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A Shout From The Attic: The Wardrobe

Ronnie Bray recalls a dark brown polished wardrobe "that maintained silent vigil in the hallway outside the doorway of Nanny’s inner sanctum. Although it was locked, the key, complete with the patina of almost a century of age, stood in its ancient brownness in the lock. In spite of that, it was tacitly understood that it was out of bounds to inquisitive eyes.''

Boxes and chests of all kinds promise wonderful surprises when their contents are exposed. They are usually kept inside such containers for safe keeping and to keep them from the ordinary scrutiny, because attractive items invite unauthorised viewers to carry them off for their own purposes, thus denying the owner possession of beguiling objects.

The first such box in my young life was the dark brown polished wardrobe that maintained silent vigil in the hallway outside the doorway of Nanny’s inner sanctum. Although it was locked, the key, complete with the patina of almost a century of age, stood in its ancient brownness in the lock. In spite of that, it was tacitly understood that it was out of bounds to inquisitive eyes.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first turned the key slowly so as to make no sound, and revealed the contents of its dark interior to the light that fell along the hall from the tall window with the figured coloured glass borders. I returned to the wardrobe a couple of times a year for a few years before becoming so familiar with its unchanging contents that there was no excitement left and no new discoveries to be made.

I was not familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so I didn’t inspect the back panels closely, or else I might have found a quick way to Narnia or, at very least, into the outside passageway where the coal grate was.

The most obvious denizen of the wardrobe was a glossy brown fur coat, that I took to be my grandma’s. Mother didn’t have a fur coat then, just a woollen one. Close to that, on one of the antiqued brown hooks was a fox fur throw with glassy dead eyes, yet despite its glazed gaze, its brush looked very much alive.

Hung at the inside of the garment hanging space was a selection of hats that looked decidedly twenties, each having several lethal looking hat pins thrust through them, a warning to men who would uninvitedly and unwelcomely get too close, for many has been sent packing with a needle fine puncture in his ego and elsewhere.

On one of the shelves sat brown and blue smelling salts bottles, each of the pair having a shield-shaped label printed white on black extolling the virtues of the cure for the vapours and, according to its advertisement, several incurable conditions. Although they were aged, unscrewing the bottle caps would release a noxious fume what was still mightily potent.

The most painful items were several spring-loaded man traps that proclaimed that the Wella Company made them. Their apparent use was to crimp waves in hair, but they had an alternate use of gripping the flesh at the little-finger side of the palm, causing a pain that was as exquisite as it was intolerable. You have to remember that this was in the pre-television era, and we made our own entertainment.

A shallow drawer held some discarded hairnets, useless as fishing nets because of the great holes, and several cellophane sachets of Henna Rinse Shampoos, to add gloss and colour to getting-older hair. They, like many of the objects, belonged to an earlier time in Nanny’s history, when her appearance mattered, and she had not yet opted for the easy-to-manage short shingle hairstyle.

Another marker of an abandoned earlier life was a boxed rubber whirling spray set, a primitive method of birth control, that was probably the salvation of many a woman in less enlightened times.

There must have been many other trinkets and pieces of bric-a-brac that I have forgotten, and which prolonged brainstorming cannot bring to the surface, but I do remember a parchment certificate ostensibly from George V, and huge brass medal inscribed with the name of Thomas Baker. Mother says that Tom Baker was a great-uncle who lied about his age to enlist in the British Army in 1914, and that he was killed in the War. The family would have treasured the parchment and medal, although it was poor compensation for the loss of a father, brother, fiancé or son.

Tommy Scott, my mother, René, and me moved from 121 in the summer of 1952, and I never saw the wardrobe or its treasures again. That is, except for the medallion struck in honour of Uncle Thomas Baker, who gave his life in the Great War, the War to End All War, which mother gave to me in 2000, and it now lies among my treasures.

**

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's fascinating and revealing autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

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