Friday, 26 July 2013

Old Clothes

Une Femme posted an outfit on Already Pretty this week that included a scarf inherited from her grandmother and this got me thinking about my clothing heirlooms.

Velvet Jacket

This jacket belonged to my great uncle Stuart Wynn Jones and I inherited it (possibly by way of my father) when he died.  It featured heavily in my wardrobe from my early teenage years until well into my university years.  I think it may even (along with the top two thirds of a three-piece pinstripe suit from the same source) be the item that began my interest in more structured tailoring.  I am astounded that this St Michael cotton velvet has stood up to so much punishment.  I have no idea how much wear it received with its first owner, but the elbows had already developed a bit of a sheen in my earliest memory of it.  And I have been wearing it for the better part of 20 years now myself.  I wore it to my aunt's wedding, on a daily basis to lectures, carried a flaming torch at the Castle Ceilidh and it still bears a parafin wax drip on one sleeve.  This lovely jacket doesn't get out as much these days, as it's a bit big around the middle, but it is still an important item of clothing to me.  My great uncle was someone I never got to know as well as I would have liked - he died when I was eight or so - and wearing something that belonged to him helps me feel connected to this whimsical, witty, creative man.

Hawaiian Sundress

I haven't exactly inherited this one, more borrowed it for a while, but it is older than I am so I think it counts as an heirloom.  This used to hang in my mother's wardrobe all through my childhood and I was never slim enough to wear it (I overtopped my mother before I left primary school, while I was still firmly planted in my tomboy phase) no matter how long I gazed at it in longing.  When I dropped a couple of dress sizes at university I finally fitted into it and was able to sneak it away from my mother every now and again.   I love it, it's so colourful and happy feeling.  The square neckline and empire cut are really flattering on me.  I wore it to go and hand in my Masters dissertation after a full all-nighter to get the formatting working.  I chose a shower and this dress over 2 hours sleep and I think I made the right decision, everyone else in the class looked like death warmed up but I was walking on sunshine.

There are other inherited items in my wardrobe but these are the most significant right now.  My paternal grandparents both died last year so I have a collection of evening gloves and silk scarves that belonged to my grandmother, but they haven't infiltrated themselves into really becoming mine just yet.  And I have no idea how one would classify my flatmate's 'camping jumper' that belonged to the father of my uncle (by marriage) which he passed on to my father and thence to me and subsequently now resides with said flatmate.  Is it still inheritance when the one you inherit it from is no relation at all?

How I Mash my Shoes

I'm at risk of becoming all about the dead people and that's not really me.  So here's a post about shoes.

I am hard on my shoes.  Always have been.  This may be something to do with having a difficult to find shoe size - once I find  a pair that fit well I wear them to death.  There was the pair of jodhpur boots bought in Australia that I wore from the age of eight until they were a size or two too small and I had worn a hole all the way through the sole, or the huge boy's leather schoolshoes that wound up as a soft heap of leather and a worn-through sole, the Mountain Horse boots I've now had for about 12 years, with their replacement footbeds and worn through lining that I still take up the occasional hill or the Birkenstocks I glued back together with epoxy last week to get me through another summer or two.

I walk places.  To and from work, around town, down to the beach.  And over enough time that wear shoes out.  But I noticed a few months after I bought my bicycle that a number of my pairs of shoes were gaining wear in a specific spot:
It's really obvious on the two pairs of mary janes to the left, but you can also see a dull patch on the 'snakeskin' heels and extensive scuffing on the boots.
I've somehow managed to repeatedly graze the ball of my foot with the crank of my bicycle pedals.  I'm guessing this is because my feet tend to turn in when I'm not thinking about it - cycling means I'm thinking about a lot of other things with a lot more urgency.  I haven't noticed other folk bemoaning the mashing of their shoes by errant bicycles, so maybe it's just me.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

My First Dead Body

I saw my first dead body at the age of 19 in an anatomy dissection room.  I thought I had left it rather late to have that kind of seminal first experience, but my Dad didn't see his first dead body until 11 years later.  His first dead body was his father.  Who was either some number well in double figures for me or number 18 depending on whether dead bodies that were in the room but at whom I didn't actually interact with count.

And those are quite different experiences.

A cadaver (that's a technical term) in an anatomy department looks like what it is - a preserved specimen.  The skin is yellowed and loses its familiar texture in the embalming process.  The head has been shaved for better access to cranial anatomy and improved cleanliness (or because certain embalming techniques turn the hair to gunge).  They lie on metal gurneys draped in damp sheets and oilcloth to prevent drying out.  The facial features are unaltered - the jaw drops open, the eyes may not be fully closed and the eyeballs have probably slumped.  They are unfamiliar.

