Personal Effects

I can never remember my parents buying any furniture, or visiting a furniture shop. The things we had-tables, chairs, beds, ‘suites’-they seemed to have been there always, moving house when we did, packed away into a removal van and taken out at the next house; then fitted into whatever space there was. A number of pieces were inherited, accumulated over the years. My mother could say who they’d belonged to: ‘That’s Great Aunty Mabel’s cabinet’ and so on.

Back then you used whatever you’d been given without a thought of renewing or even choosing something. This approach continued as I entered adult life and moved from renting places [where you put up with whatever eclectic mix the landlord had assembled] into home ownership.

Later, becoming single again and beginning home ownership once more, but with less cash the luxury of choice was tempered by limited funds. I could choose, but from whatever was in the skip, at the council recycling depot or if feeling flush-at the junk shop and the small ads. Each acquisition felt like a triumph, whether coming home from the council rubbish dump with some brass coat hooks on a pine base or discovering a French, inlaid walnut bed outside a second-hand shop.

Pairing up with Husband meant pairing up the belongings, too. Collapsing two households full of effects into one is a tricky business when both householders have struggled to amass said items in the first place. There were lively discussions, debates and compromises. A number of fiercely contested pieces followed us into the home we bought together-happily a stomping great house that was capable of accommodating every treasured, hard-fought-over object, whether treasured or detested.

Waiting almost six months for the next move-a move that almost didn’t happen-we shed items in a gradual purge, resulting in a refreshing, minimalistic environment containing two camping chairs and a TV. This was an echo of my house as a new singleton, albeit a temporary phase in the limbo between homes. We’d agreed that the new house was neither suited to our collected contents nor did it contain the right spaces and therefore we cast caution into the teeth of the gale and got rid.

I let my fingers do the walking [remember that old ‘Yellow Pages’ ad?] with varying degrees of success. A set of six, white, Charles Eames style dining chairs arrived as a set of five. ‘Who buys five?’ I asked Monsieur Customer Support, who agreed it would be unusual. Husband is something of a traditionalist when it comes to furniture and was [and continues to be] less enthusiastic about my choice, although I conceded over the selection of the TV housing. Compromises continue to be made.

Like the house, we haven’t mourned the passing of our old belongings. It is, after all just ‘stuff’. But a couple of boxes still lurk under the bed in a guest room. They contain ‘stuff’ from the old place, ‘stuff’ we don’t know what to do with; ‘stuff’ that may, perhaps get passed on to the next generation-so they can ditch it…

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Moving on…

A letter to the new owners of this house:

Welcome to your new home. If you can be just a fraction as happy here in this rather grand, elderly house with its unbeatable location and its creaking, gurgling idiosyncrasies as we have been you will have made the right choice. Estate agents like to describe it as having ‘kerb appeal’ and judging by the attention it is given from passers-by this may be correct.

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When we first came to look at it twenty years ago we’d no clue it would be located on the cliff top, a short stroll down a zig-zag path to the vast sweep of Bournemouth Bay, since there was no mention of its position in the small, black and white advert in the local newspaper, merely a smudgy photo of the front door. It seems incomprehensible now that a sea-front location would be unmentioned. Upon entering the house I experienced that immediate recognition that this was the house for us, even though Husband needed convincing.

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To begin with it was locked into an earnest, seventies style décor and many of the original. 1920s features had been replaced with teak-effect and wood chip wallpaper but the beautiful staircase and elegant doors were all there. We set about alterations, combining three rooms to provide the spacious kitchen/dining area that is still a popular choice today. Much later, longing to be elevated to a level where we could enjoy a sea view, we had a section of the roof cut away and the loft converted to provide a crows’ nest. It altered the appearance of the house in a way many would consider a travesty but has been the room we’ve lived in the most. The garden is unrecognisable from the bland space it was and now boasts mature borders, a beautiful pond, trees, a summerhouse and two patios. The old garage is adorned with Virginia creeper and climbing hydrangea and a riotous tangle of honeysuckle, jasmine and ornamental hops tumble together from the fence.

