I am always thinking about ways to stimulate new ideas and stories. In the small town I grew up in, there is a main shopping street with a post office, supermarket and a few cafes. At least eight of the shops on that street are charity shops, selling second-hand goods like clothes, albums, books and bric-a-brac. There is an aging population in my old town, so most of these items would probably have come from a house clearance after someone has passed away. Or they would be things from the 70s/80s/90s, which were now being replaced with modern versions.
I used to go around these charity shops mesmerised by all the different objects on display, from paste necklaces to 80s food mixers and dainty tea sets. I would think about what the story was behind the object. Was the tea set a wedding present that was always saved for best, but the best never happened? How many cakes were made in the old mixer? Were there children who would lick the bowl clean? I have my theatre head on now, and this would make a great interactive play. The audience would pick an item from the charity shop and the actors would then perform a short sketch about its story. This would also work well in a museum, using relics to create a story about the time the relic is from.
I have now started to think about the objects around my home and what they mean. Is there a story and is it interesting enough to tell? Does it hold enough emotion to touch the reader? Is there something poignant that could be said? This has got my imagination whirring and I have set myself a challenge to write about two objects from my home.
This is my first object.
Looking at it, it is not very special. I could easily imagine this on a shelf at a charity shop, being sold for a £1. It would probably sit on the shelf for months, even a year, until someone comes along with the vision to changes the handle or perhaps paints it to suit their modern house.
This wooden bowl with lid belonged to my Swedish Great Grandmother, who I used to call Ninni. Her real name was Esther. She lived to nearly a hundred and I never really knew her that well. I only spoke English and she only spoke Swedish. I was also very young and more interested in dolls. Later on, I found out she had worked as a waitress and lived in a house my Great Grandfather built.
As a little girl, I would go to visit Ninni with my mother and grandmother. She had moved from her house to an apartment. There were no toys and they all spoke Swedish, so I would go off and explore. That is when I came across the wooden bowl and what was in inside. My Great Grandmother had once been fortunate enough to travel abroad by train to Austria. She bought back embroidered buttons and sugar lumps wrapped in paper from a café as souvenirs. Me, the naughtiest child on earth, removed the lid, unwrapped the sugar lumps and ate them.
I should really have been told off, but instead a tradition formed between me and my Great Grandmother. When I came to visit, I would go straight to her wooden bowl and remove the lid and inside would be a handful of sweets. When Ninni passed away I asked for that bowl. We were two relatives who could not speak to each other because of language, who were also separated by age, but found a way to connect through an object that today probably would just sit on a charity shop shelf collecting dust.
You might be wondering what I now keep inside the bowl. Well, I wanted to keep up the tradition of bringing back sugar from special trips abroad. There are some sugar sachets that I picked up in Rome and Barcelona. It is actually really hard finding sugar that has the cafes own branding on it.
I admit there are some other things hiding in there too. Things that I do not want to throw away, but do not know where to put them. Some items have mundane stories and some bring out mixed emotions. The plaque bearing my surname, ‘York’. This used to be displayed on the front door of my family home in Great Holland, England. A relic from before my parents' divorce. The white dial is from my bedroom radiator. Weirdly, the radiator only works without it. Two carved stone hearts from my Mum. An old lip balm. A necklace I no longer wear. I guess I should put some sweets in there too.
Someday, this bowl may end up in a jumble sale, a flea market, a car boot sale or just get thrown away. All the bowl's secrets will be forgotten. So, I am glad that I managed to tell its story today.
A.J. York is a middle grade and children's writer. Author of Delilah Dusticle, Eliza Bluebell and A Fairy Extraordinary Christmas Story. A.J York has a Swedish and British background and currently lives in Gothenburg, Sweden.