books I’ll never read again and CDs I’ll never listen to because I’ve got digital copies of all the important stuff now.

    I’ve thought a lot about why I like groups of things. There are so few things in life we can control but there’s nothing stopping me—bar limited funds—from ordering a complete set of Camberwick Green figures if the mood took me and if I had someplace to display them. I could quite happily do that. Sets represent order and control. I remember forking out £2 years and years ago for a not that great copy of ‘Spider-Woman’ Vol.1 #2 simply so I could say I owned the complete run of a lacklustre comic book which only found its stride right before it got cancelled. I mean it was probably worth 25p in mint condition but I didn’t care. I don’t think I even took it out of its plastic sleeve to read it. It’d done its job. I don’t get nearly as much satisfaction from digital media. It’s functional, convenient and cost-effective but it lacks… I don’t have a word for it. Something. Presence.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      January 1, 2018 at 10:11 am (6 months ago)

      Happy New Year, Jim. Let’s hope this year to come offers some order in our otherwise chaotic world. I expect it won’t but we can always hope. I like collections and groups too for the neatness they bring, but otherwise I like a bit of disorder for other possibilities. Thanks, Jim.

      Reply

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