 

Every home carries in its fabric stories of the inhabitants down through the years-even if they are untold. Here there have been wedding celebrations [two], arrivals, departures, parties, Christmas gatherings, murder mysteries, milestone birthdays, air show gatherings, musical soirees, a new generation coming along to explore, visitors, a burglary, barbecues and so much more.

My homecoming from work was always a joy, the sky becoming vast as I came nearer, the sunsets stunning and the winter gales a thrill.

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Our next home is a complete contrast, having been built much more recently with a light, contemporary interior, loads of glass and an open-plan design. We are swapping our sea panorama for a view over the river and the water meadows and the garden is a wedge of lawn leading to a small wooded area containing giant trees. The historic centre of the provincial town is just a few minutes’ walk along the road. Will we be as happy there as we have been in the old house? It remains to be seen.

 

 

A Moving Story

In a week that was nothing if not instructive there have been winners and losers. Before I explain I should warn anyone who is without a strong constitution or nerves of tungsten that if you are contemplating any kind of house move you should reconsider.

I have lived in the same house for about twenty years. This is long-extremely so for me, since I have documented before the many, many times I moved up until arriving here, to this house which, it must be said has had everything [or if it didn’t to begin with it does now]. Alas the house became too large to house two people and needed a new, sprawling family who would love it as we do. This has taken two years; so long that we quite forgot that we were selling it and the trauma of having done so is profound.

Still, it is done. Someone new is to reside here and we must de-camp. And here is the problem; there is nowhere to go! There is not a villa, a cottage, a bothy or even a hovel that excites us enough to call it a home.

While we ponder this conundrum we set about distributing the house contents to the world-or at least those who are interested in any of it. This is where the delights of EBAY provide an unending thrill and surprises abound in the throngs of people who are interested enough to want to buy the plethora of tat we have advertised.

For some reason, as time progresses towards leaving we become increasingly gung-ho and uncaring about ‘stuff’, casting our belongings to the wind as if we were emigrants to a desert island. There are several pages of items for sale, prompting a deluge of questions-‘what is the height of it?’ [the dimensions are in the description], ‘what is the buy-it-now price?’ [as it states-there is none], ‘can I post it?’ [NO-hence the well-known phrase, ‘local collection only].

Items get sold. They get collected. Gaps appear around the house, flattened areas of carpet the only sign that something was there. An entire room becomes empty. There is a slight echo-and billowing motes of dust circulating in the light. A tower of boxes starts to rise, then another. People come to view things-then want to see other things. It feels like living in The Old Curiosity Shop’.

At intervals I stop to shred another pile of redundant documents, seeing the narrative of our lives metamorphosing into hamster bedding before my eyes. Does it reduce us, this casting off of possessions? It shouldn’t. We are not composed of personal effects.

More spaces appear as items disappear. It begins to look less like home. This is EBAY’s way of accustoming us to the impending departure. The corner where my tall, luxuriant palm sat is particularly barren, somehow, although the purchaser of this beautiful plant was delighted and will no doubt treasure and enjoy it as I did. Ho hum…

Celeb Spotting-there’s an Art to it-

During the late years of the seventies I lived in Putney, South London. Some parts of the area, even then were considered fashionable and therefore beginning to be pricey, although not the parts I inhabited which were firstly a room on a shared ‘maisonette’ and secondly a two-roomed ‘flat’. The former of these two homes was acceptable, if shabby; but policed by a zealous, basement-dwelling landlady whose unwavering eye focused on our comings and goings [we were four girls]. The second would not, under any circumstances have passed the scrutiny of a housing officer nowadays and is best left to be described in a future post.

I loved living in Putney for a number of reasons. There were wonderful pubs, plenty of green spaces; I was within walking distance of my place of work [a special needs school] and it was an easy hop into central London. But these advantages also made it a magnet for what would these days be called ‘celebs’, so that regular sightings of well-known actors or presenters were commonplace, provided you paid attention.

