For as long as I can remember, certain treasured items were on display in every Irish house. But times and fashion has changed, and it’s out with the old and in with the minimal.
I distinctly remember my mother collecting Belleek Pottery. With their Aran pattern and small green shamrock designs that hung on walls or were mounted on dressers. Every time I would see them on display in a house or when we were allowed into the “good room”, I always asked myself the same question. “Why don’t we use them?”
When I was seven, I broke my mothers Belleek vase something that took me 20 years to confess. I still remember glueing it back together, thinking, “but we never put anything in it”. Clearing out the garage recently, I found an old plate stand. It used to hold up a big woven porcelain basket, and I now use that stand to hold up my iPad.
My father received a big Waterford Crystal Vase when he retired. Waterford Crystal, along with a Cross pen the absolute pinnacle of retirement gifts. Most people my age will remember some form of crystal in their house, and most of our parents put them in cabinets almost like football trophies. My mother’s absolute pride and joy were six Waterford crystal wine glasses. The irony was my parents never drank wine. If anyone came to the house, they would typically have a whiskey or a brandy.
We also had scattered throughout the house various Hummel figurines. From a young Sheppard tending his sheep to young girls feeding ducks. They looked like toys to me, and I could never understand why I couldn’t play with them. We had one particular figurine of a boy singing while playing the accordion. I used him as my substitute goalie in Subbuteo. Apparently, some Hummel ornaments can be worth a small fortune today. I probably shouldn’t have used them as right-backs and central defenders.
One thing hasn’t changed. The TV had pride of place in our house. However, they are all flat screens today; you don’t need to put on an extension to fit them into your living room.
With the advent of planning regulation and carbon emissions, there is no fireplace in some new houses. It’s bizarre to walk into someone’s house and see a raging fire on the telly where once the fire actually burned.
What I still giggle at today was the definite separation of our fireside tools. We had a dingey green plastic bucket and shovel that lived in the garage to haul the coal and turf into the house. Yet, besides the fireplace stood a gleaming polished copper bucket filled with similarly gleaming brushes and claws and hand shovels. Again they were never used, and their purpose was for display purposes only. Many Irish houses had these, and God forbid any unsuspecting family member to mistake them for useable tools.
We owned an old Hitachi TV. It was decorated with brown veneer wood like an actual piece of furniture. It was also decorated with more than one scar from the constant poundings it would receive. It was sent almost yearly to get fixed. It had buttons that you had to press to change the channel. Personally, I think that the nation’s hamstring health was at its highest in the 1970s and ’80s from all the squatting children who were constantly told to get up “and change the channel”. The pre-remote world now sounds so redundant. However, I wish televisions still put easy to find buttons on the front panels. We have lost more remote controls than I can remember. Most are found months later at the bottom of a toy box or buried in the back garden. I found an Apple remote recently after a year-long hiatus in the wilderness. It was buried between the panels of a couch with teeth marks on it. Some had written “mine” on it with a blue crayon. It was the perfect start to a CSI episode.
However, what’s missing more recently is the mind-boggling array of videotapes and DVDs that would stand proudly in their hundreds protecting the telly like Roman centurions. My kids don’t know what a DVD is. It’s lovely to be nostalgic for nostalgia’s sake and reminisce about video recorders and Betamax. It’s not because I’m ancient; it’s more down to the rate of technological advancement. Yet you wouldn’t write on the wall all the films and series you’ve watched on Netflix in the last few years to show visitors.
The shift that’s happened is we don’t display things in our homes anymore, and there’s no longer the need to show visitors your collectables. In fact, house interiors are more minimalist and sleek. Today, putting a Hummel figurine into a display cabinet in your kitchen would be considered an ironic statement, not a design choice. Clutter is dead; long live open plan (until kids come along and ruin your minimalist ideas with lots of moulded plastic crap). When I’m watching Grand Designs or Home of The Year, I always think to myself, “How do they keep the place so clean?”
I love clean spaces. I’m not a fan of statues, vases, figurines or pottery. But when I think of people that have passed away that I’ve loved, I think of their personalities, laugh, and mannerisms, but I also think of their things. I think about how they looked after them, collected them and cherished them. They are like little pieces of them still here. That’s why we adore things that have been left to us that have no monetary value but are a physical reminder of them. The question is, what “things” will my kids remember me by? I just hope it’s not my collection of phone chargers.