Catching Memories and Seeing Stars: Agatha Christie

This is an ongoing project that I write about from time to time.

It started when I read ‘A Hundred Pieces of Me’ by Lucy Dillon. When Gina and her husband split up she moved to a lovely new flat, and she vowed to clear out all of the ‘things’ that she had acquired over the years and live a simpler life.

I thought that I should do that. Because I’m living with my own things and a lot of my mother’s things, that she has left behind but I can’t quite let go. I have to find a way of separating what was my parents’ history that I have to let go and what was my own family history that I have to hold.

And when a friend gave Gina the idea of photographing her memories, well that have me the idea of photographing and writing a little about the things I have to let go. So I can hold on to the memories and let go of the clutter.

Author Jane Johnson brought the idea to the front of my mind when I heard her speak at the Penzance Literary Festival last month. She suggested that there were two kinds of people: the kind who want to seek out the exotic and the kind who want to gather the familiar around them. she’s the former and I’m the latter. but a thought came into my head. Those of us who gather the familiar also need the space to gaze at the stars and dream.

Hence the title.

Agatha

Do you remember, quite a few years ago now, those book clubs whose adverts used to pop up on the back of Sunday supplements? You could order a few books for pennies, and then you would receive the club magazine and be offered a book each month that you could choose to accept or not; there was no commitment at all after you had bought a certain number of books in your first year ……

The advertisements were alluring, but I always thought that it sounded a little too good to be true. And I learned that it was. The editions were cheaply produced facsimiles, and if you weren’t quick off the mark saying ‘no!’ to the book of the month it was assumed that you had said ‘yes!’ and it would land on your doorstep.

One day the book clubs found a new strategy. They picked up their telephones.

When my mother received calls from warm, chatty booksellers asking if she would like a free book she was always delighted. She didn’t take in the swiftly delivered spiel, saying that she would receive another book that she would have to pay for, and that the rest of the series would follow.

I became very efficient at sending those second books back and making sure that no more books would follow. But one day I slipped up and we were committed to a series. It was maddening, but at least it was Agatha Christie, who my mother and I both read and might re-read.

The books arrived, month by month, until we had the complete set. I say ‘complete set’ but it wasn’t really. We had a full set of Miss Marples, a small selection of Poirots, and several volumes of short stories in nice facsimile editions. I thought that I might lose a few and acquire one or two of the key titles that we were missing. But when I bought home another title – ‘Evil Under the Sun’ I  saw that it was a little bigger than our books and printed on better quality paper.

I dropped the idea of building a collection and the books sat in limbo for quite some time. Eventually, I decided that they could go. There will always be Agatha Christie books in the library if I want to read them again; and I don’t want to re-read them just because they’re there, rather than reading more of the many books I have yet to read.

Most of all though, I don’t those particular books sitting in the house as a reminder of my mother’s increasing mental frailty.

They also remind me that we had to change the telephone number we’d had since we first had a phone. Because my mother would receive calls while I was at work, telling her she was due a refund, that they had to confirm all of her personal details, that they needed her bank details …..

She took people at face value, she believed that people were fundamentally good, and it was so difficult not to disabuse her of that faith, not to make her fearful,  as I tried to make sure she was safe and well and happy.

This particular memory has to be caught and put away; it won’t be forgotten but I won’t have to remember it every time I look at a particular shelf of books.

The local charity shops are always appealing for books.

I have a shelf, and I have to think about what to put on it …..

Catching Memories and Seeing Stars: Cat Ornaments….

This is an ongoing project that I write about from time to time.

It started when I read ‘A Hundred Pieces of Me’ by Lucy Dillon. When Gina and her husband split up she moved to a lovely new flat, and she vowed to clear out all of the ‘things’ that she had acquired over the years and live a simpler life.

I thought that I should do that. Because I’m living with my own things and a lot of my mother’s things, that she has left behind but I can’t quite let go. I have to find a way of separating what was my parents’ history that I have to let go and what was my own family history that I have to hold.

And when a friend gave Gina the idea of photographing her memories, well that have me the idea of photographing and writing a little about the things I have to let go. So I can hold on to the memories and let go of the clutter.

Author Jane Johnson brought the idea to the front of my mind when I heard her speak at the Penzance Literary Festival last month. She suggested that there were two kinds of people: the kind who want to seek out the exotic and the kind who want to gather the familiar around them. she’s the former and I’m the latter. but a thought came into my head. Those of us who gather the familiar also need the space to gaze at the stars and dream.

Hence the title.

I’ve let things drift for a while, but as it’s a few weeks before Christmas the time seems right for passing a few nice ornaments to local charity shops.

It isn’t that I don’t like them, it’s that I want the things I keep to have a practical use or to hold memories I want to keep …..

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The first thing I must say is that I love cats, I grew up with cats, and that I really want to have a cat again one day. But there are two good reasons why I can’t have a cat right now.

The first reason is because we live on a busy seafront and I wouldn’t feel safe letting a cat out.

