Angie and Auntie and The Others
Well it's been very, it's been really difficult to choose my object. Erm, I've got the kind of house that's full of objects that have been left to me from my family, so picking one was practically impossible. So I then came up with an idea for an object, which over the last sort of ten minutes or so seems to have changed slightly. So I'm going to actually be talking about my Great Aunt's bureau, which I'm sitting at now, hence all the squeaks and creaks, and that's cos it's old.
Because it's a kind of place where you can collect things and do things and remember things. And it is fairly creaky.; it's not desperately old but it's been fairly well kind of used through the years that she had it. And she passed it on to my Mum, and when my Mum died, I acquired it. And the first thing I did was strip it and repolish it. So it wasn't the colour that it was, that it is now, when I first got it; it was a horrid dark brown colour. So there you go. That's my object. And within that object, it, as I say, it's a repository for all kinds of other things. So it's, it kind of stands for all kinds of stuff.
It's incredibly clever. I made a surface that pulls out, downstairs in the kitchen, and it doesn't have a mechanism like that. But I sort of used the idea and have knobs that you pull out to hold the one I made. But yeah, it's a magic, magic thing. And I don't even go into the drawers, so I've got no idea what's in the drawers. And everything gets stuffed into the cubbyholes, and so it's always a real surprise when I sit down at it and start rummaging cos I find things that I didn't know were there. So it's great. But it, it kind of stands for the love my family had for writing and literature and books and communication, really. Erm, and it's, it's always... I kind of sit here and think - I wonder what words would have been written on this desk, what would it have seen in its life? What kind of . . . emotions, or messages would it have sucked up? So yeah, it's actually quite a hard object to talk about. I found other objects in the house that didn't have any emotional content whatsoever, that would be really easy. But I thought no, let's pick a hard one. And so being dyspraxic and with a brain that's wired up differently, of course everything goes through my emotions, so I cry. So I guess it indicates that it's quite a meaningful object. And it contains . . . pens . . . from . . . all...
my close family, who actually none of... none of them exist anymore; I've er, done the funerals with three of them and erm, the other one died before I had anything to do with death or funerals.
So er, not only has the desk seen some emotions and some communications, but so have these pens. And they're all very distinct and the nibs are very particular shapes. They're all owned by the people that owned them for a very long time, so nibs get sort of worn down. So this, this one's from, it's my Grandmother's pen and it dates from the early 1900s. She was born in 1896 and so I guess this would have been one of her first pens. And she had it all her life and she died when she was a hundred four and a half. And she was writing with it right up until, y'know, just before she died. And her sister lived to the age of ninety-seven and she was writing in French, English and German with this pen right up until her nineties. My Aunt wrote a five-year diary, which is in the desk, most of which was written with this pen. Erm, which saw my Mother go out to Africa, meet my Father, get married and have me and so, it's astonishing. And that's Mother's pen, which er saw a lot of service. And they're all ... they had pens that they didn't, they either didn't look after them terribly well or they used them too much, or they just didn't get them mended. Cos they all ended up just dipping their pens in ink. So when you got a letter from them, there'd be a great big sort of dark bit and it would peter out, and peter out. And then another dark bit, and it would peter out. So that's kind of absolutely classic communication. from, from those particular pens.
But there, there are kind of other, other forms of communication, all on the desk as well. My family were very er, very well travelled, most of them. Erm, and with that travel and also travelling in books and spirituality, they had a very broad erm, spiritual outlook. And so I was, I was brought up with a very eclectic view on God and spirituality, which was informed from religions from all over the world. Erm just by this kind of extraordinary family that, although they were, they were very much church goers, they would read about Buddhism and Hinduism and bring copies of theosophical books in their bookshelves. And er, there is a copy in, in my desk of The Life of Asia, which was given to my Great Aunt by her Aunt in the early 1900s. And then that was passed on to my Aunt and it came down to me when Gran died. So it's a fairly interesting sort of depository of information really; Auntie's desk, amid the creaks.
