Jolene had asked us to choose an object from our homes to bring with us to the Zoom meeting, maybe something we hadn’t thought about recently, but which had a particular meaning for us. As each of the items was held up to the screen for everyone else to see, we heard fascinating stories behind the chosen objects. They had stirred powerful memories: of our childhoods, of the special people who gave them to us, the people and places we associated with them, the love, the music and the magic in our lives.
I spent a very happy childhood in a tiny hamlet about half a mile from Holmfirth. Until I went to school, aged five, I often played out with a boy my age who lived opposite me. We used to make mud pies in the garden outside his kitchen door, something my Mum would never have allowed me to do at home. If it rained, we played “house” in the garage. His father was an animal feedstuff supplier, who sometimes would take us out when he had deliveries to make to outlying farms. A real treat to go for a ride, as my family did not own a car. We either walked down the steep hill to Holmfirth to catch a bus, or just walked to places not on the bus route.
Around 1952, Michael and his older brother Stephen went with their parents to Belgium to meet up with people Mr Crossland had made friends with when he was a tank driver during World War Two. They brought back this jewellery box for me. It was lined with blue satin and I was so proud of it.
It now holds small treasures:
- a perspex heart with the RAF emblem that my father made for my mother during World War Two
- my grandmother’s wedding ring
- a silver thimble my grandmother brought back as a souvenir from Blackpool
- a ring my mother bought with her redundancy money
- a crystal teddy bear given to me by my childhood sweetheart
My special thing is a studio portrait of myself aged just four or five weeks, with a mass of dark curly hair (which turned mousy and fine) and grinning. I keep it because it reminds me that, by nature, I am an optimist and it connects me to all the old family stories about my own childhood and those about my brother and sister too.
Because I had all that hair, my dad bought a Paul Robeson record to mark my birth: Ma Curley Headed Baby. I must have heard that beautiful voice before I could speak and it sank into me so deeply that it is part of me now. And Robeson was such a hero. An athlete, a lawyer, a singer and a political activist. Almost as much a hero as Marcus Rashford looks like being if we give him time.
Anyhow on the B side of that record was a song called Mah Lindy Lou. I had been christened Beverley, but, because that song was played so often in our house when I was tiny, they started to call me Lindy, and as far as I knew, that was my name. Until I was taken to infant school for the first time.
“And what is this little girl’s name?” asked Mrs. Auchincloss.
“Beverley Newns.” My dad told her.
“No it isn’t.” I said.
But Mrs. Auchincloss ignored me and wrote the name Beverley very clearly on the label in the shape of a butterfly next to what would be my coat hook all year. And that was that.
It wasn’t until I went to secondary that I got the chance to choose my own name handle and since then, I have been Lindy, finally changing it legally some years later. It’s my real name. My Paul Robeson name. Lindy.
This topic was a strange one for me because I am a bit of a minimalist. I enjoy getting rid of things even more than I like having the memories that can be unlocked by having them. In fact, I became a professional organizer and declutterer for 5 years because I like flinging things that much. Finding an item for this exercise that comes from more than a few years ago was quite tricky!
One item I do treasure is a letter opener that my mum gave me. It’s a bear because she used to call me baby bear and it has a mortar board because she bought it to celebrate when I graduated from my degree.
Every time I look at it I am reminded of the close relationships I have had and encouragement and support I have received from parents and grandparents growing up. I believe true self-esteem comes from within, however their pride in me for being the first in my family to go to university really helps me feel good about myself!
As well as being a treasured symbol of connection to my family, it’s functional too. I have used it to open paint tins, unscrew things, scratch my back and even open letters!
It was lovely to remember the times, people and memories I have linked to this object. This one is a keeper, no matter how much the decluttering bug gets me.
I chose a birthday card which my husband, Frank, gave to me in 1999.
We used to spend our summer holidays in walking high level routes in the Alpine areas of France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, spending the nights in the alpine “huts” which are like hostels but all situated high in the mountains. On this particular day, we had covered quite an arduous route and the last section involved crossing a deep valley, so it was a long descent and an equally long ascent. I was very happy to reach Capanna Campo Tencia, a very comfortable hut sited at 2140 metres, where we planned to stay. I was very tired, so, after a shower and an evening meal, I went to bed.
