The Stories of Things

St James

Thanks to comments from Jill on my post a couple of days ago about recycling, I can see there’s still more mileage in that subject.  Talking about taking other people’s cast-offs and turning them into something beautiful or thought provoking reminded me of  Cornelia Parker‘s work ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’.

The raw material for the work was bits of silver she collected from junk shops, and then crushed with a steamroller.  The value of the silver pieces, special items, perhaps given as a gift, or engraved for a special occasion is gone once the people who gave or received them, or remember why they are special, are gone; and there is a sadness in that, a story lost.

It set me thinking about the stories associated with the things I have in my flat.  As I sit here and look around me I remember where I acquired pretty much everything I can see.  To you it would look like a random collection of furniture and knick knacks; possibly not uncomfortable but not overly colour co-ordinated, nothing of any great intrinsic value nor with much second hand value. But to me they trace a version of my life history and experiences.

I have a three piece ‘Utility’ suite first bought second hand by my mother when I was a child, it’s had several incarnations under different covers, but it would be hard now to imagine my room without it.  On the walls I have pictures I’ve bought on trips to Hong Kong, Nepal, South Africa, Spain, Tonga and Japan and I can recall very specifically where and when I acquired each of them.

I haggled over the carpet in the bazaar in Marrakesh, and my sister made the curtains and the throw on the back of the sofa.  The rug I snuggle into if I get chilly watching the television came from Ireland.  The coffee table was a cast off from my parents; they bought it in the 1960s and I cannot remember a time when it was not in our house.  You’d think I would have replaced it by now, but my search for a desirable, affordable alternative is now many years old.  But anyway, thanks to ‘Mad Men’ aren’t the ’60s fashionable again?

A couple of weeks ago my friend A, with whom I shared many of my Moscow experiences, visited the flat for the first time with her children.  They all paused and examined my collection of Russian geegaws, the Lomonosov cups and saucers, the Palekh lacquer boxes and carved wooden figures, comparing mine with A’s extensive range,

‘I didn’t know you had one of those. ‘

‘I’ve always liked yours more.’

marking the significance of all those shared memories.

Leave a comment


  1. Jill

     /  August 25, 2011

    Love this article 🙂
    Just out of interest, why do you have a photograph of the beach huts at Muizenberg?

    • Aha Jill, therein lies a tale! It’s a photo of a painting I have in my living room. I bought it in a gallery in Constantia. I was in the first week of a 5 month ‘gap year’ trip after finishing my job in Moscow. Before setting off I vowed to be economical and not acquire lots of stuff en route as I was essentially backpacking and had to be able to carry everything myself….. And I failed week 1! The gallery owner pointed out the benefits of sending stuff back to the UK and that rather set the pattern for a fair few things going in the post back to my parents who followed my adventures in pre email times by examining the things I sent to them for safe keeping. This painting (and its huge gold frame) was the biggest thing they took delivery of!

      I love it because it reminds me of the unbelievable blue of the sky in SA and that it can be OK to make impulse buys.


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