While I have only cloudy memories of the house where I grew up, I can still recall every room in my paternal grandmother’s house in photographic detail.
On Sundays, after we’d eaten our fill of dainty sandwiches – tinned salmon and tongue were regulars on the bill of fare - and three different kinds of cake, my dad vanished behind a newspaper or into the television while my mum and grandmother talked over the washing up. My brother and I now had free rein to play throughout the house.
It was a 1930s semi with bay windows, a pantry, a wash-house, a phonebox-sized cloakroom and an apple tree in the back garden. In every corner of the house were objects of great fascination - totems which demanded frequent observance. A Spong mincer; a leather playing card box with fold-out compartments; a wooden monkey clothes brush with posable limbs; a miniature figurine of Old Father Time.
Raiding a chest of drawers in the box room, we found astrakhan and fox fur collars, a pair of christening shoes – like tiny silk oyster shells – and a box of slide photos dating from my dad’s early days in the Merchant Navy. One set showed a Crossing the Line ceremony, and the figure of a Demon Barber, with distended eyes (a halved ping pong ball) and a blood-drenched white coat, gave recurrent nightmares to a little girl who didn’t know about fancy dress.
My grandma also had many ornaments roosting on mantelpieces and dressers. The most prized stood on lace doilies. I remember that nearly all of them had sustained injury at some point: there were glue lines around the necks of shepherdesses, the stems of fruit and the ebony trunks of a family of elephants. I don’t remember, of course, my brother or I being responsible for any damages.
This pair of musician dogs, posing mid-tune and entirely free of dried glue, were always my favourites. Perhaps it was their human - yet quite unreadable - expressions. When my grandma passed on, so too did nearly all of her possessions. I sometimes wonder how much of the diaspora still belongs to someone, and how much ended up in a binbag.
Anyway, I’m incredibly glad to have inherited the musical duo. Without knowing it, Ivy Corlett – the only grandparent I knew as a child – passed on to me a love of antiques and odd collectables, and the dogs now live amongst a growing collection of inessential – yet absolutely essential – treasures.