The second reason answers to the name of Briar. When she was a curious puppy she used to go up to cats and introduce herself, and it was all quite amicable until one day a cat reached out and scratched her on the nose. I think it was then that she decided that cats were mortal enemies to be barked at and chased whenever an opportunity presented itself.

The sad side-effect of that it that the local cats, who tend to congregate in our back lane, scatter whenever I go out, even when she isn’t with me. I wish I could explain that she’s always on her lead when we go out and that all they have to do is stay put, because if they don’t run she is completely bewildered.

I remember a lovely black and white cat called Felix who used to live a few minutes walk away. He used to sun-bathe and he didn’t react at all when Briar went by, however much fuss she made.

I’m getting away from the point: the point is that I like cats and that I’ve accumulated a few cat ornaments.

I don’t have a strong attachment to any of them.

We used to trade pottery animals from a local shop (Tremain Pottery) to each other when I was at secondary school. I’m not sure what the history of this pair was, and though I’ve had them for a long time, I remember them in rooms in halls of residence and rented flats, I don’t find it difficult to let them go.

The china cats were gifts from an elderly aunt, twenty years or so ago. I do like them, but I hope there’s somebody else out who’ll like them even more.

So the cats can go, and the memories can stay ….

Catching Memories and Seeing Stars: a project ….

This is an idea that’s been growing for a while.

It started when I read ‘A Hundred Pieces of Me’ by Lucy Dillon. When Gina and her husband split up she moved to a lovely new flat, and she vowed to clear out all of the ‘things’ that she had acquired over the years and live a simpler life.

I thought that I should do that. Because I’m living with my own things and a lot of my mother’s things, that she has left behind but I can’t quite let go. I have to find a way of separating what was my parents’ history that I have to let go and what was my own family history that I have to hold.

And when a friend gave Gina the idea of photographing her memories, well that have me the idea of photographing and writing a little about the things I have to let go. So I can hold on to the memories and let go of the clutter.

Author Jane Johnson brought the idea to the front of my mind when I heard her speak at the Penzance Literary Festival last month. She suggested that there were two kinds of people: the kind who want to seek out the exotic and the kind who want to gather the familiar around them. she’s the former and I’m the latter. but a thought came into my head. Those of us who gather the familiar also need the space to gaze at the stars and dream.

Hence the title.

So there will be occasional posts – some short and some long – some bookish and some not – about the things I’m letting go, the things I’m sending out into the world to find new homes.

This is the first.

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I was still at school when my mother acquired and read a paperback copy of ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’. She loved it, and when my mother loved a book she would always encourage everyone she knew who she thought might like it to read the book too, happily offering up her own copy.

We lost a lot of good books over the years that way, but I have to love my mother’s generosity of spirit in that and other ways. She would give anything to anyone who she thought might need it.

My father read the book too and then it came to me. It took me a few attempts, but eventually I read it from start to finish. I liked it, though not quite as much as my mother had.

She read it again, and the next few books in the series made it home in paperback editions.

My father bought my mother the fourth book – ‘The Plains of Passage’ – in hardback, because she continued to love Ayla and she was impatient to know how her story played out.

I was living in London in 1992, and usually when I rang home I spoke most to my mother. She and my brother were on the chatty, outgoing wing of my family; my father and I were on the quiet, introverted wing. But one day in early December my father got to the phone first. I remember him saying that he hoped the new Auel book would be out for Christmas so that he could get it for my mother.

It wasn’t, so he couldn’t.

But that conversation stuck in my mind. Because it was the last telephone conversation we had before my father – who was never ever ill – was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer that killed him just a few weeks after that diagnosis.

Because I remembered that conversation I made a mental note to get my mother that book immediately it was published.

It was years later, but I did get the book, and I did explain why.

We both read it, and we were both disappointed, agreeing that the story wasn’t progressing, that there was too much repetition, too much unnecessary detail, and that there was a heck of a lot left to cover in the sixth and final book of the author’s planned series.

Many more years would pass before the next and final book – ‘The Land of Painted Caves’ – was published. Advance word wasn’t good. My mother had become mentally frail – we didn’t use the dementia word then – I still don’t and I don’t think I ever will – but she was in the early stages – and she was reading very little. But I thought that the this book would strke a chord.

It didn’t. She hadn’t read a novel for a while before that and she hasn’t finished one since. She still loves the idea of books, she still picks them up with the idea of reading them, she still wantes to know about the books I read, but somewhere along the way she lost something of what it takes to read a novel.

I realised that I didn’t want to read ‘The Land of Painted Caves’ either. Because as I read more about the book I came to realise that the author’s vision for her series of books didn’t match mine.

And I think – actually I think I can say I know – that it wouldn’t have matched my mother’s.

So the books can go and the memories can stay.

The last novel that my mother read was ‘Little Boy Lost’ by Marghanita Laski. That feels right, because she mentioned, when she saw my Persephone copy, that her mother had loved Marghanita Laski. And so I gave her the book – which I loved too. She loved it, and she shared my copy with a number of friends before it finally found its way home to my Persephone bookcase ….