On Saturday afternoon I went through the gloryhole under the stairs. It wasn’t so much that I was looking for anything but rather that I thought it might be time to see what was stashed away. I am very measured in what is put aside. I found the boot I had to buy when I broke my toe (out), a spare screen (I think it was for the last computer and it may not be congruent with this one -I’ve asked the Computer Man), the second drying rack I bought against the day I would need it because the place that offered it was closing down (lodged in a more sensible place for it), a spare shelf from the old fridge (out) and I have rationalised into limited space the seat cushion, two pictures I am saving for granddaughter Parker and the certificates of award – my award – that I stripped with a claw hammer from the walls of the old Talk Radio when it was taken over by Kelvin McNasty – file under “cast thou not pearls before swine” (King James Bible).
I rearranged – again for better use of limited space – the bed linens I keep in an old grain bin. I remember where it came from, and the place exists no more. I looked, only last week, as I walked through the area of London in which I lived for 20 years and thought how glad I was to be out of it. It isn’t just that it has changed, I have changed – most of us do.
This was the same week in which I went to one of the grand shops which I haven’t been near other than passing through for a couple of years. And it was horrible, wall to wall money for the sake of it, stale air and smuggery. No aesthetic, no beauty, no wow. Oh dear, I thought, I have turned into a prunefaced old woman and then a friend, 25 years younger than me, criticised the same store in the same terms on the telephone that evening.
The cards, many of them one-offs, await my attention. I commit to cards. They are greeting and goodwill and how lovely to get something through the post that isn’t in a brown envelope or asking for money. And I have begun to write them.
I have bought the first of Parker’s presents, exchanged emails with Dilly (daughter in law) about who is working, which days, a meal and how and when. And I have segued from the things you save to the things you give but often the things you give are not predictable. You might just find them safely put away against need. And the things I would like to give to several people are highly intangible – peace of mind to Ginny, breathing space to Linda, a sense of balance to Alex, respectful working conditions to Ally who got thoroughly depressed about being bullied and moved in on by her presiding professor. How I would long to have discovered a bashed up old bag of safety and peace and calm which I could have shaken into order and shared with these people, like psychological toffees.
In the past I have planned Christmas well in advance but this year I feel a sense of improvisation in the air and not all the milk chocolate covered hams in the world (yes, I exaggerate but not much) can deliver a sense of safety when we are manifestly so unsafe. Maybe that’s why I recoil from the Holiday Season Hooha – because I know, I am old enough to know, that all the geegaws in the world are just that – things – and we need something a bit more than that if we are to survive as people.
After the joy of The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal’s story of his family told through a collection of Japanese netsuke – I approached his book about porcelain more warily. It’s not something I know anything about. But it was a joy. One again he took a thing – the strange alchemy of porcelain making – and made it into several kinds of journey. And out of my enthusiasm a friend has bought three copies – for herself, her son and her ex husband – because in reading it for herself, she understood what I had found in it. That kind of sharing is another kind of giving.