When I woke the next morning, Frank gave me the card which he had made the previous evening when I was sleeping, because it was my birthday. The illustration showed me, complete with large rucksack, mountain boots and my well-loved Tilley hat, walking along a winding track between mountain peaks.
This is a precious keepsake, now in a frame and on my dressing table.
In 1996, it was our silver wedding anniversary, and having discharged parental duties, seen both children through university and waved them on their way, we thought we would have a special holiday.
At the time some very good friends of ours, Barbara and Stuart, were living and teaching in Hong Kong. It was the year before Hong Kong reverted to Chinese jurisdiction so was a good time to go. We didn’t stay with our friends but met up with them on several occasions. On one such occasion they took us to one of the famous night markets. These are very popular as it is cooler in the evening, and they are lively, vibrant places. Stuart and my husband Dan went off to explore, and Barbara and I did the same. We were going to meet up later to have something to eat from one of the many food stalls. Before we go on, you have to know that I am a real tea lover. I have to have a couple of cups of tea before I can get going in the morning, and a cup of tea has been known to revive me in many situations. Anyway, when we met up, Dan had bought me a little Chinese terracotta teapot! A perfect present.
My friends had lived and worked in many places in the Far East and after they returned to England they often went on holiday to visit friends they had met out there. Their son also married a Japanese girl so Japan became one of their places to visit. Each time they went to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong or Japan, Barbara brought me back a small terracotta teapot decorated in a local style. I ended up with about 7 or 8 and they are all displayed on a shelf.
So, this one little teapot is a reminder of a very happy special holiday that we were able to share with friends, and also of the thoughtfulness of an old school friend.
This embroidery sampler was created by my Auntie Teresa, one of my Mum’s two older sisters. She was born in 1919, so in 1939 would have been coming to the end of her two-year teacher training course at Endsleigh College in Hull. As a child, I remember the airmail letters which would regularly arrive from Canada, to where Teresa, her husband Joe and four children emigrated in 1957. My Mum was always happy when they arrived, and would encourage us to draw pictures to send back with her replies.
I first saw the embroidery sampler in summer 1991. We were in my parents’ living room; my Mum had had the sampler framed and wanted me to have it. It wasn’t long after my parents and I had returned from a long-anticipated trip to visit Auntie Teresa in Ontario. I’d offered to go with them so that I could do the driving, and my Mum later said they wouldn’t have had the confidence to go without me. We’d had a wonderful three weeks, seeing all the family and visiting all the places Teresa had described. I’d met Teresa’s two youngest children (the fifth born in Canada) as teenagers when they had come on a visit with their parents in the 1970s, but now met all of my adult Canadian cousins, partners and their children. They looked after us really well: we had barbecues, stayed at their cottage beside a lake, visited Toronto and Niagara Falls. Above all, there were lots of conversations about times past and our lives now. For me, that trip marked the start of a much more adult relationship with both my parents.
I’ve treasured the sampler ever since then, keeping it on the landing so that it doesn’t get damaged by the light. It must have meant a lot to my Mum. I wish now I’d asked her more of the story behind how she came to have it.
When I was 21, I spent a summer working as a waiter in a café in Bordeaux, France. Just before starting my job, I stayed in a youth hostel to bridge the gap between sleeping on a friend’s sofa and moving into a shared house. I don’t recall the other people in the shared dormitory well, only that I was instinctively distrustful of one in the bunk next to mine. So I paid particular attention to ensuring my gold chain – a 21st birthday present from my parents that year – was well hidden, fearful that my roommate was light-fingered. (Why I didn’t just keep the chain on during the night I don’t know!)
The next morning I was devastated to discover that the chain had disappeared. I felt foolish – I knew he looked dodgy! – and embarrassed. My parents would be so angry and disappointed that I’d lost something they’d given me just months earlier. In reality, this was just my homesick head catastrophising. When I finally phoned my parents to tell them the chain had been stolen (after, I should add, having scoured Bordeaux’s jewellers for a replica, in vain), they calmed me down. It was fine. It was an object. No one was hurt. Don’t worry.
It was a fantastic summer. I loved working in the café in the jardin publique.
