Saturday 18 August 2018

Useful and/or Beautiful

Household essential: the guggle jug.
I was an undergraduate when I first heard of William Morris and his dictum "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

This sounds wonderfully simple until you attempt to rid your home of useless and ugly stuff. The very fact that you own it makes you reluctant to throw it out. And then of course you have to come to an agreement with those you live with about what can go and what must stay. 

Moving into a new home, while not having to move all our belongings at once, has been an exciting experiment in minimalism. The previous owner painted all the walls a pale magnolia and the wall-to-wall carpeting, which protects the downstairs neighbours from our noise, is a shade of oatmeal (except in the spare room, where it is blue). Thus the mostly-empty rooms give an impression of both space and light. It's very restful and, just like the design books promised, makes me appreciate the beauty of the few objects we do have. 

The curious thing, though, is what has already made the trip from the Historical House to "Saint Benedict over the Apple Tree" as we have named our new home. B.A. is, as long-term readers know, recovering from radiation therapy, but nevertheless he carried home a small table so that I would have  a computer desk at the right height for my ergonomic chair. That was very kindly.  He has also transferred such useful and life-enhancing objects as a colander and table lamps. 

But what is fascinating to me, and I hope I do not sound like a zoologist commenting on the nest-building habits of voles, is the sudden appearance of KNICKKNACKS. 

Now, I am not a knickknack fan, but I do not mind them either. My parents have a number of knickknacks, and some of them have been in the same place in their Toronto house for over 30 years. Knickknacks are such an expression of personality that it might be unfair to call them by that somewhat dismissive title. Try as I might, I cannot make myself give up a small family of miniature animals I have been given over the years--a jade frog, a clay wombat, some hedgehogs--to say nothing of the parliament of owls. 

That said, they're not here. 

No, the objects that have drifted down to the new place have all been curated by Benedict Ambrose, and it is interesting to see which of our accumulated objects he seems likes best.

The first, of course, were devotional: three crucifixes, two palm crosses, and the ceramic holy water stoup. Next followed three framed photographs: me and a gal pal smoking cigars; Polish Pretend Son and Trad Chaplain looking as if it were 1890; and Polish Pretend Daughter and her husband on their wedding day. Then the ceramic owl salt-and-pepper shakers, a gift from my mother, who volunteers in a hospital gift shop, appeared on the dinner table. After that, more devotional objects: an icon of Madonna and child and a Polish dried flower Assumption bouquet. Now a green guggle fish squats on our hitherto pristine varnished pine sitting-room window ledge. 

The green angel pillow from Krakow, which B.A. hastily sneaked onto Monday's van, goes without mention. 

The choices of the traditional Polish Assumption Day bouquet and the angel pillow were surprises, but when I think about it, over the years my husband has become ever fonder of Polish Stuff and more appreciative of my Polish language habit. 

So far I have been very respectful and not taken anything away except the photographs, as they had been perched around our very narrow hall and there is no really appropriate place to put them yet. Eventually the pictures of our Polish Pretend Children will reappear, but the snap of me smoking a cigar will vanish into a photo album to be giggled at and discarded by our heirs.

CONFESSION: The tin chicken. I forgot to mention the very engaging tweed owl B.A. purchased from Walker Slater as an exile-warming present when we were bumped to the Old Town. We have that. But we also have a brightly painted tin chicken from our refuge in the New Town, as our friends had put it aside for chucking out. He picked it up in the south of France, but she didn't like it, and I have been thinking a lot about chicken-keeping, so now we have it.  So despite my strivings after minimalism, I momentarily crumbled. However, the tin chicken cost 100% less than the tweed owl, so there is that. 


  1. Congratulations on your new home! I hope you will be able to create a cozy space for the two of you.

    Next year I am moving, too. The house in which I am buying a flat, is already under construction!

  2. Thank you! Cozy and DRY, I hope.