#7: A love-fossil from 1988
Or perhaps it's 1989. Plus "countless next little things" and the badness of Promising Young Woman
In the spring of 1988, or perhaps it is 1989 (for we do not know the exact date), a middle-aged woman, newly a grandmother three times over, is killing time before her hospital appointment. She browses an antique shop in Leeds, or perhaps it is Bradford (for we do not know the exact location). A little retail therapy before the indignities of doctors and their tests. A loud bell announces the arrival of a customer through the shop door, dust motes meander through the sparse light and the wares are crammed perilously from floor to ceiling. An experienced shopper, with a Yorkshire-born eye for a bargain, our new grandmother methodically scan the bric-a-brac. She ignores the incomplete china sets and the cheap brass candlesticks. She pauses. There! Oh, yes. This will do. Look at that deep royal blue! She runs her fingers over the silver engraving. Comically Victorian, yes, but the case is embossed with her first grandchild’s name (an homage to that wild woman of Haworth, Emily Brontë). No one needs an antique silver and ivory fish knife set, but everyone wants something old with their name on it. When her granddaughter is grown, she will entertain. As she serves her guests, she will bring out the knife set and tell them about her sentimental old Granny Win-Win. Oh, how lovely. How lovely. Our new grandmother scoops up the knife set. A brief haggle later, she steps out into the street and turns grimly in the direction of the hospital.
My grandmother, Winifred, Granny Win-Win, died in 1990 of aggressive bowel cancer, perhaps a year or two after this imagined scene. She was in her early ‘50s. My grandfather remarried shortly after Winifred’s death and many of her possessions were displaced by the chaos of terminal illness, grief and betrayal. Quite a few ended up at my aunt and uncle’s house; they sorted through these displaced objects when they moved several months ago. And that’s how the fish knives found their way back to me. A thirty-year-old love-fossil transported to the present in the geological shake-up of a house move.
I’m still sensing the ground tremors this lost gift has brought with it. I haven’t received new information about my grandmother in 25 years. I have seen her in one image only (body-conscious, she didn’t like to be photographed). So I know that my strawberry blonde hair is a dilution of her bright copper, my posy of freckles imitates her full bloom. I have one memory of her, shot from a three-year-old’s perspective. A hospital visit, where, at toddler height, I saw legs on a hospital bed, wrapped in a pink silk dressing gown. A pale hand floated down past the bed panel, delivering a sugar-encrusted fruit pastille to my chubby palm. That’s what I have. One photograph, the memory of a sweetie from a dying woman, and, thirty years later, a set of Victorian fish knives. Her intentions for the gift are long-lost. Would she have kept it for my 18th or 21st birthday? Did she intend to give the set to my mother, but then sickness and fear crowded out her small, joyful plans?
The gift is challenging. It’s sentimental, beautiful, ugly (the ivory). I’m semi-ruthless about giving things away that I don’t need. I suppose that if I ever serve a whole salmon for a luncheon party, I have just the utensil (it’s got my name on it). Not that I see too many whole salmon luncheon parties in my future. I don’t need a Victorian decorative fish knife set, and I don’t particularly want one either. But I’ll keep it, keep running my fingers over the silver engraving, thinking of Winifred, knowing that she did the same, in a shop on an unknown day in an unknown location, thinking of me.
[It seems that silver and ivory fish knives were a thing. The silver hallmarks identify these knives as Birmingham-made in 1876, not 1896, as the leather case claims. I’d like to write another post about what this object can tell us about the culture that made it — the culture that plundered an elephant’s ivory for a fish knife set].
Reading + watching
Mostly things about Wales, thank you to Twitter folk for their recommendations. I recommend Huw Edwards’ BBC series The Story of Wales for English people who don’t know as much about Wales as they should (it me).
We don’t need the next big thing. We need countless next little things: “I said that there’s no next big thing. But deep in my soft, uncynical heart, where I keep my most embarrassing predictions, I do know what it is. The next big thing is us. Just plain old people. Humans using language. Humans accepting limits… I just know that it’s got to be our turn. I love technology, but this is faith”.
In the same vein, to address the climate crisis: “… rather than being complexifying minimalists, we should be simplifying maximalists.“
Promising Young Woman, a bad, tonally bizarre film, nominated for a truly mystifying number of Oscars. Ayesha A. Siddiqi’s review is incisive: “like a diversity statement “promising to do better”, this movie only acts like it’s challenging something”.
One week of wholesome cooking. Anna Jones’ sticky sesame cauliflower and cauliflower gratin from One. Meera Sodha’s baked onion bhajis with coconut yoghurt and kohlrabi dip. A sweet potato cottage pie. Savoury courgette and wild garlic breakfast muffins. Followed by one week of pasta and takeaway sandwiches from my favourite cafe with nary a vegetable to be seen.