Two for the road

In Melbourne, our house is full of clutter. Facing the prospect of paring down to just a handful of objects was a pretty scary concept. What’s important? What’s useful? What to take? What to leave behind?

Last year, Ruth Quibell, who writes the intriguing blogspot Precious Things, asked me if I’d write a post about a precious object to crosspost on her blog. My first idea was to write about the three Buta (giant) Indonesian puppets that stood in our hallway at home. But when we packed up the house last month only one Buta made it into the Professor’s road case. And I realised, as much as I love the puppets, they’re not that precious. Sometimes its the things you take for granted, that you become so used to living with that you don’t see them any more, that prove more precious than you’d imagined.

At home on our kitchen wall there are two things that I look at every day. One is what we call ‘the wall of fame’. It’s a cobbled together organic mish mash of family photos that grows and changes from one year to the next. All the kids are represented at various stages of their growing up as well as godchildren, friends and other family.

The second thing is the big railway station clock above the doorway (there’s always someone in our house running late to catch a train).

We told our kids not to give us objects for Christmas because we’d just have to put them in storage. But Romanie and Elwyn were particularly cunning about the directive. They looked around the house and recognised the things that we would miss and, very cleverly, created 100% caravan friendly versions of two very precious things.

Romanie’s version of our wall clock is even nicer than the original. She made it from a corkboard placemat (unbreakable!). The background is a map of Melbourne with the lovely arc of Port Phillip Bay at the bottom. Rom pasted it down on the board and fixed the clock in place. The red circles on the map are where our kids live: Brunswick, Northcote, Preston, Collingwood – no one moved far from home except for one who is so far away, Romanie could only write “Paris” with an arrow in the top left hand corner.

When we unpacked the caravan for our three weeks at Bundanon, the clock was one of the first things I brought inside. It looks very elegant and very “Melbourne” against the white liner boards of the Bundanon Writers’ Cottage.

Elwyn’s Christmas present to us is a little less travel friendly but has amazingly survived a month in the caravan without springing a leak. I suspect it will safely make it all the way around the continent. It’s the snow dome pictured at top and bottom. Elwyn bought the dome online and then found recent images of all the kids which he photoshopped into a funky design and inserted into the dome. Whenever we pull into a new campsite or destination, the first two things that come out of the cupboard are the snowdome and the clock.

It’s too easy to be pragmantic when you’re attempting to live like a gypsy and to think that objects don’t matter. But in a way they matter more. One of the best bits of caravanning advice I had was from a friend who spent too much time in them as a kid. She said “Don’t let anything inside this caravan that isn’t beautiful.”

Our clock and snowdome are utterly beautiful to me. If I’m feeling maudlin and homesick, I can give the snowdome a good shake and think about the kids (which usually improves my state of mind, rather than making me bluer). And every time I check the time, I think of them too and wonder what they’re up to or where they might be in that moment in time.

Objects can represent so much about our connections to time, place and other people. Even gypsies need their precious things to make them feel at home.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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