Sunday, 2 January 2011

Legacy possessions

When young I didn't own much, but the little things I did have meant a huge amount to me. For instance, I had a small tin in which I saved my pennies - it originally contained Cornish Clotted Cream - and I used from pre-school till I left school. I still have it. It'll never get thrown away, even if long redundant, because it represents part of my life, and it was useful. Yes, a 'useful pot' indeed!

And there were several other things, all of them little and very personal. A collection of torches. Useful when I wanted to read in bed, secretly and defiantly. A metal 'Welcome to Barry' calendar, that you flipped over every day to change the date. Useful, and part of a morning ritual that helped me face the day. Sundry propelling pencils, fountain pens, ballpoints (called 'biros' in those days), magnetic compasses, favourite combs, all useful, all of them the sort of thing any child who liked personal gadgets would keep in a pocket and never lend, and guard jealously because they were part of their very individuality. And they would be terribly missed if lost or stolen. In my isolated, defensive, childish world quite a lot of kids were potential thieves, or at least I felt they did not understand what these things meant to me and would be careless with them. And anything lost was a tragedy that brought me to tears that I was desperate to conceal. And yet so much has vanished from those times. Treasured annuals, all my toys. My teddy bear was never a toy, and I still have him. But what if I'd actually gone to university and not taken him, and Mum had had a 'clear out' while I was away? She was not a sentimental woman, and would discard things lightly. Thank God it didn't happen. Even in my late teens I would have been stricken.

Ted was useful too. He was my one reliable friend. The person I woke up cuddling when last in hospital aged seven, incidentally, as he will be when I next go into hospital in March, nearly fifty-two years later on.

So where is all this leading?

Well, into a discussion on what to do with what might be termed 'legacy possessions'. The things you routinely carried around in your pockets when still in male mode. The things you felt you had to abandon when first grasping the nettle of transition, because they were 'blokey' and 'not feminine', and anyway you suddenly had no pockets.

My goodness, I hauled a lot around in my pockets: keys, wallet (for paper money, plastic cards and ID), purse (for coins), diary (or later on, PDA), phone, penknife, hanky, comb, maybe a pen. And when Lucy burst onto the stage, most of these were hastily discarded. Suddenly they were Artifacts From Former Times, the relics of a life I wanted to dissociate from. If I were seen using them, doubters and sneerers would say, 'Aha! You're still a man!'. I equipped myself with iconic female accessories to bolster my new identity. The ladies watch. The Prada handbag. Ever more feminine clothing. Cosmetics. I carried a mirror and a basic cosmetic kit, and much else, just in case. Being glamorous, or at least having the stuff along that could make you seem girly and attractive, was so important. Getting it out in public sent messages: I have a nail file in my handbag - I am a woman!

Things have settled down since those earliest days.

And now it's time to reassess the legacy possessions.

I'll just mention one item that I've missed. My little penknife. I bought it in 1994, and it was just one in a very long line of small penknives that I'd carried since childhood. They were old-fashioned, and represented incredibly simple technology, but they did the trick. And as I grew up, it seemed that you needed devices exactly like this to help you cope. A little pocket knife - so small it was always legal - let you take off labels, open packets, cut up computer printouts, cut off a length of sticky tape, trim dangling threads, and get at the lunchtime sandwich in the sealed plastic pack that otherwise defied access. It could peel fruit, scrape things clean, and act as a probe. It was terribly useful. When Lucy came into being, she still needed to do all these things, but girliness demanded that 'male stuff' could not be employed. so the faithful penknife was put away, though not without reluctance, because its absence was keenly felt. Scissors were not as good or as versatile. Or as personal.

Well, recently I've overcome that false, self-imposed restriction. Perhaps I'm starting to mature a bit in my female role. I said to myself, 'Your penknife is small and oval-shaped, and quite neat enough to find a place in your bag. It's not a male marker. It's just a handy little tool, like tweezers'. And so I disinterred it, and just this morning I used it when sewing. It cuts the cotton a treat. Welcome back, little friend!

I must just remember not to carry it through an airport as part of my hand baggage.


  1. A small pen knife is indeed one of the most versatile tools a man, or a woman can carry. I've often wondered what is done with all the ones that had to be left behind at the world's airports? Incidentally, you won't be able to take that nail file on board a plane either. Hangnails will either have to be chewed off (horror!), or be endured, until you reach your destination, and can purchase another.

    Melissa XX

  2. That's a good reminder about nail files, since I carry one in my makeup bag. Slip in an emery board or two as a substitute.

    I don't think Swiss Army knives have a gender. :) As you say, useful is useful. But I'm amazed at what you used to carry around in your pockets! I never wore loose enough trousers to pack that kind of kit.

  3. What a sweet post.

    I have been told several times to stay away from knives. It seem that they just jump out and cut me...all on their own. I may have one in my hand and all of a sudden it just has a mind of it's own and draws blood.

    But, all are not like me, owning possessed knives, Lucy. It's a pretty red knife and deserves a place in your purse.

    Calie xxx


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