Our worldly goods

We’re on a restoration drive in advance of our daughter’s wedding and need to deal with those pesky blemishes that stare at me every time I open the front door: the chipped paint around door handles; the holes in the parquetry wherever the dog, as a puppy, dug out strips of wood for his pleasure; the generalised clutter.

Our work began last weekend with the freezer, one of those old tucker box deep freezers that stands in the laundry.

I do not recommend such freezers unless you’re diligent, which I’m not. They fill fast with left overs and gifts of meat: slabs of beef from one of my brothers in law; whole turkeys from that brother in law’s sister; left over icing experiments from my daughter’s cake making days; half eaten tubs of ice cream that fell to the bottom out of sight and have since been forgotten and opened packets of frozen peas, broad beans and corn, all well past their use by dates even frozen.

I’d even kept a bottle of what I thought was vodka from my nearly thirty year old daughter’s twenty first birthday party. Vodka does not freeze and this bottle had been infused with fruit juice for cocktails and was therefore stiff as an ice block.

‘If anyone drank that now,’ my would be son in law said, ‘it’d kill them. Imagine all the bugs in the juice over all those years.’

I did not imagine bugs could get into frozen products but even frozen foods have a use by date.

I tipped the cocktail onto the garden after a few hours defrosting and wondered about all the space this bottle has taken up over time and all to no good.

Last weekend I tugged out the lot from the freezer and shoved it onto a skip in the front yard and then worried as it took an age for the men who had left the skip to take it back, by which time we’d had at least one unseasonably hot day and the whole thing had begun to stink. Even the flies were gathering.  Then it rained.

General rubbish was the requirement for waste on this skip and I worried that dead animals in the form of defrosting carcasses in green rubbish bags might attract a reprimand; even though such carcasses would readily break down.  Not the green bags though.

I think back to the days when life seemed simpler, before we worried so much about the environment we were then so blithely destroying; when I thought little about what I might have tipped onto a skip.

Now I’m mindful of waste and of recycling and my conscience never gets a rest.

They took the skip seven days later and the carcasses are gone. The deep freezer is empty except for a box of photographic paper that my husband put there in the bottom over twenty years ago, paper that came from a friend’s collection, which he had left to my husband. Paper that I understand could be precious or useful to someone serious about photography, for which reason it needs to stay in a sealed bag in the bottom of our freezer.


I have not seen this paper under its wrapper and I have no idea of its actual usefulness or otherwise. This becomes one of those situations where I take my husband’s advice blindly. Besides at the moment, this box of paper – the size of a large carton of books – is not doing any harm.

I suspect this is what hoarding is about, this clutter, this collection of items that are of no immediate use but might be useful to someone someday and so you hold onto them ever in the hope that one day someone will say,

‘Just what I needed. How wonderful. Good of you to keep it for me all these years.’

They won’t say the same of the top tier of our wedding cake, though, the thought of which comes back to haunt me now on the eve of another daughter’s wedding.

We should have eaten this cake at the christening of our first born, only there was never such an event.

Shortly after our wedding, I sealed the cake in a tin from my mother in law, a tin that sported red jacketed men on horses flanked by hounds on a foxhunt somewhere in Britain. I sealed the tin with electrical tape, which has held firm but the tin itself has lost most of its colour and the hunting scene is scarcely visible.


I hope to unseal this cake before I die but I cannot imagine when would be a good time.

That fear of doing damage to my marriage, like breaking open one double bricked wall in the house only to find behind some sort of cursed object that should not be touched or removed, or these days, the fear of running across and disturbing sheets of asbestos that could well kill us all over time.

I store the cake tin in the bottom of our pantry now, low down and hidden from view. Like my husband’s photographic paper, it takes up space, but this house can hold many of these storage items without straining under the weight because its house’s size.

And then comes the thought of moving.

Twenty years ago it did not trouble me.  But as time passes, the thought creeps in: one day, within the next decade, we will need to move from a house that we have occupied as a family of six people – in time adding boyfriends, partners and grandchildren.  And all their stuff.

This house is full to bursting with memorabilia  Much of it will have to go, and someone will need to sift through it, to decide what goes where.

I hope it can be me. This is not a job to leave to our children, but to ensure that this happens is to think in advance.

Another wedding at least puts us in mind of the restorations that need to happen now, small ones to make the house more presentable for the occasion, and then, two more children to leave for good – one who’s away overseas at the moment and theoretically at least counts as gone, though we have a room upstairs full of her worldly goods.

There’s only one still at home before we endure our empty nest and must consider the fate of all those lucky enough to live long lives: the dreaded downsize.

What’s in a name?

In three weeks time my second daughter will get married and I think of Elizabeth Bennet’s mother’s words in Pride and Prejudice, when her third daughter, Lizzie, gets an offer of marriage from Mr Darcy.

“Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.”

I find I am no longer as fussed about the idea of marriage as I once might have been. Still marriage matters.

It matters too that my daughter has elected to keep her name after she marries. I tried that myself for a time, to keep my maiden name. It worked until the babies came along.

I’m glad now to have my husband’s name in so far as it also offers a level of anonymity away from my family of origin. I can write about my childhood without the burden of association to the names of my siblings.

Losing my name I have lost that connection.

Still there are days when I long to go back to my maiden name.

For all its patriarchal overtones, my maiden name is an amalgam of my mother’s and my father’s name after all – my mother’s first name and my father’s second. It is also the name I was born into, the name I held closest to me when as a small child and I played with around with notions of of place and identity.

How I loved as a seven year old to track the essential aspects of where I lived:

Miss Elisabeth Schooneveldt

2 Wentworth Avenue

Canterbury, East 7

Melbourne Victoria Australia

The Pacific Ocean

The world

The universe.

My world was ever expanding like the mirrors on my mother’s dressing room table that folded in on one another and when you tucked yourself in between you could see yourself from behind and from the front, forever diminishing, shot after shot into infinity.


And somehow my name pinned me to the spot.

And this new name I have now, not so new when I consider I took it on fully when my first daughter was born over thirty four years ago and I have adopted it and recognise it as my name.

But it is not me, nor ever shall be.

I was once in a writing class with the late Doris Leadbetter and when it came time to introduce myself, she stopped at my name and said half jokingly, now Elisabeth Hanscombe, that’s a good name for a novelist.

I took heart from this though no novel of mine has yet transpired nor is likely to. Memoir maybe and essays and book chapters and even short stories but novels, not under that name.

Maybe one day if I ever live long enough to revert to form to go back to being that small girl in the red brick house near the corner of Canterbury Road and Wentworth Avenue I might find myself able to slip more fully into the world of imagination and find the place from which all novels begin.

But for now I have to settle with my own half fictionalised, half factual story, all in the name of my husband’s father and his father’s father before him.

It’s not a bad name though. It’s just not mine.