Some men (it's invariably men: I know a mechanic who says he can always tell when a car is owned by a woman because it's filthy and full of crap)... So, some men spend whole afternoons washing and lovingly polishing their cars. They drive them with pride. I've seen men patting their cars and smiling. To such men the cars they own mean something, they are more than merely vehicles to get them from one geographic point to another.
I have, in my kitchen, a yellow bowl. Actually it's mostly unyellow but it's the yellow that stands out. In this bowl I cream together butter and sugar, add eggs – one at a time – then flour followed by one or more various flavourings: fruit and cinnamon; vanilla; chocolate or what-not. Then I scrape the resultant mixture from the bowl into one of a variety of metal tins and put it in the oven. For the rest of the day my house will be filled with the aroma of baking. I have several other mixing bowls but if this one ever got broken I would be devastated because, for me, this bowl has meaning. It is the bowl in which my mother mixed the cakes that demonstrated her love and by using it, in my mind, I do the same for my family. It is the bowl of a thousand birthdays, Christmases, Easters and weddings. But when it sat, sometime in the early '60s, on the shelf at Woolworth amongst a row of others just like it, it had no meaning it was just a cheap bowl. But because whenever I use it I am transported back to those childhood days filled with the anticipation of bowl licking and cake worthy celebration this bowl, to me, is worth far more than one shilling and six pence. It is one of only two things I inherited from my mother. Over the years I have imbued it with specialness. Others may understand this but will not feel it.
I quite understand that anyone else who casts their eye upon it will see merely an old mixing bowl because, in truth, that's all it really is. If what I'd inherited from my mother was a beautiful jewelled brooch that I remember her pinning carefully to her evening coat, smelling of powder and Chanel No.5, before going out hand in hand with my father for a glamorous party, the significance could be no greater. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and price doesn't count in matters such as these. My yellow bowl, crack-glazed and greying, with no exchange value whatsoever, is the loveliest object in my possession.
I have a favourite pair of trousers. They are old and torn and splattered with paint. They are too big and hang down dragging on the ground as I walk. Yet when I put them on I feel good: slightly bohemian, a bit rebellious, slim and, dare I say it, even rather sexy. However, the man in my local deli suggested I might do well to put them on the scarecrow I told him I was making. To him they are just a pair of long-in-the-tooth, scruffy, worthless trousers. He didn't hear my husband once tell me that they make my bottom look great. He doesn't know how easy they are to move in. To me they are life enhancing trousers, they tell a story, my story, though very few people can read it in them. I'll be distraught when the left leg comes away as it's threatening to do.
When, twenty three years ago, I stood at the altar and took my marriage vows, my husband put a pretty, engraved, rose gold ring on my finger. We had found it together, one Saturday morning, in a flea-market. It only cost about twenty quid, but it came to symbolise our togetherness, our till-death-do-we-partness. Sitting on that flea-market table amongst watches with cracked faces and once loved tarnished silver the ring had no meaning, but by choosing it for a wedding ring we gave it plenty. I polished that ring until it gleamed. Sadly, as is my way, I'd lost it within the year. Pregnancy had swelled me and I had to take it off. I, no doubt, put it somewhere 'safe' but failed to find it again when the time came. At first I missed it terribly, feared that people would think I was a single mother, mistake me for something I was not. I felt less married without it. But I got used to the loss, learning as I grew that real love can do without symbols.
Eleven years later, for our twelfth wedding anniversary, my husband presented me with a new set of rings. One hand made by an artisan jeweller adorned with little hearts of various precious metals and two diamond eternity rings to go either side. The combination is a beautiful one and I was delighted by the gift. He'd put a great deal of thought into it, had it made specially. But these are not the rings he placed on my finger on 18th August 1984. Although he meant them to fill the gap caused by my lack of the original I have been unable to give them the meaning he anticipated. I had got used to not wearing a ring over the period of eleven years, there was no longer a gap to fill for me. And somehow these rings are too beautiful for my scarecrow-trouser lifestyle. I tend only to wear them when I go 'out'. I do not wear them to dig the garden or to cook supper or to sit at my desk and work. To me they are no more, or less, special than the diamond stud earrings he bought me for my fortieth birthday which he also had made especially for me. They are a beautiful but unnecessary gift, as most gifts are, and speak no more of love that any of the other such gifts I have in my possession. On Saturday night, at my cousin's fiftieth birthday party, I will wear them, along with the earrings, with pride. A pride borne of having a husband who loves me enough to spend his hard earned cash and his little spare time on bringing me such objects of beauty. But today as I type this I sit here unadorned in my favourite old trousers no less loved or loving. As for my long lost ring I sincerely hope that someone else has stumbled upon it and that now it adorns another finger with a newly given meaning.
That no object has meaning in and of itself whether it is a car, a mixing bowl, a pair of trousers or a ring is a valuable lesson to learn. Objects don't give our lives meaning we, our lives, give meaning to them. That's one in the eye for the advertisers.