On the mantelpiece near my computer there are two white Staffordshire pottery dogs. They are Victorian, made around 1880 and they are rather lumpy, lifeless objects. They stare rigidly ahead of them and, while they have nicely painted feathery red blotches on them, their fur is hard and cold, with no movement in it at all and they have harsh unforgiving faces. If I am truthful I don’t like them very much. So why are they there? They have a small value- I could sell them quite easily and buy something which I do like.
What makes it less simple is that those dogs have been sitting on a mantelpiece staring at me for longer than I am able to remember. They were bought new by my great grandparents before I was born and when the family took in an evacuee during the second world war she never forgot my great grandmothers fierce order never to touch them, given almost as soon as she walked through the door. There was no money in a farm labourer’s family for luxuries and buying them had been a major event, saved up for and relished.
Those dogs sat there, never moved from their position, watching just about every important event as I was growing up. They watched every meal, every celebration and every crisis. They would be hidden under the bed when we went away on holiday and dusted with a care that was never given to anything else. After I left home they would wait for me to come back and still be there, staring, as they shared my news alongside my parents. They would be the first thing that I would look for when I walked through the door and the fact that they were still there was a reassurance that, in spite of the changes which came and went over the years, home was still there. Some things didn’t change.
The mantelpiece they sat on for almost fifty years doesn’t even exist any more. There is a blank wall where it used to be and not even a shadow of them is left in their old position after the house was renovated by its new owner, but they still survive and stare blankly at their new surroundings in exactly the same way they always did. They don’t have pride of place any more, but they have a new mantle-piece and it fits them quite well. They are grumbled at rather than cherished these days, and life is quiet for them in the spare bedroom, but they seem to accept it with the same dumb insolence they showed to the people who loved them.
One day they will move on, to somebody who doesn’t know their history. Oh they will probably know the trivial stuff like when they were made, perhaps even which factory made them if a dealer gets hold of them, but not the important things. Not the things which those dogs have been an empty witness to over the years, or the thoughts of the people who cared about them. They will move on, but it won’t be any time soon. Putting up with them is a way for me to take possession of my past and pay respect to the people who made it. Come to think of it, they could do with a bit of a dust…………………..