Moving back to England after 18 years of living overseas was something I had wanted to document as it happened, but every time my fingers hovered over the keyboard, I just couldn’t write about it. It was too difficult. My sense of home had been shaken about, thrown up in the air and had landed on the floor in hundreds of pieces and I didn’t know which bit I needed any more. I closed the door on the mess and concentrated on the Kid’s integration into a country she had never lived in.
Then I discovered all the boxes that had been stored in the loft nearly two decades ago and pulled out photos, letters, childhood toys, school projects and cherished objects. I read names but could not recall the faces. I saw faces and could not recall the names. I looked so young! My sporadic diary writing documenting what seemed mundane at the time but now provides a fascinating window to my own history.
All those objects that had been my treasures evoked vivid memories as if I had been there just moments ago, not more than 20 years. Ordinarily I would define these “things” as clutter (my constant refrain to the Kid is “do you still use this, can we get rid of it?”). Do I really need to keep my dead hamster’s snippet of bedding in an old Strepsils tin, or an eraser from my school trip to The Big Pit in Wales, my university essays, my school project on dinosaurs from the 1970′s? I could barely find a handful of items that I was willing to part with. Each one served to take me to a place that was once my home and to remind me of how I had felt and what had been important to me. I was surprised by the impact these items had on my ability to recall past events.
Boarding school meant letter writing was a frequent means of exchanging information with friends and family. The green leather writing case was well used (and still has a 10p stamp in it – was that once first class post?). I have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of letters and cards. I have re-read a fraction of them. Tantalisingly, they are only half the story as they are the letters I received, the letters sent in reply are perhaps languishing in another loft somewhere, and I can’t quite recall the contents.
Sifted, re-organised and somewhat slimmed down, my memories are now all repacked in my old school trunk (yes, I still have that too), so I don’t have to call them clutter. It is a vast memory box, and in quiet moments I am going to dip into my past and wonder at a much-loved old soft toy, the name badge from my first job and the obsessions I once had with taking (bad) photographs of animals and creating holiday scrapbooks. There are old houses and old schools that it is simply impossible to visit, but the trunk, I can get there. I think the Kid needs one too.