Opinion

Thursday 22 August 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'The mother stages an intervention'

Brendan O'Connor
Brendan O'Connor
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Butter wouldn't melt in the mother's mouth. She innocently left a few boxes of stuff on my bed when I was down last weekend. She's gradually trying to clear out junk, so now and then she'll surprise you with a bit of junk. As if it was just stuff. But of course it's not just stuff, is it? It's random chunks of the past. Artefacts that cause the past to come flying up from the depths, to remind you of who you used to be, in case you might forget.

The stamps and the postcards obviously made me sad for my lost innocence. How could that diligent child, who took over and developed his older brother's stamp collection, be me? What happened since? And then postcards. I used to collect postcards. Funny, I can still remember some of them. There were jokey English seaside ones with cartoons on them. A woman is sitting on a park bench with her husband and she says; "The daffodils are out Fred." Fred, who is reading a book of trade union rules, with a grumpy face, asks her, "Were they called out or did they come out?" I didn't get it then and I still don't quite get it now. There were other random ones there from my travels, such as they were in those days. A postcard that actually housed two stickers, featuring the crest of the Isle of Man steam packet company, from the time I went to the Isle of Man camping with the scouts. And then lots of postcards of the chateaux of the Loire Valley. We went there on the school trip. My aunt Eileen used to finance the trips, and you always had to come back and tell her all about it with visual aids, so you had to pay attention to the chateaux and buy some evidence. There were more arty postcards too, evocative flashes of the 1970s and what was considered groovy back then.

The stamps were like a palimpsest of my childhood. Back then you will recall that people used to tear off foreign stamps from letters and give them to any kid they knew who collected stamps. We didn't waste anything in those days, and even those small squares of paper from foreign countries were impossibly exotic, because no one had ever been to most of these countries. People didn't just up and go travelling back then. Most people didn't even get to Spain.

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These were mixed in with a box of various first-day covers. There were a good few of the Europa stamps, which were stamps that were issued each year across the EEC on a similar theme or design. I used to love the Europa stamps. They were usually abstract and European and Bauhausian looking. But they had Eire on them. Looking at the 1970s ones now, they'd remind you of Kraftwerk crossed with Peig.

And then there was another box of random metal effects. There were the old belt buckles I inherited from my brothers, and then, believe or not, some new ones I bought myself - Harley Davidson, one for the state of Texas. Maybe it was a Cork thing, but that kind of vaguely confederate iconography was big when I was a kid. There were also two bootlace ties. And yes, they were mine, stemming from the goth/cowboy crossover period. I swear to god I used to wear them. Sometimes I would wear a buckle and a bootlace tie with a metal medallion and boots with metal tips. Like those boots George Michael wore in the video for Faith.

You need to bear in mind that some of this stuff was what we might call stage gear. I'd wear it busking and then onstage for the odd gig we'd do in college. Indeed, we used to perform George Michael's Faith, but we would do it ironically.

I think I'm going to try and make a piece of art out of the first-day covers. There is such a collection of textures and times there, and social history, and then random addresses of people of the midlands who had got some of them originally. There's layers to it, personal and beyond.

Of course she was just getting rid of some junk. But for me, it was like being shoved into TV's The Time Tunnel when the tunnel was malfunctioning and it kept spitting you out at random various times in history. But then, how was she to know that? Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

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