A grandfather in a funeral director's chapel of rest looks more like who he was.  He is dressed in clothes that were his own (although he got a new tie for the occasion) and what little hair he retained past his grandchildren's arrival is trimmed and combed.  His skin is cold and pale but skin coloured and his hands are folded.  There are probably eye caps keeping the eyelids (which may have been sewn or superglued shut) from sinking.  The jaw is held closed by a suture around the jaw or a plasic device.  He is recognisable as himself.

The anatomy dissection room I studied in was a large, high space with a parquet floor (you could do yourself some real damage if you were feeling woozy and fainted) and huge frosted windows.  It was a place to learn and felt sort of venerable but also exciting.  It smelled, just a little, of gammon and pineapple.  There were blocks and dissection kits and bone saws and brain knives to hand.

We viewed my grandfather in a chapel of rest that was small and softly lit, a place to see someone's body for the last time.  It smelled of air freshener and flowers.  There were tissues to hand.  A place to take my grandmother to help it all sink in.  A gentle, unthreatening place for my Dad to see his first dead body.  We spoke about it a little - the change in someone once their features are no longer animated, how the person we knew was gone, how in many ways he had been gone for some time.  I kissed his head, as I had when he was alive, and we left.

I recognise that my experiences are somewhat unusual, but they have meant that I am reasonably comfortable around dead people.  Perhaps not as comfortable as my forebears, who would have laid out relatives themselves (although I would like to think I could do that for someone when the time came), or as comfortable as those who deal with the dead on a daily basis, but comfortable enough.  And I think that's good.  Perhaps there's a place for coming face to face and hand to hand with our dead, in the world today where to die is seen as losing a fight, as a failure of medical staff to keep you alive.  Perhaps I understand a little better my own mortality.  Or perhaps I like to think I do, while merrily denying that I will one day die.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Dead people are people too

Actually, are they?  I'm not sure.  So I won't be addressing the personhood of dead people in this particular blogpost.

What I want to talk about is how wonderful the generous people are who donate their bodies to medical science when they die.

My first degree was in Biomedical Sciences.  This included a course in human anatomy with a practical element of cadaveric dissection.  I then went on to do an honours project in anatomy during my final year, dissecting elbows for 10 weeks.  As such, I have learnt a lot from several dead people and I thought I might pass on some anecdotes and insights.

It is a very strange feeling when someone who you know has been dead for quite some time holds your hand.  And that was what happened to me during the carpal tunnel dissection on my anatomy course.  Of course she only held my hand because one of my lab group was pulling on her flexor tendons, but it was one of those moments that bring home the humanity of the people who choose to donate their bodies to a medical school.  And I'll never know whether our little cadaver was the sort of person who would hold your hand in life but, to come over all maudlin' for a moment, in death she held our hands as we discovered the marvels of the human body, of her body.

Likewise it is somehow humbling to hold in your hand the heart that kept someone alive for eight or nine decades.  To my shame I forget how old 'our' cadaver was when she died.  All a dissection group learns about their donor is their age at death and cause of death.  And I remember taking her heart over to the sink to wash it clean of clots, embalming fluid and extraneous tissue and just holding it for a moment.  I don't think about my heart very much.  I think about the hearts of my loved ones when they are medically interesting and might consider my own when it is pounding, whyever that may be, but in the main my heart sits beneath my ribcage and quietly gets on with keeping my blood running.  And that's amazing.

You get a very strange picture of someone when all you have to go on is their cause of death, age at death and naked, shaven, preserved body.  Admittedly, our donor still wore the vestiges of pink nail varnish and still had her false teeth in. but that's not a lot to go on. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Horticulture, I has it

Mantelpiece Moment
I have lived in my wee flat (it has two-and-a-half bedrooms) nearly a year now.  One of the things that I liked about it when I was looking for somewhere was the fact that the whole front garden on this side of the block are belong to me.  Now, none of my more ambitious plans have been put into motion just yet, but in the spring some seeds were bought.  And the past few weeks a cohort of sweetpeas and poppies have been emerging.  This has encouraged me so much that I have even done weeding!

So now my mantel has the first fragrant blooms gracing it in a little Kilner spice jar and I feel I have accomplished a Thing.  Now I just have to figure out what to do with the rampant fennel - any suggestions?


So, it seems I am starting a blog.

I have previously been described as whimsical.  So this blog will probably be a bit of a miscellany as envinced in the dreadful pun of the title.  My preliminary thoughts shuffle around academic life, anatomy, crafts, books, funerals, camping, bicycles and castles so I shall see where they take me thereafter.

Come along for the ride?