Auntie Lily, yes. How could I describe her? Erm... interesting... to the point of being unusual. Erm... clever; she was the kind of woman that should have gone to university but it was before the days of women going to university really. Erm, quite feisty; she wanted to move her companion into the family home and Great-Grandparents didn't think that that was quite the thing. So she went off and bought a house. They were together for fifty years or so. Erm... yeah, she was multilingual. That was Auntie. Quite a fascinating character to be brought up alongside. She was erm, I think she was born in about late 1870s; she was twenty years older than my Grandmother, so by the time I got to know her when I was a small child and also in my early teens, she was really quite an old lady. But er, she was a very, very particular old lady. Learnt a lot from her. Bonkers! But, but in a kind of quiet and very refined kind of a way. Not, not bonkers in any kind of loony kind of a way. She was just different. I mean she had it, she had a collection of erm very small Branksome china coffee cups. Absolutely minute ones and when I was very little they were the perfect size for me, so they always used to come out. And they were different colours. So all the cups were different colours and the insides of the cups were different colours to the outside of the cups, and the saucers were different colours. So it was just great! So you'd spend the first half an hour of the tea party trying to work out which cup you were going to have and which saucer it was going to have. She was, she was absolutely fabulous. She was amazing.
Erm I think, I think the object is quite like her actually. It was erm, it's an object with a drawer that's not particularly secret but you wouldn't, you wouldn't know it was there if you didn't look for it. Lots of little cubbyholes and lots of, lots of little spaces for different things. And I think Auntie could compartmentalise her life quite well. So she could be one kind of thing in one place and another kind of thing in another place. And I think that especially in the times that she grew up in, it was probably quite important to be able to do that. I guess I mean from the point of view of intellect and interest in life, as well as having her companion. So you know, I guess it might be quite like her in a way. I'd like to have known her better. Out of all the close family that I was brought up with, she was the only one that er, that really died when I was too young to know anything about death and what it meant. Or really to have known her, very closely. I was too, I was too young to have been able to interact with her in an adult way. I've a cousin who's a poet in the States who was probably about fifteen years older than me and she, he knew her better. So he got a better glimpse of her life and he wrote some rather nice poems about her, which is good.
And she's the only, the only one of my close family (apart from cousin Chris who died in the States), she's the only one that I haven't actually looked after myself personally when she died. And the others I have. I started being involved in funerals when my Mum died suddenly. And I, like most people walking about and paying no attention to these things, I hadn't, I hadn't come across death at all. Erm, so the first thing I ever did was, was French polish my Mum's coffin, cos I could. And it was er, it was very therapeutic. But I, I discovered that during the twenty eight days that she was in the care of Her Majesty's Coroner, I discovered that the funeral directors coffin workshop wasn't terribly efficient, so I rejigged that. It gave me something to do. I think having something practical to keep your, keep your mind off things is a really good thing to do. So the, the other people who were really significant in my life when I was young, I was either there when they died or I looked after them after they died, or a combination of both. So my Aunt and my Grandmother, that was them. So I'm actually the, the last one which doesn't usually make me particularly emotional but for some reason it has. Yeah . . . I'm the last one on my bit of the family tree. My nearest other relatives are all related from my Great-Great-Grandparents. So they're down different, completely different branches. So I've got cousins in Australia and up in Yorkshire and in Wales, but none of my bit; I've dispatched them all.
But somehow actually, if that's what you can do, it's a really nice thing to do. Because you're the last person that can do something or say something that, that's significant. And I think most of us, certainly in our culture, although it is changing thank goodness, erm most people do tend to feel very disempowered and have to use professionals; I mean people like me that come along at the end and look after people. But it was nice to, it was nice to do as much as possible for each of them. I mean my Mum, as I said it was the first time I'd come into contact with death, so I polished her coffin and I wrote the eulogy for her funeral and said my bit. But that was pretty much all I could do, practically. Granny, I remember going to the registry office and the registrar took all the details and er, filled in the forms and things, and came to the question at the end, "Which funeral director are you using?" and I just lent back in the chair and looked at her and said, "Oh I think I'll just look after Granny myself." And you could see her face, she went through this kind of... her eyes went in every direction you could think of and she just looked incredibly frightened for a few seconds, 'til I laughed and told her it was actually alright, I worked for a funeral director. So, that was fine. But I did do pretty much everything for Gran. I was there when she died. Er, there were six of us round her bed holding hands and ... it's, yeah we decided that maybe a hundred and four and a half was quite a good age, and she was allowed to go. So, that was that. I carried her out of the house, went to sleep for few hours, looked after her, after all the paper work was sorted, and embalmed her.
