things (1)

From now until the end of December there will be no pictures of things in process or completion. I just don’t trust the recipients not to peek. Instead I shall divert myself with discussion of other Things.

I have been reading — and enjoying immensely — Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes’ Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance. This superb little collection celebrates the sheer stuffness of stuff. On the face of it, the book might just seem like a random, albeit pleasurable, assortment of inane ephemera, but really is so much more. It constitutes a serious meditation on the relationships that objects contain and define — the human work, as it were, that things do. The objects under discussion here have meanings that completely surpass the usual associations of kitsch and personal memorabilia. There are things randomly found, carelessly stolen, or purposefully appropriated. There are objects that commemorate pointless relationships, that subsequently become imbued with tremendously poignant significance. There are broken things which, when combined with each other, make a new, meaningful, whole object. There are things fascinating and disgusting (Amy Kube’s nail clippings) or lovely and absurd (Beth Daniels’ pencil sharpener). I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the beauty of the quotidian and the material and attaches value to everyday objects in ways that surpass the pecuniary. As a thing in itself, this book would certainly make a great gift.

I could wax lyrical about the suggestive and wonderful things in this book all day, but here are my two favourites: Joel Holland’s bear lamp-shade (“the bear’s blank expression and passive posture called to me”) and Mimi Lipson’s collection of cupcakes (“although I did notice them sweating on the muggiest days of summer, they always returned to their petrified state”). I felt a particular connection to this last, as my dad has a chocolate parrot that he has kept since 1981, and, to me, an orange undergoing the process of decay — puckering, imploding, surrendering to mould — is a thing of real beauty. Mr B does not share this perspective and often becomes exasperated at the way I extend my failure to throw anything away to food-items.

My work space is a veritable clutter of things. After thinking about just how many of them there were, I began to reflect on how very different all these objects were from each other and how they all spoke to me in various ways. I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

Here is thing number 1.


I have had this thing since 1996 or 7 but it is about 50 years old. It is a bar of puritan soap, now discoloured and odourless, and was a gift from a friend long-since out of touch. She found it, I believe, at Dave Dees junk shop — a treasure-trove of gew-gaws that we often liked to rumage through. She gave it to me because of my interest in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature, but somehow, this was never at the front of my mind when I looked at it. I enjoy the colour of it (I imagine that things were only that particular shade of green in the 1950s); I like its slightly waxy (now slightly dusty) hue, as well as its satisfying three-dimensional solidity. There is also something pleasing, as well as rather naively straightforward, in the way it tells you just what it is about — the way it wears its advertising on its sleeve. I like the implication that in using it one would achieve moral, as well as physical cleanliness. Though I have never cleaned my hands — or, indeed, my soul — with it, on my desk, it does fulfil a function weirdly moral. I find it acts as a sort of prompt to clarity. Even though it is a piece of clutter itself, it is suggestive to me of a clean and uncluttered mind. It is a material injunction to WORK — it says to me — “just get on with it”. And mostly I do.