Saturday, 7 December 2013

An Old Friend

         Let me introduce an old friend.
         I've known him my entire life.
         My mother - who housed him before me - called him, 'The Old Chinaman' - though, as a child, I never knew if she meant that he was Chinese or that he was made of china.
          I don't know how my mother acquired him. She always referred to him as 'one of my Woolworth's specials', but I have a feeling that she took him over from my grandmother rather than buying him herself. Whichever, she was very fond of him.
          He is a posy-bowl.

          I was very pleased when - at about eight - I was considered responsible enough to provide the little flower-seller with stock. His large urn had to be filled with small-ish flowers: wild geraniums. daisies, bluebells, coltsfoots. In his hand he has a tiny pot which will hold one tiny flower - a single daisy, or violet, a single sprig of London's Pride. In the photo above, he has a small white geranium bud in his hand.
          He is quite small: less than a hand-span high. About the height of a small mug.
          I used to like imagining him standing in some crowded market-place or street, offering his flowers for sale.
          As a big fan of Hans Christian Andersen (which I still am), I was firmly convinced that my mother's ornaments came to life at midnight. My parents said that they didn't, but I reasoned that Andersen was an adult too, like them, and he said that ornaments did have their own secret life. My parents, I thought, were telling porkies because they wanted me to stay in bed after I'd been sent there. (They were unreasonably insistent about this.)
          I have a memory - which I'm not quite sure is real - of managing to stay awake until my parents came up to bed, and then sneaking downstairs, to see what the ornaments were up to. But they heard me coming, rushed back to their places and kept still and stum. I waited a while, to try and catch them out - I hid behind the door, pretending I'd gone away. But the ornaments were too cunning for me. I got cold, and went back to bed.
          I was sure that, if my timing had been better, or I'd been quieter, I would have seen them climbing down from the mantelpiece, just as the china shepherd and shepherdess climb down in Andersen's story. (There's an old china Chinaman in that story too.)
         I had quite a complicated relationship with my mother's ornaments. There was a large china mallard, an African fishing from a canoe, a couple involved in domestic violence... She would often let me play with them, to keep me quiet. She said that in the year I started school I was a pure hell-bat - because, she theorised, of the strain of behaving well all day for the teacher. Once at home again, I let rip with all that pent-up mischief. A little peace and quiet was worth risking a few broken trinkets - though I don't remember breaking any of them.

             The old chinaman is in my house now, safe for another few years. I have a friend whose instant response to being shown something like this, is, 'It's not worth anything.' Well, I know it isn't! Not in money, anyway. I always knew it was nothing but 'a Woolworth's special' and have no illusions about it being some long lost, valuable antique. It's a cheap posy bowl which, even when new, was probably not worth more than the equivalent of a couple of pounds today. I love it. That's all.

          Comments are always welcome, but I may not be able to respond this week, because I shall be away on an RLF Training Course.


madwippitt said...

Worth more as the repository of memories than in monetary terms - and less replaceable. That's why I have several old mugs, chipped and glued together and useless for their job.
On the subject of the secret life of ornaments, Manxmouse by Paul Gallico was a huge childhood favourite ...

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this - it's a looking back time of year and I tend to get sad, but this post was a warm hug.

Susan Price said...

Joan, so pleased to have given you a warm hug! - And Karen, I must look up Manxmouse.
I knew writers would understand! No, 'It isn't worth anything,' from them!