I've vaguely noticed on social media lately that there's been a lot of stuff about de-cluttering. This very morning, someone posted a picture of a smiling lady called Marie Kondo saying: "Ideally, keep less than 30 books." (Seriously? It must be a spoof, right?)
Well, the other day I discovered, lurking in the back of the bathroom cabinet, this bottle of eau de toilette. I looked at it thoughtfully. I know for a fact it's over fifty years old, and I know that I don't use it. Why keep it? Just clutter, surely. It must be off by now. Just to be sure, before it goes in the bin, I take the top off and spray it.
And there it is. The sweet, flowery scent of Nina Ricci's L'Air du Temps, just as fresh as it ever was. Perhaps it's kept so well because it's in a plastic container - embossed with flowers, doves and butterflies and finished with a golden bow - rather than in a glass bottle. My sister brought it back from France as a gift for my mother, when she went to France as a teenager on a school exchange. This was the sixties. We lived in an industrial town between Nottingham and Derby. We went on holiday every year to seaside towns - Skegness, Bridlington, Llandudno. 'Abroad' was out of reach for us as a family - it was the school which made it possible. My sister came back with talk of wine at every meal, with necklaces made of melon seeds and small tawny beads, and with this bottle of French perfume, which was so much cheaper than it would have been in the shops because it was from that exotic place, 'Duty Free'.
My mother, I'm sure, was thrilled. She never used it, just as she never used face cream or eye make-up. Occasionally she would dab on a little powder from her Max Factor compact, and a slick of red Coty lipstick: never anything more.
Here is a photograph of Mum which I found recently in a drawer (full, yes, of more clutter). I remember taking it. It was in our house at Kirk Hallam, so I would have been in my early teens. I'd bought a camera when I was about twelve. It was a Koroll 11, and it came from Boots in Nottingham. I think when I took this picture I'd just acquired a flashgun, and I wanted to try it out. (It had bulbs and everything!) So I posed Mum in front of the window, drawing the curtain to keep out the light. Looking at the picture, I'm reminded that the curtains were a pale green brocade, with silvery flocked flowers. Mum would have sewn them. She loved gardening, and so I put the bowl of roses beside her, and put a rose catalogue in front of her. The blouse was some silky stuff - green too, I think, with a cream pattern. She'd have made that, too. As you can see, there was nothing casual about this picture - films were costly, as was developing, and I had to pay for them out of my pocket money, so every frame counted.
The perfume was kept on her dressing table. There was always an embroidered or lace-edged cloth on the surface, and a cut-glass tray, and one or two framed pictures of us when we were small. And there were these, which I don't think she ever used - the brush is too soft to be practical - but nevertheless had pride of place. I have them now - more clutter, I suppose. I don't know where they came from, but I suspect from Auntie Ada (no actual relation) or Mrs Thorpe, two elderly ladies who were both clearly fond of Mum, as her own mother did not seem to be.
So. Bits of clutter perhaps, but clutter which brings with it a trail of memories. And, to be honest, some rather sad thoughts of a mother who seemed able to show her affection only obliquely - through what she made and what she cherished. I wish I could give her a hug. I wish she could have been a happier person. But I'm so very glad I never threw away any of these things which help me to remember her.
And the embroidered tablecloth? Yes, she made that too.