USEFUL BOXES FOR PUTTING THINGS IN


The phrase "a useful box to put things in" or "for putting things in" is often attributed to A.A. Milne, but it's very hard to track down the precise reference. I certainly recall it being in use among the Milne family: I was married to his great-niece for three years in the late 1970s, and the late Christopher Robin was at the wedding. The marriage didn't last, but even so, there can be little doubt about the usefulness of boxes for putting things in. 

  Dolls-eye box. My maternal grandfather Harry Reynolds was killed on the Russian convoys during WW2, but a story his daughter (my late mother) told me more than once was of two additions he made to one of my late grandmother's shopping lists: half a pound of dolls' eyes and a packet of umbrella seeds. There's something about dolls' eyes that demands an appropriate box. This is where Frances, now my wife of 34 years, keeps them: three quarters of a century after Harry changed the list. It cost us a euro at the MartaizĂ© vide-grenier in 2016. We're still looking for the umbrella seeds. 

Part of the magic of boxes is that they should be as memorable as their contents. You should be able to look at the box and think, "Ah, yes, Dolls' eyes." Or, as it might be, "umbrella seeds". A friend, long dead, used to store all manner of things in tobacco tins, each carefully labelled with the contents; but it is more fun when the box needs no label, because we immediately remember what is in it. Arguably it is more fun still if we have forgotten what is in the box; open it; and are flooded with memories.


Money-box for vide-greniers. At vide-greniers, euros, two-euro pieces and even fifty-centime pieces are at a premium. We put appropriate change into this tiny money-box.The key is missing and the lock is broken but we don't care: the only person who normally steals from it is Frances when she runs out of coffee money. It cost us 1€ at a vide-grenier. 

We have lots of other useful boxes for putting (or keeping) things in. Shoe-polish, brushes and rags live in the entry hall in a gutted 19th century brass-bound mahogany writing box, with broken hinges, which I bought at auction in the 1960s. I forget what I paid: five shillings, maybe (25p). Sheets live in a wooden trunk under the sewing-room window. A tin trunk in the same room holds (mostly) household linens. And so forth. Go to any house of the mid-19th century or earlier, and most things were kept in boxes and chests when they were not in use.

Boxes have a romance and a magic that cupboards and chests of drawers can never have, even when their contents are distinctly pedestrian. The only excuse for cupboards and chests of drawers, unless they be cheap, is ease of access; and even then, a linen chest can be quicker and easier. 


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016