History of histories

Until today, I had no idea my grandmother collected pincushions. It makes a strange kind of sense. She WAS a pincushion. She would always set off all the X-Rays in the airport, having one leg that was essentially made out of metal. Occasionally people would try and get her to sit in a wheelchair and she would fight them with every fibre of her being, call them every name under the sun, and then ask for their assistance so she could walk off in a proud huff with them bemusedly holding her arm and receiving precise instructions as to how to hold the arm.

Max and I went deeper into the storage than ever before. We have to have it completely empty in a month so we are digging. What’s trash, what’s treasure?

We started to find intimacies. A portrait of grandma, with the dress she was wearing packaged in with it and a hilarious account of her opinion of it on the underside. A picture of grandma, looking striking in the wrens. All of grandpa’s diaries and telegrams and his wartime correspondence carefully kept. His medals. His mentions in dispatches. Maybe somewhere we’ll turn up his war diaries – we hope to. He kept a careful journal and it’s likely to be publishable as he had a hell of a war. I’m not sure how much was preserved considering he went down with two battleships. But I think he was careful to keep the main text onshore whenever he could so there’ll be material there I’m sure.

It’s a family trait, the life writing thing. I guess it carries through to me in this form. I haven’t really thought of it so clearly until I wrote that sentence. To an extent this blog is me playing out my family karma. My great great (great?) grandfather Emmanuel was Napoleon’s secretary and biographer. We even found an early test edition of his memorial of Saint Helena – all eight editions, blown and warped by time but still intact and with the typewritten sheets bound in to volumes.

Then, long before, Emmanuel’s great great (g g g?) grandfather Bartholomew wrote “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” in 1552 and campaigned tirelessly to stop the damage we were doing in “the new world”. He even got a sainthood out of it. Shame we can’t turn up the original manuscript of that bad boy or we could retire to St Helena on the value. Shame that it’s unlikely that my daily scribblings will earn me my own sainthood. I’ll have to work harder. And be a Catholic. We work with the material we’re handed I guess. Should’ve gone into diplomacy like grandad. As it is I’m an actor that blogs.

What do we do with all this stuff, and no house to put it in? If I lived in a big country pile there’d be a wing put aside for it all. But we pay the storage people more than I earnt per month for the first ten years of my professional life just so we don’t have to think about dealing with it. Enough is enough is enough.

We can sell the pin cushions. They’re nice but they need to be loved anyway and neither Max nor I love them. But the diaries? Wouldn’t we be haunted by angry aristocratic ghosts with receding hairlines and sharp chins if we sold them? Grandma thought about it – there’s a letter from Bonham’s in with them – and a figure that she must have turned her nose up at. The account has already been published but there might be some excisions of interest to historians. It’s unlikely to be the first draft. Although it could be. That might explain the condition. Who knows. I imagine they’ll go in a dark shelf and another generation won’t know what to do with them either. Or I might find somebody to have a look at them. In the internet age, interested buyers would be easier to find, and that was the concern raised by Bonham’s in 1996.

More stuff to think about. More stuff that’s been left undone while Max has been looking at insects and I’ve been looking at my navel. Progress feels good though, and things are moving forward inevitably. Always more to do, but that’s what you want really. If there was nothing I’d be bored.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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