Dejunking one’s Life: The Cupboard of Doom

It’s March and I’ve decided to get on with one of my New Year resolutions.. I am going to have my front hall properly carpeted and, in a moment of madness, I decide to include the cupboard under the stairs: The Cupboard of Doom. In October 1940, a massive bombing raid destroyed the houses opposite, so there isn’t a right-angle in the house. Try to put a nail in the walls of the Cupboard of Doom and chunks of plaster fall down. It has housed at least four sets of gas and electricity meters, plus pipes and wiring and there are holes everywhere. The cupboard door doesn’t fit and icy draughts whistle under it in winter.


Looking into the Cupboard of Doom

Heaven knows what’s in the depths of the cupboard. I certainly don’t. However, it’s got to be cleared in time for The Carpet. I begin to think that must be mad. Why did I ever start this? I put on my oldest jeans, T-shirt and bath cap (there are spiders’ webs) and track down my mother’s old garden kneeler.


What is this?

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Spectacular Horses and Chariot Burial

When I was a child, one of my favourite books was Adventures in Archaeology. I was thrilled by Schliemann’s discovery of Troy; Sir Arthur Evans’ of Knossus, and, of course, Howard Carter’s spectacular discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. There was something very exciting about digging and finding something which has been hidden for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years. And I longed to see these places for myself.

And I confess to still feeling that same delight now I’m grown up – or, perhaps, not so grown up. So when I actually saw the spectacular Bronze Age horses and chariot burial which made World News in 2008 under the Karanovo tell in Bulgaria, I assure you that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

Karanovo horse burials

Horses and chariot burial

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Napoleon’s Toothbrush

What makes people want to own something that once belonged to someone famous? Is it a desire to acquire some quality of the deceased by a sort of spiritual osmosis? Or is the object more akin to a relic, something to be venerated. Or, more personally, perhaps it reminds the new owner of a precious memory of the loved one, as with the 19th century fondness for locks of hair incorporated into mourning rings, brooches, and so on.

Henry WEllcome

Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936) by Hugh Goldwin Rivière, 1906.

I was pondering this question when I visited the Wellcome Collection in London, founded by Sir Henry Wellcome, pharmaceutical entrepreneur and also founder of The Wellcome Trust which funds medical research. He was an obsessive collector of things medical and his collection is wide-ranging, not to say eccentric. It includes a number of objects only tenuously connected with medicine which once belonged to famous men – and women.

Napoleon's toothbrush

Napoleon’s Toothbrush

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