Thursday 20 September 2018

Bill Linnane: When does a prized possession become surplus to requirements?

Topper Headon of The Clash sold his platinum records
Topper Headon of The Clash sold his platinum records

Bill Linnane

There is an old story told about Topper Headon, drummer with the legendary British punk band The Clash, from the height of his heroin addiction. Having been booted from the band for his habit, and thus losing his income, one day he strolled into his local pawn shop to flog an armful of platinum records. The pawn shop owner asked if he was sure he wanted to sell such special items. Headon assured him that, yes, he wanted to sell the discs, and anyway, they were only the ones they got for the American sales, and he would never sell the British discs. A week later, he was back to sell the British ones.

In the two years since my father died, I have found myself going through repeat audits of the things he left behind. In the first 12 months, I refused to let anything go, hoarding storage boxes loaded with a century of knick-knacks, ephemera and various objects that straddle the divide between heirloom and junk. I had some vague plans to put all these items back in their rightful place - ie, cluttering up every room in the house - but once they were in boxes stacked in the attic, they started to lose their meaning. As the house slowly moved from being my parents' house to being mine, they became more like remnants of a lost civilisation; no matter how much of an aged hipster I would like to be, I see no real-world use for a quill sharpener, six pairs of opera glasses, or a foot-pedal sewing machine.

Items that go back a hundred years in my family stopped being prized possessions and started being surplus to requirements - even the stories about why they were so special have become vague memories. My wife will ask why we are keeping the brass candlesticks - I can only reply that they "go back to Famine times" and they were "used for someone's funeral". I'm like a child doing a report on a book they haven't bothered reading, trying to guess what happens by the front cover photo.

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