Over the last six months my cousin, sister and I have been clearing out my late aunt and uncle’s house. They were such lovely people but they did keep a lot of Stuff. And you know what Stuff is… anything from out of date Oxo cubes to broken picture frames to soldering wire. Seemingly random items share floor, wall and cupboard space, many untouched for decades. For example, in a room lined with shelves of empty jars kept for jam-making and dozens of boxes of radio components, an old cat collar and an odd shoe had been placed on a rusty bike. No sign of the other shoe. Nor the cat. But we haven’t given up hope of finding either.
It was a hugely daunting and poignant task at first, but as we clear away numerous cornflake packets recycled into paper hoppers, programmes from 1980s theatre trips and… well just about anything else you can think of… we’ve uncovered more interesting items. Letters written by my grandfather to my dad and uncle when they were evacuated during WWII tell of his fears and hopes in such uncertain times; they were in the same file as an original newspaper from 1945, its front page dominated by two words: HITLER DEAD. There are political books everywhere - it's all Labour Party, Communism and Anarchism. Other ancient books, sepia photos and documents tease us with snippets of lives we're connected to but know little about. For now we’re putting these to one side to go through later, when we have the time to be fascinated and educated by them without competing for space. I may write more about these another day.
In the meantime, I’ve rescued a few little things that were destined for tip or charity shop. So far, just a giant pencil, a cloth map of Suffolk from 1948 and a sachet of stir fry sauce with a long use by date on it. It's like a real life version of that memory game you play on long car journeys.
I also brought home a tatty old pack of playing cards to look through, Jaques Original Happy Families. John Tenniel, best known later for his Alice In Wonderland artwork, was commissioned to do these illustrations in 1851, when he was a cartoonist for Punch magazine. At the time, Happy Families was a brand new game and became a great success. Although these Jaques designs have been reproduced since and are still in circulation, I hadn't seen them before. The Happy Families cards I played with as a kid were all smiley, jolly and child-friendly, not like these at all, which have got to be to be some of the most grotesque and alarming characterisations I’ve ever seen on a pack of cards. Seeing as it's Hallowe'en, I thought I'd share some of my scariest favourites.