Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Perfect Lemon

I've heard that the lemon at Kettle's Yard has to be a certain type of lemon. Like Sarah Lucas' kebab there are strict instructions on Jim Ede's preferred lemon dimensions. I wonder if it's an irritating job, like the person who has to take a bite out of the pear and leave it on the plate with a fruit knife, in Dennis Severs house.

My mother for a short while had a job cleaning in the clock museum in Bury St. Edmunds for Captain Merrick. In a corner of Angel Hill slumped Georgian house which
 was home to a mechanical turtle that 'swam' the time across a soup tureen filled with water. There were enamel carriage clocks, miniature fob watches studded with sapphires, tall clocks standing sentry like by the doors, malachite and gold leaf angel clocks. Marble block clocks, sugar almond chatelaine watches
and mesmerising pocket watches with looped, filigree chains and gold lattice fobs.

One day a woman visited the museum and sat on one of the wicker chair by the turtle and closed her eyes. She had grown up in this house, that was now a museum. She looked for the tiny pencil signature she wrote under the hearthrug the day that her family moved out and cried with relief that it was still there. I suppose she was trying to slip into a memory hole when she was sitting on the chair.

In the upstairs of the museum lived Captain Merrick's French wife.  I sat with her once and she let me choose a record to put on the player, I chose Handel's Water Music because we had been studying it at school. She was disappointed because she wanted something more lively. She never went out. I think like my granny she had had a lot of ECT. She had a sad mournful face and wore red lipstick, that looked exotic with her shiny black bob. Captain Merrick asked my mother to copy a fish take dress he had designed for his fashion model first wife before she had died and to use the roll of shot iridescent silk she'd bought from Hong Kong. She stood patiently as she was fitted for the dress that looked so bad on her. My mother held pins in her mouth and talked to her in schoolgirl french. Many heroines remind me of Captain Merrick's wife two of them nameless: Bertha Mason, the heroine of Rebecca and Charlotte Perkin's Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and Madeleine in Vertigo.

After Captain Merrick died it was revealed he wasn't a captain, he had never even been in the army.

Captain Merrick's wife moved back to Paris.

 The museum is closed now and the Gershom Parkington memorial collection of clocks are packed away in boxes.

 Helen Ede in her final home in Edinburgh.
 Madeleine and her former self.
 Unnamed heroine of Rebecca and Mrs Danvers.
 Dennis Severs House, Folgate Street, Spitalfields.
The painting of Carlotta Valdes.
 Dennis Severs and Isabelle Barker.
 The Kettle's Yard lemon.
Charlotte Perkin's Gilman and the house she grew up in.

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