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.