“There’s nothing inanimate about things”, my Dad told me as he and I struggled to get the upper hand of a flailing roll of drawing paper, “we need to show it who’s boss”, he said as together we subdued it and pinned it onto a big board. He and I struggled with other things too over the years; fishing line, Christmas Tree lights, rope, and disappearances - “its sitting there pretending to be something else”, he said, “we’ll just have to sneak up on it”, so we’d turn away and pretend we didn’t need the knife or brush or door or iron book press which was playing hide-and-seek with us. Oh yes, we lost a door and we found the metal book press when it suddenly reappeared just where it should have been and tripped him.
I learned by practising on thread that complete calmness and a confidence in my own comparatively higher intelligence can confuse an inanimate object into behaving but, not so long ago, I was overwhelmed by a very large roll of paper - a friend and I, trying to cut it into precise and careful pieces, were driven to exasperation and raised blood pressure by it and then, of course, it can play all its tricks: it hid numerous pencils and two pairs of scissors by sudden vigorous rollings and scatterings and it also cut us so that blood stains were added to its now crumpled tornness.
It is only when factory-new that objects are truly inanimate. A Showhouse has the appearance of being someone’s home but listen carefully, it is eerily quiet if quiet is the word I want. There is no feeling of being lived in despite being staged with objects; it may as well be empty. In contrast a house for sale with its objects still in place - and I have recently visited one as clean as a Showhouse - has a lot to say for itself, each item has a history and together they hum of the owner, it was a very happy house indeed that I recently visited.
I own many objects. I own too many objects. Each one has a story: this sat on Grandma’s mantelpiece; a dear friend, long gone, gave me that; this is almost worn away but I love it. Christmas Tree decorations are poignancy in miniature. Even flowers have personal meanings - great grandma loved Iris and so do I, I never met her but the love of Iris connects us. A jug of which I am current custodian is holy through its handling by six generations. Great grandma’s lock of hair is sacred.
But if I owned nearly nothing, if five thousand years ago, my belongings were a curious stone, a small bone from Grandma’s body, an inherited love of Iris, my feelings would be as intense - or more so. Every pebble of our garden’s small area of gravel is sanctified by the wee of a recently departed and beloved canine member of the family; nearby lamp-posts, likewise, have a new luminance. Surely, those five thousand years ago, my landscape would have such meaning magnified by myth and story.
Different times of the year too almost become objects in the emotions and connections we ascribe to them; summer paddling in the same place, once again, where my mother loved to paddle; a broch around the moon connects me to her instantly; stories of family long departed, repeated, still amuse. Just before my excitement shook the telescope I saw, for a split second, what Galileo saw: a blurry Saturn wobbling before me with its two ears. Or when the flood waters receded and I had my Noah moment as the top sprig of a shrub re-emerged. They say that stories of the Bogie-Man-Coming-To-Get-You might be thousands of years old and recall neighbouring Neanderthal.
Some items have personal animations, some have collective meanings like a saint’s relic amplified and multiplied over the years. Only the factory-new are inanimate but factory-new is a recent innovation, handmade or found is how objects always were. Filled with meaning is how they should be. There is nothing inanimate about things …