Those who live in the capital find it difficult to see why anyone lives anywhere else or indeed how anyone copes with living elsewhere, but as the seventies receded I did leave London for the South West of England, which proved satisfactory enough place for me to remain-and here I still am, forty or so years later.

Here though, celeb-spotting is an art acquired only with practice, but one that we have honed to the point of expertise. For the 18 years we’ve frequented the hostelries in and around the coastal town that is our place of residence we’ve seen dozens of famous personas-far more than I ever did in Putney. How has this been achieved?

At just one of our locals we have seen-on a fairly regular basis-the following: Richard E Grant [actor], Ricky-from-Eastenders [whose name escapes me], Ian McShane [actor] and Charles Hawtry [actor-deceased].

No-we haven’t seen these actors. But since we began to frequent the pub we have grown used to identifying other regulars by their more famous dopplegangers. As a result the names have stuck.

Now while this method of identification has worked for years and enables us to discuss said punters with ease it is not without its difficulties. One of the pseudo ‘celebs’ has subsequently become a friend. Adjusting to his actual name took time and we were often in grave danger of blurting out his ‘stage’ name. We had to overcome the problem by using a type of hybrid name [which coincidentally happened to be the name of a historic footballer] until his real name became glued on to him. There is no question of revealing the history of his stage name since it is unlikely that he would be flattered.

Since we began pseudo-celeb watching, Richard E Grant has had a baby and Ian McShane visits less frequently. Ricky-from-Eastenders, however continues to be a regular. I must confess to a certain reluctance to know their actual handles and so, for the foreseeable future I’ll be avoiding any possible introductions.

Weather or not?

                So here in the South of the UK we have been deluged by storms, wild winds and relentless rain since early December. Yet curiously, the press continues to feature the stories of fallen trees, collapsed roads and rail networks, homes without power , flooded buildings and drownings as if they were news. How many people are left who are surprised by the endless flood of stories and the deluge of videos on the subject?

                Elsewhere in the world, large tracts of land are drought and fire ridden or have been locked into a standstill by statistic-busting snowfalls and gigantic freeze-ups. Presumably their journos and pursuing a similar line of ceaseless weather reportage. Is anyone else suffering from weather news fatigue, as I am?

                Here on England’s South coast we have been battered and buffeted enough to have sprung some leaks and lost some roof tiles, a nuisance and an expense if nothing else, but of course you can only feel sympathy for those whose properties have been flooded and ruined for the second, third or even fourth time in one winter. This weather, they all agree, is unprecedented. I feel sure that the Australian home owners who have lost everything in bush fires must feel the same. Is there anyone left who is still a climate change sceptic? Whether you believe it is man-made or not, that it is happening cannot be denied.

                We in the so called democratic countries elect our ruling parties on the strength of their policies, do we not? But can there be an issue in the world that is more pressing, more urgent than climate change? I don’t think so. Yes, terrorism is a frightening prospect, economic depressions affect everyone and the world’s dwindling resources provoke anxiety-but all of these issues, I believe are connected to the increasing gap between rich and poor [yes-even terrorism] which is a direct result of climate conditions. The poorest peoples live in the places that struggle most with inhospitable weather, most in Africa. These are the places where extremist, terrorist groups are most likely to get a toehold and then a stranglehold, where a population is starved and impoverished and unable to respond or retaliate.

                And so what have the developed nations done? Have they got together to implement policies for world good? Have they agreed to share resources, work out ways to minimise damage, acknowledge that fossil fuels are not going to last forever, that sustainable energy sources are vital and that the needs of the starving, desperate peoples on the planet must be addressed by all of us? No. Some lip service has been paid. The UN has been meeting since 1992 and has still not reached any binding agreement. Have an expensive, lavishly serviced meeting of world leaders [all arriving in expensive, heavily guarded private aircraft], wring their hands a bit and go away again.

                The world’s populations will just have to shift. The peoples of the more advantaged nations will have to accommodate those whose environments have become uninhabitable. This will leave vast areas of the planet devoid of humans. What wonderful places they will be!