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The Curation of Everyday Objects

This week's blog post has been written by Head of Listening Service, Nicola James.

Photograph of a wooden hair brush with black bristles lying on a table.

We are about to move house tomorrow. As the day gets close I do as I usually do and pack a case of essentials for the time between. I’m a list person, but experience has taught me that observation of what I regularly reach for during the day gives a more useful list than simply working from my head.  Being in the body is more real. So for a few days beforehand I rehearse living out of a suitcase, and thereby discover what is missing from the check list. This time we are also taking some kitchen supplies to our temporary home, so it includes not only my hairbrush, but also a favourite wooden spoon and mug along with plentiful supplies of coffee and chocolate.  Watching what my hands reach for shows rather than tells me what I really use and need. 

Seeing these everyday objects gathered reminds me of the finds shed at the Roman sites I worked on.  At the Antonine Wall Romans packed (or left behind) combs and cups as well as their upmarket snacks of olives and figs. And I later read that at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall they found a slate shopping list.  Check.

This weekend also saw my eighty six year old mother and ninety four year old stepfather move to their new care home.  The list appeared again, amended by us far flung siblings not on a Roman slate this time, but rather on google doc. We cannot visit them for two weeks, but the nurse reported that with prompting my mother had brushed her own hair (brush) and my stepfather had sent out for blackcurrant juice (olives/chocolate). Check. We felt quite smug until it turned out we’d forgotten the meds that were on their google doc list all along (sorted quickly by GP). Out of our bodies again.

Back in our mother’s house my brother and I took a last look round at the familiar objects that had accompanied us all. In the attic he found our grandfather’s box full of the tools that once hung just so on his workshop wall. A cabinet maker these were his trade and, as with the archaeologist’s trowel, the wooden handles were well worn by the hands that worked them: the same hands that had held his baby girl 86 years ago. ‘Take care of my daughter’ he said to us down the generations. We shall we said.  Check.

Photograph of tools lying on a table