I do use this desk but not as often as I should. Erm, I tend to use my computer far more and I sit down in my office at the bottom of the garden, and send far more emails than letters as I guess most people do these days. Which is sad. Very, very sad. I'd like to write more letters but I think my hand's forgotten how to. But in, in my collection of pens I do have the pen that I wrote my, my O Levels with ... erm, yes ... hmm. But I, I think probably now I've sat and talked about it, I will probably come and use it more. Which is good I think. I'm not sure there is anything I particularly dislike about it. As a piece of furniture I don't, as I said before, I don't particularly like it. But as an object of sentimental value, I like it. It's alright. It erm, it's got enough room on the top for bits of stuff that remind me of things and people. So that's nice. I don't think I would like it very much if it didn't have the shelf on the top with the objects on it. But yeah, I quite like it. I wouldn't, I wouldn't get rid of it. I think I'd move it somewhere else but I don't think I'd get rid of it. There are other things I'd get rid of... before.
If I could say something to my Aunt, what would it be? Erm, it's a shame you weren't twenty years younger. But then if you were twenty years younger, you wouldn't have had such an interesting life: nursing in the first world war and doing all kinds of amazing things in France. But I would have known you better I think. Or perhaps if I was born earlier, I don't know... But yeah, I think nursing in the First World War must have been... quite phenomenal.
I don't really have difficult memories of Auntie. I have quite bizarre ones, of learning to ride my bike on her lawn and having to try and avoid the fishpond on the way round. But you know, I don't have difficult memories of her. Just good and very vivid memories.
Yeah what do I first think of when I think of Auntie? Just her, she had incredibly thick glasses; she lost her sight pretty much by, by the end of her life and she had glasses that were like bottle bottoms. Magnifying glasses. So there was one very magnified one and a frosted lens so she always looked as though she was looking at you out of a fishpond, or a er, a fish bowl or something. And she used to smile a lot. And she was always laughing.
And no I didn't know I was going to own it. Erm, when Mum inherited it, it used to sit in her hall. She made a kind of erm... extra room out of the hall and Auntie's desk sat there. So she did all her correspondence and business and everything from this desk. And actually when my Mum died, I think I erm organised most of her funeral and all the kind of business stuff, from this desk. So it saw a lot of that as well. So I guess at that, at that point I knew I was going to own it cos I was landed with it. And that's when I decided I didn't like the colour of it, so all plans of er paint stripper, along with the the funeral plans. I got down to it eventually.
I think my faith perspectives have er, they've been very much influenced by my family, as I said, with a very kind of open mind as to the nature of God and spirituality. But erm, definitely my faith perspective has, has grown over the twenty-three years that I've been dealing with death and funerals. Although I'm wearing a dog collar now, so I guess that's a bit of a give away. But erm, I had to wait and do a lot of research and a lot of thinking and contemplating and meditating and praying and all the stuff that I guess you do. Erm, including a religious studies based Masters degree, in order to actually find out where I needed to be. And it wasn't that I felt as though I was floundering spiritually, or shopping spiritually by investigating the different pathways, but I had to find somewhere that would allow me to have that broad spiritual outlook and to be able to honour all kind of faith paths without having to compromise. And that's why I am a Liberal Catholic Priest, because it absolutely encompasses everything that I believe my family have led me into finding out I guess. So I've been, I've been incredibly lucky to find somewhere, because I would never have imagined it possible. So I thought I'd either have to not pursue what I've deeply felt was a call ever since my teens, or erm, but I wasn't prepared to compromise. Cos I actually think that God is an awful lot bigger than most of us give God credit for, from a religious denomination point of view. And I'll probably get shot in flames by an awful lot of people in the world for saying that, but it's just the way my faith has developed really. And it's quite a relief really to erm have that..... ability to look at death and look at life, and look at the possibility of continuity and connection between human kind, and connection between animals and the Earth, and just everything really. It's been very wonderful. Quite a surprise.
Sensory element to this desk? Apart from the squeak? It's got a certain smell to it when you open it, which is mostly just the wood and the ink and the leather, and ... does the creak smell!? I don't know! So yes, it's an important, it's an important link to a very important member of my family. And through that, a link to all my family. And it goes back through the generations, cos I feel links through my Great Aunt to her Father and to my Great-Great-Grandparents as well. So it's, it's kind of a conduit of, of link; it joins me to them... which is nice. And the things on top of it link me to Africa and Egypt to ... to Remembrance Day with my Mum's coffin. So yeah... the calendar is er set at the day that my Grandma died, in 2000.
So that's it!