THERE’S a little piece of concrete in one of the kitchen drawers at home, tucked under out-of-date takeaway menus, an unreliable tea cosy and a randomly acquired giant jelly spider.
It’s a pretty unremarkable piece of concrete. It’s grey and crumbly and, well, concretey.
And, as it is no longer fulfilling its purpose in life – sitting in our kitchen drawer rather than helping to hold up a building – it fails artist William Morris’s requirements for household items on both counts – it is neither beautiful nor useful.
It will, however, never be thrown away.
I have begun to accept this fact, ignoring its existence as I stub my fingers on it every time I go into the drawer for a tea towel.
Once part of Gateacre Comprehensive’s now demolished building, it was given to my husband at a school reunion last year. It may be ugly and pointless but it is from his past and therefore is Of Sentimental Value.
Items decreed Of Sentimental Value are like cockroaches. They will survive us all.
One day they will baffle our grandchildren, who will wonder why we kept hold of a single seashell, a broken ZX81 and an apparently ordinary lump of concrete.
It’s never the obvious things that most people imbue with sentimental value. It’s the chipped tea cup granny always drank out of rather than the expensive 12-piece tea-set; the battered paperback with its stretched spine and creased pages rather than the pristine first edition.
It’s the same with places. We didn’t all grow up skipping through fields of Wordsworth daffodils or surrounded by Oxford’s dreaming spires. The locations for which many of us are nostalgic are tarmac playgrounds or tobacco-stained pub family rooms.
Artist George Shaw mused on this subject in his recent talk at the Walker Art Gallery, where he was one of the judges for the current John Moores Painting Prize exhibition.
The Ilfracombe-based 2011 Turner Prize nominee has been painting the council estate where he grew up since the late-1990s. Tower blocks, rusty gates, potholes and terraced houses populate his work – unlikely targets for nostalgia. And they are portrayed in a realistic style – the lack of emotion is eerie.
Yet Shaw is a deeply sentimental about the past and the town where he grew up, despite it being predominately newly built and therefore has little of its own history.
He was beginning to feel that he had dedicated enough time to his Coventry project when he went home to visit his mum and she told him the local Hawthorne Tree pub, where he’d drunk with his late father, had been knocked down.
“Nobody cares,” he said in his talk.
“There’s not even a photo of it. But people’s wakes were in there, people had their weddings there, there were christenings.”
But perhaps somebody, somewhere, has a little piece of the Hawthorne Tree in their own kitchen drawer.