Thursday, 2 April 2015


Long ago, there was a fearsome pirate,” the tape's narrator began. “He was an ordinary Bristol man until he became known throughout the lands as Blackbeard,” his gravelly tones continued.
I hit the PAUSE as I wasn't sure I wanted to listen to this, his voice was spooking me, especially as I was alone in my grandparents' attic. The house below was empty. Those who had lived in or visited it had either departed this life to go on to the next or had flown to make their own feathered nests on their own or with partners, then children. It had become a holiday haven or when both grandparents were alive somewhere to plant the kids for the summer.
Children grow up, people die, times change. The house had to be sold, so I, on a nostalgic whim, had offered to use my leave to make a start sorting stuff out. A lifetime of hoarding. Make do and mend. Odds and ends. Newspaper clippings, reusable wrapping paper, old pairs of nude nylon tights to sieve the bits out of home-made jam. Two sets of cutlery, the 'best' china, chipped mugs and delicate patterned tea cups with faded flowers. Milk jugs, sugar bowls, salt and pepper shakers. Pre-recorded cartoons and musicals: Tom and Jerry, Pinocchio, Oliver, The Pirate, and operatic records : Maria Callas, Pavarotti, Domingo. A children's playroom with Lego, board games and falling apart adventure books: The Famous Five, Mallory Towers, My Friend Flicka. The living room furniture dusty, the beige carpet thin and wine-stained.
Upstairs, it was more of the same. The beds were lumpy and the floorboards groaned and creaked. Even walking on careful tiptoe made them squeak. Chest of drawers and wardrobes were jammed with bits and pieces: head scarves, slim belts, neck ties, and trouser braces. Navy pullovers and light grey suits, soft dresses and black stilettos. Surfaces cluttered with old lipsticks, scent, and accessories. Old watches, still keeping time, on beside tables.
The icy attic was full of boxes containing old papers and worn out memories. Photograph albums of the young now dead or old. Children's school scribbles, adult keepsakes. Cassette tapes of bedtime stories. Samuel would not go to sleep without hearing Peter Pan. The accompanying music and the sound of the sea. The lost boys' glee as they ran free with their leader. The danger of Captain Hook and the ticking crocodile. This is what I assumed I would hear when I pressed PLAY and the cassette player whirred, not the story of a notorious pirate. One whose image was said to be enough to crush his antagonists and whose legend, to this day, inspires treasure hunters. One who was beheaded in battle and it is said still searches for his severed head.
It was creepy.
It was stupid of me to volunteer for I've never been good in arthritic houses. I'm far too jumpy. I dislike the mustiness of shut-up rooms, the damp swelled walls. The potential of spindly or fat, furry spiders. What was I thinking?
A trip down memory lane. A last goodbye to happy, sun-filled and rainy days. To wander its shrine-like rooms for one last time. A final parting. I wanted to be the one to dismantle it. To prove it had gone and to prove this was okay. To consign it to memory, capture it in a trinket box, and release ghosts from their relics.