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The Mary Effect

July 20, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

I had a meeting with our fundraising manager a couple of days ago to discuss possible sources of funding to take the Mary Greg project to the next stage. And it happened again. What seems to happen whenever anyone is introduced to this collection for the first time – a passionate, personal, immediate response, an intensely animated conversation and a sense that you’ve just go to know someone a whole lot better than you did an hour ago. So, inspired by the shoes at Platt Hall and Alex’s earlier post about our visit there, this is from Chris Whitfield.

The Wicker Basket

Shoes in the collection at Platt Hall

Shoes in the collection at Platt Hall

Preparing for a recent meeting with Liz regarding fundraising for new developments around the Mary Greg project, I came across the box of shoes at Platt Hall on the website. That image and Alex’s thoughts about the shoes being ‘once full of life’ reminded me of an old wicker basket under the stairs at home, the contents consisting of 7 years of my two young daughters’ shoes as they rapidly outgrow each pair. Overcome with a melancholic desire to take another look at this broken and busted pile, with their etched in scrapes and worn down soles, loaded with memories, stories, tears, laughter and the passing of time, I recall what contains them, an old wicker basket. Not any old wicker basket but one I remember since early childhood, one that has followed me from towns to cities, roads to streets, flats to houses.

Chris's shoe basket

Chris's shoe basket

That evening whilst investigating the basket contents and taking photographs for the blog as promised, I am more drawn to the basket itself (not least because we didn’t save as many of the girls’ shoes as I’d imagined through my rose tinted glasses!). When an object loaded with history and memories re-presents itself, the stories within it unfold…a particularly brutal break in the wicker is no longer the health and safety hazard it has assumed over the years since it became a mere container of sentimentality, it is a story of a boy and his older brother using the basket as a pretend rally car in a flock wallpapered, axminster covered living room of a family home in a grimy ’70’s steeltown; the boys crashing into the tiled mantle piece, much to the chagrin of their ever loving mother. The space in between the wicker strands takes on huge significance. How how old is that accumulated dust? If you scraped it off, would the lowest layer really be over 40 years old?

And then it reminds me how the power of an inanimate object can trigger a firecracker of memories and emotions. I begin to recall Heidegger’s thoughts describing an individual moving from regarding an object as purely functional to one invested with history, scenarios, nostalgia, epic journeys, toiling in the field, etc. That moment of realisation in which he claims ‘being’ to be most authentic, the ‘and yet…’ moment. I soon realise my thoughts are hopping around 70’s childhood and later transformational periods in life. Thinking about Heidegger reminds me of my friend at university, recalling that TV doc he did. Channel 4 commissioned him to travel the US investigating cults (the fools!). The most compelling scene of the series isn’t about any of the cults themselves, it’s when Steve and the film crew stop the car by the roadside in the desert so they can marvel at a lone tree of objects eerily tied to its brittle branches. The objects? Shoes! Sneakers, work shoes, boots, in all shapes and sizes and states of disrepair, gnarled and melting in the searing heat, hanging from their faded laces. Have I come full circle with all this I ask myself? Perhaps.

Why do we hang on to some things and not others? Why does a hoarder hoard? Perhaps the answer is, they never quite know. Perhaps Mary didn’t know? Maybe the truth of any treasured object has yet to reveal itself. Where are the hoarder’s doubters when the purpose of their hoarding becomes apparent? As absent as the hoarder finding a good reason to throw them out in the first place.

As for the girls’ shoes, how come we only have one of the first tinier than tiny baby shoes? What has become of the other? Landfill? Zoikes!

Posted by Liz

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