While sorting through the accumulated clutter in her house, Julia McLean sifts through memories.
With age we have upsized – same weight but different distribution so although Laura Ashley style dresses are ‘in’ again and I am sure wide-legged patchwork jeans won’t be far behind, we just can’t get the fat butts into them any more. I am going to have to throw them out, after all these years of careful hoarding and moving them around the world with us.
With age we have also down-sized, our house that is, and so the usual problem of what to do with our precious collections has become paramount. Cleaning the old seventeenth century house had got beyond me – all full of old world furniture needing kilos of wax and gallons of elbow grease. We had renovated a tiny old farm building into a bijou residence. The original idea was to use this charming little cottage for summer rentals and much needed cash but we did such a good job that we couldn’t bear not to live there ourselves.
We moved 4 beds and one sofa and the rest was to be moved by us as needed. We had – well, I, as principal hoarder – had three double wardrobes of clothes; original Laura Ashley outfits from 1968, plus tights bought in France in 1960, all ‘sir’s’ business suits, sailing gear and my Casa Loma cocktail/Charity ball outfits plus London film premiere dresses. These all necessitated matching shoes and bags, of course. I have one ensemble I wore when flirting with James Bond (aka Timothy Dalton) at a film Premiere. I have menus from super nova dinners at famous restaurants in Paris plus a Duck Card from ‘La Tour d’Argent’. For the uninitiated, this is a numbered card telling you what number duck you ate since the inauguration of the Duck Rouennais dish in 1890. I have theatre programmes galore– one signed by Richard Burton which is definitely un-throw-outable.
I have had to give away books, prints, old paintings of mine but am at a loss about what to do with old family photos of all those Irish cousins who emigrated to the US, my Mum’s 100th birthday cards, my dad’s pewter beer tankard Golf trophies, my brother’s school reports and letter from his headmaster accusing him of holding up a train! My mother-in-law’s crochet throws she made us when we were first married went to a Canadian lad who is running a Rickshaw service in Amsterdam and he was thrilled to have blankets to cover his passengers!
Most of my copper pots and pans are still in the other house as I now have a dream kitchen with an induction top, black granite work-tops, black sink and hand-made tiles with the names of our apples on – tres chic but no room for creative cooking. I have no room for my jams and chutneys so haven’t made any this year. I have a tiny under the counter fridge and a big one in the store room with the heating tanks.
My sets of matching porcelain, clothes and napkins, with the obligatory three glasses and arsenal of cutlery, pewter serving platters, my hand-made pottery plates and cups, candle-holders and table decorations, are all languishing in the old house unneeded and unloved. There is a moral in there somewhere.
We haven’t had a full winter here yet as the heating system broke down as soon as bad weather hit last winter so we had to move back again to the old house. Unlike the old house, where we had gas heating and electrical back-up, this one didn’t have reliable emergency heating systems. We had installed a Franklin stove but it wasn’t as efficient as a big Inglenook at throwing out the heat.
So it is back to basics – hot water bottles, double duvets and sleeping socks. Think Polar and you’ve got it!
“Duck card from La Tour d’Argent in Paris.” © Julia McLean
“Postcard from Los Caracoles in Barcelona.” © Julia McLean
“My penfriend and me at 14-15 with Mum and my elder sister.” © Julia McLean
“My pen friend at 21 getting married.” © Julia McLean