Ten weeks later, the summer nearing its end, I stood on the café’s terrace and felt a stone in my shoe. I pulled it off, tipped it up and out fell… my chain! I couldn’t believe it – but yes, I could! That’s where I’d put it for safekeeping! I’d worn the shoes, day in, day out, all summer, with the chain wedged between the sole and tip of the shoe. I felt so relieved, but also terrible for having judged my roommate. He hadn’t taken a thing; instead my mind had made a judgement and my imagination had done the rest. People say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” But my chain reminds me how quickly we do, and what tales our imaginations tell as a result.
I had trouble choosing an object to bring to the meeting, having so much clutter! I finally opted for this tiny china replica of Teignmouth Lighthouse: an item of “crested ware” produced in the inter-war period.
This example is by one of the leading manufacturers, W.H.Goss, and carries the crest of Redditch, at that time a town in North Worcestershire famous for needle manufacturing and now a much larger “new town” for Birmingham commuters. As Redditch was the home town of my maternal Grandmother, I have long associated this article with memories of her. However, the introductory meditation on Saturday rekindled a memory of seeing it in my mother’s glass-fronted display cabinet in which was kept the family’s “posh” china tea set only to be used for special visitors.
Interestingly, in recent years, as I have studied my family history, involving several trips to Redditch and Worcestershire’s County Record Office in Worcester, the artefact has acquired another layer of significance. It can now evoke more personal memories. One of my visits to Worcester coincided with my 50th birthday and I spent that day watching a cricket match, Lancashire v Worcestershire, at the iconic New Road cricket ground in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral: something I had always wanted to do.
On another occasion, I visited Redditch and journeyed further to Withybed Green on its outskirts where my Grandmother’s childhood home was located. Calling in a pub for lunch, I got chatting with the landlady who informed me, when she knew of the reason for my visit, that one of her regulars with the same name as my Grandmother’s maiden name was also engaged in family history research and might shortly be calling in. Unbelievably, he called in as I was just about to leave (in fact we very nearly missed each other). He was a very nice man and showed me around the local churchyard where my Great-grandfather and other family members are buried and provided contact details of another relative who I later contacted and visited overnight on a further fact-garnering expedition.
A conversation with Babs Cain by Gerard Devney
Although caught out at a little short notice, Babs found a CD that held some very special memories for her, recalling her late husband Stan and his fondness for Motown Music that Babs didn’t used to like until later years. The CD was Dr Hook’s Love Songs compilation, in particular the song Years from Now, a beautiful love song about how love stays with you in all the years to come. Whilst not a Motown classic itself, it shared a precious memory with another song by the Motown legend Lionel Ritchie, Stuck on you. Both songs were played at Stan’s funeral, but not the original numbers that you might bring to mind…
The memories evoked from the songs were not simply the tunes as they were played, or even concerts that they had been to, but something far more heartfelt and touching. They were treasured memories of the songs sung between them in their family, first with Babs recalling Years from now being sung by their children, and then later Stuck on You sung for Babs by Stan and their daughter one Christmas. Lovingly recorded onto tape, and with such beautiful sentiments, it was these renditions that were brought to mind during our conversation that showed the power of objects and the memories they kept. Babs treasures the videotapes of these events that are magical and precious beyond their format, but the memories they bring were the real treasures unlocked with a simple conversation about a CD.
For my own object, I had brought an old stuffed toy that I’ve had since my childhood – perhaps from the age of six – a little lion called Leo kitted out with a stripy t-shirt and jaunty hat! While I’d been given a lot of soft toys in my childhood (possibly a few too many!) this particular character had been with me through a host of adventures. First on my family’s camping holidays in Wales, where he was just small enough to squeeze into my sleeping bag with me on our trips; then later onto Japan and Korea with me where I lived for a couple of years; and finally back to Manchester where he just became part of the supplies amongst the bed-linen.
The memory that stands out, though, is one from his early days, when at the age of six I was feeding him peanuts in make belief… until I saw him actually eat one! I was dumbfounded, mind-boggled, and excited beyond compare! Although the truth was I may have tricked myself through unintentional (yet amazing) sleight of hand, or probably just slipped in concentration, the incredible magic of that little lion secured his place in my life for the many years since and awakened my own imagination in the secret lives of Jim Henson’s magical creatures, turning my attentions to puppets for a time and my own aspirations as an entertainer. It was lovely to be able to share this memory and remind us all that there is still magic in the world, if you’re prepared to believe in it. Thank you, Jolene!