We’ll say thank you for the memories
OH, wild Pritt Stick, thou breath of autumn’s being. Dark nights herald the opening of the scrapbook season at Holden Towers, the painstaking arrangement on coloured pages in special books of leaflets, postcards, menus, bills, photographs and scribbles that, in most sensible houses, go straight in the bin.
‘The scrapbooks will, in due course, help with our Alzheimer’s
I keep absolutely everything, especially things the children have done. I recall my pious horror when a mother at nursery school admitted throwing her children’s paintings away after admiring them. Had I done the same, I wouldn’t now be unpeeling piles of huge, cracked, primary-coloured splatters and trying to stick them in books.
Scrapping is a form of madness. The backlog goes back about 10 years and is stuffed in bags and boxes from the top shelf in the utility room to under the nursery table. One completed scrapbook barely dents the surface of this landfill site of memories. Each year brings another tidal wave of tickets, articles, programmes and invitations that just can’t be consigned to the rubbish.
My husband says the scrapbooks will, in due course, help with our Alzheimer’s and it’s true that each piece triggers a memory. Here are tickets for a wonderful, glamorous evening at the opera. There is the ticket for the St Ives car park where we were boxed in by an ice-cream delivery man. The resulting festival of swearing has lived long in the memory.
However, I have hit on a cunning fast-track wheeze. Our children are at school in West Sussex, so what better way of whiling away the M1, A23 and endless South London ring than a spot of light scrapbooking? I sit in the passenger seat with a tray on my knees, Pritt Stick at the ready, scissors at hand. They’ve got five years left of school; I should be at least halfway through by then.
The Midlands and Venice may not seem terribly similar, but they have Lord Byron in common. Nottinghamshire’s maddest, baddest and most dangerous to know poet was a resident of La Serenissima for six action-packed years, during which he rented a palace, kept a menagerie, swam the length of the Grand Canal and had affairs with tempestuous women.
He could, no doubt, have done some of this in Nottingham, but he preferred Venice—and who can blame him? The Midlands probably lost their charm for Byron after his beloved hound Boatswain was attacked by a rabid dog in Mansfield. The monument he erected to his former pet at his home, Newstead Abbey, is impressive and moving.
Venice brought out Byron’s poetically fun side as Nottingham never had. It was here he wrote Beppo, a ‘Carry On’-esque romp about a wife, her lover and her unexpectedly returning husband that laid the foundations for his comic masterpiece Don Juan.
Chugging past Byron’s palazzo on vaporetto No 1, the lines came back to me. How the hero ‘refused another morsel/saying, he had gorged enough to make a horse ill’.
Our other Venetian literary highlight was a Shakespeare’s Globe production of The Merchant of Venice—jonathan Pryce was amazing as Shylock. It was the end of the production’s worldwide tour and we were thrilled to find ourselves sharing the homeward flight with Bassanio, Gratiano and Portia.
This is not the first time this has happened to us; after a Romeo and Juliet at the Sheffield Crucible, we queued in the buffet of a London-bound East Midlands train with Juliet and Benvolio. And, on a flight back from France, I sat next to a woman wearing more snakeskin than an actual snake and whose three small children each had a Hermès Birkin handbag and mountains of Louis Vuitton. We recently spotted her on a TV show about posh parenting.
Our nearby town of Chesterfield stars in a poetry collection by Tom Paulin. The Northern Irish writer doesn’t seem especially impressed by Chezvegas, as we locals refer to it. He uses words like ‘crapulent’ and refers to the people who live there as ‘stoic burghers’, which made me imagine a forbearing fast-food joint.
Perhaps it rained when Tom was here. He’d have felt differently if he’d been to Frederick’s ice-cream parlour, with its blazing-coral pomegranate flavour, or to Aunty Dot’s sweet stall in the market.
Other poets have served the area better. Betjeman wrote elegant verses about Matlock Bath and its high cliffs—although they also gave him a sense of doom. Anyone with a few syllables at their disposal could currently rave about the golden trees, the flaming sunsets and the stirring morning sight of celestial disco king Orion strutting his stuff against the inky night. There, I’ve done it myself!
Wendy Holden’s latest novel, Honeymoon Suite, is published by Headline Review
One man and his dog: Lord Byron and his beloved Boatswain