In my family, I came between two sisters. This was something of a no-win situation in so many ways, but I won’t embarrass anyone by going into any details here. Let’s just say that nothing about my early life was left unremarked, uncriticized, unscrutinized, uncorrected, unexamined or SECRET. In particular, none of my boyhood possessions was ever really mine.
I used to dream about finding secret hiding places about the house; an impossible dream. And my one great ambition was some day to own a large metal box with a padlock. Even that ambition was ill-conceived; no metal box, padlocked or otherwise, would have withstood the pressures of prying sisterhood. They would certainly have had no trouble finagling (great word that) the key from me and invaded my secret space.
Over 50 years later the residue of these traumas remains with me as an obsession for containers. I love containers of all shapes and sizes. In my garden shed, for example, I keep an unparalleled collection of jam jars that I use to house my collection of nails and screws, sorted and classified by type and size. Also in the shed I have all sorts of other containers, like discarded cardboard Bisto containers with plastic lids, wooden boxes, a wooden chest, cardboard boxes, tin boxes, coffee tins and plastic detergent containers with screw-on lids. I keep my rawlplugs in an ancient tea caddy, my electric drill in an old wooden wine box.
I find it almost impossible to throw out shoe boxes, and have been known to spend hours happily disassembling and reverse-engineering any new containers that I come across, like milk or soup cartons. The ingenuity of the modern carton designers is remarkable. It never ceases to amaze me how many ways they can turn a flat piece of cardboard into a clever container with a complex and aesthetically pleasing shape.
When my wife’s watch stopped working recently we discovered that it wasn’t possible to replace the battery. She picked out a new watch in Marks & Spencers. I was delighted with her choice as it came in a natty tough cardboard box with a slip-on lid. This lid is special. It fits precisely, and has to be eased into place, allowing time for the displaced air to escape. Removing the lid creates a suction effect that is most satisfying. (Yes, I know). Anyway, the watch failed and we had to return it to the shop. Minus the box, of course. They gave us an identical replacement, and I am now the proud owner of two of these wonderful cardboard boxes.
My obsession with containers often colours the choices I make when shopping. Given a choice between a superior product in a bag and an inferior one in an attractive container, I will always go for the one in the fancy container. The iPod Shuffle sold itself to me when I saw its plastic container, and I chose our bed, not because it looked comfortable to sleep in, but because it has four drawers underneath. And I am constantly drawn to Pringles, not that I have any desire to eat the things…