The loft – a child’s paradise. The place where parents put whatever they did not quite know what to do with but feared to throw away. Occasionally there is a sad moment when you silently watch bulging bin liners bumped down the stairs to a temporary store at the back of the house, and then to be disposed of willy nilly. Shards of others’ memories carried off to the incinerator.

Tales abound of individuals who cannot bear even the thought of such an outcome. The one that returns every time I see a pile of newspapers in a shop or in the cellar where out-of-date ones are stored for some unidentified future use until the pile is too high and they are dumped in the correct recycling bin. I heard of a many who never threw a newspaper away, even when every room in his house was filled with them, leaving only passageways for him to go through them and from one storey to another.

Recycling is commendable and necessary, but it makes me jabber in confusion. Can an envelope with a cellophane window be recycled with paper, or does the cellophane need to be recycled elsewhere or not at all? It could inject unforgivable impurities into the recycling process. I hesitate, then cowardly slip it into the general waste bin.

Some time ago I happened to visit the genial owner of a country house with a rare set of chairs and sofas inspired by the 18th-century discovery of Herculaneum, a seaport near Pompeii, entombed under ashes from the same eruption from Vesuvius. In Herculaneum, frescoes were disinterred but also charred pieces of furniture. Their design was copied and became an inspiration for the Regency furniture in the early years of the 19th century favoured by the Prince Regent, the future George IV.  They were a delight to behold. I wondered whether they were slightly hard and forbidding to sit on but was not offered the chance to find out.

The three-storeyed south London house belonging to my husband’s family had no loft but under the eaves were two rooms filled to the rafters with junk. Anything of no immediate use had been placed there for more than fifty years. Somewhere I had read that anything that happened more than fifty years ago is History! So his parents were history already! That bestowed on them an added aura they were certainly unaware of.

Most of their clutter would only have been of use to a social historian: cheque books, theatre programmes, ones for school plays, shopping lists, even laundry lists (nothing interesting was retrieved from them – I had read that some of Leonardo’s drawings, now owned by the Queen, were found with laundry lists…) and a few school theatre programmes. I opened them, wondering idly whether I would have heard of anyone. It must have been around the time that ‘I Claudius’ was being serialised on television with Derek Jacobi as the emperor himself, and there Jacobi was in one of the programmes, already an actor!

I try to give myself a treat every Christmas and watch the video of Luchino Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ or the ‘Gattopardo,’ the ‘cat-leopard’. There is a scene I cannot forget of the young hero and heroine (Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale) running hand-in-hand through the attic rooms in the Prince of Lampedusa’s palazzo in Palermo, laughing and jumping over the poignant possessions of past lives that may have been stored there for centuries.




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