Saskatchewan & the Che Guevara cushion
Despite my penchant for abject cynicism and despair about everything that’s cruel and heartless in the world, I know that I am inordinately lucky. I have a loving, healthy family; friends who never fail to make me laugh and induce me to take long, hard looks at myself when required; and despite my efforts to give it a regular battering, not bad health myself given my 61 years on the merry-go-round. And from time to time, I’ll be given something tangible which hits like a thunderbolt and makes you realise that your life isn’t only lived forward – there are things, really important things, lying around from your past which make up your earth story. Last Christmas saw me receiving another beautifully wrapped thunderbolt.
My wonderful big sis gave me a copy of Jarvis Cocker’s Good Pop Bad Pop which is an inventory of all sorts of clutter and memorabilia which he has accumulated through the years, much of it hidden away and not on display, which captures the moments, ghosts and heartbeats that add up to him.
So, in as shameless a fashion as I can muster, it made me think of some of the things which I have similarly kept for years, and whether you’re interested or not, here are a few of them. You’re interested now, eh?
The Che Guevara cushion
My daughter Amy gave me this as a birthday present around 2005. I’ve always told her that I’m a Marxist foot soldier of the simplest kind i.e., ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’. And while Che was much more of a Marxist than I’ll ever be, he also became a style icon with that infamous photo taken by Alberto Korda in 1960 which adorns my cushion. It is in tatters now, but still sits on my sofa. It reminds me of when Amy stayed with me – the happiest days of my life.
My dad’s watch
My dad was as thin as a pencil, and every job he ever did was physically demanding. He was given the watch for 25 years’ service with the British Oxygen Company and worked in the yard which still occupies Carron Place just off Salamander Street.
He drove the trucks which delivered oxygen and acetylene bottles to businesses, and I never, ever saw him take a day off sick, even when he patently was. When he died, the watch was passed to me, and I noticed that both the watch and the strap were almost as new. He only wore it when he took of his overalls and wore his suit out with my mum. Whenever I wear it, I have to check it every two minutes to make sure it’s still on my wrist and more importantly, that it’s actually mine. For now.
The Degas biography
Like most working-class students, I felt like a fish out of water at Edinburgh University. Imposter syndrome was ever present. But I wasn’t alone. I met Katie McAuley and we bonded immediately. Yes, we felt lost, but if we stuck together, we’d find a way.
I foolishly opted to do a year of art history only because Katie was doing it (ulterior motives, Moi?) and found myself tasked with giving a presentation at the National Gallery on Edgar Degas’ painting .
I’d never set eyes on the thing. But Katie gave me the biography and I hand-wrote almost verbatim the paragraphs on the painting. I passed the presentation and Katie and I carried each other over the line. The book may be a biography of Degas, but to me, it’s all about Katie.
The Saskatchewan flowers
When I was 17, I fell in love with a girl called Ingrid. Her dad taught at the University of Saskatchewan, and she would spend summers there. Like all 17-year-olds, we would write long, longing letters to each other and when I could afford it, I would send flowers. One summer, Ingrid pressed two of the flowers into a letter. When I replied, I returned the flowers, and so on and so on, until I was the final recipient.
Like most youngsters who fall in love, we eventually split up, and I put the flowers into a book which Ingrid had given me and they’re still there. Every now and again, I’ll check to make sure that they haven’t disintegrated completely. As I write, they’re still intact. Ingrid is Amy’s mum.
Have a look around… Fragments of your life are everywhere. ■