I bet you’ve got some loathsome ornamentos in your house. (I can’t remember who coined this term, but I suspect it may have come from one of Rick’s tirades against the bourgeoisie in The Young Ones.) Unless you are the most committed and self-disciplined of minimalists, you will have in your house objects of questionable taste that you treasure because your children made them or gave them to you, or perhaps you even bought them yourself as a reminder of a holiday or event. In a special category all of their own are those objects that you remember so well from your childhood that have come to rest in your home.
My house is full of them. I’m sure visitors wonder why we have an emu and a parrot stuck on either side of our fireplace – not something you see flagged up as an interior design tip in Wallpaper*. Well, let me introduce you to Silly and Naughty: small magnets given to our sons when they were very young that just happen to cling very snugly to a cast-iron fireplace. And of coursed they acquired their names from my stern, judgemental admonishment that the boys were being silly and naughty. (I can report that they’ve grown out of this by now.)
It’s amazing how much of this stuff you can accrue over even a short period. After moving back to England from a spell in Australia we spent two peripatetic years during which we never unpacked a large box of precisely these items – and in all this time we never missed them. When we finally unpacked the box we greeted most of the contents with squeals of delighted recognition and affection. For some of them, though, time was up – a form of reverse alchemy had turned them into tawdry items that we literally couldn’t give house room.
How fickle our tastes are! I remember vividly my grief at the age of about six, when I broke a small gold plastic horse and carriage I had won at a fair (it was what you got as a consolation prize, in fact). It was the most exquisite thing I’d ever seen. Now I would think it just a cheap gewgaw.
Even the beloved objects of our childhood may not necessarily be guaranteed a place in our homes and hearts. There is nothing sadder than to see siblings not quarrelling over who is to carry off some loathsome ornamento from the clearing of the family home, but vying with one another not to be lumbered with it, claiming they’d never liked it anyway. Worse still is to think of one’s own possessions being orphaned in this way after we are gone.
I had been mulling over this blog for some time when, by one of those weird pieces of synchronicity, I came across an article by Lionel Shriver – she totally gets it: ‘I reserve my fervour for possessions of long standing, like the clockwork donkey I was given at nine.’ She does admit, though, to cherishing ‘chattel of some utility’, which is rather different, as the point of loathsome ornamentos is that they are completely pointless. (Which means that the late lamented Piggy Masters, a cracked pink plastic nailbrush-cum-heirloom in the shape of a pig, though undoubtedly loathsome, could never qualify as an ornamento.)
To my mind, acquiring an encrustation of loathsome ornamentos is the mark of a life well lived, enriched by these reminders of friends, family and ancestors. And if I can be reassured that Silly and Naughty will go to a good home, I can die happy.
*Ninja guinea pig whirls his stick and sings ‘Kung Fu Fighting’