Guest contributor UK Ambassador Leigh Turner to Austria has been exploring nostalgia. On his second tour living in Vienna, he is revisiting the memories and objects he has collected over the years.
The pen, made by a German company, Pelikan, cost me nothing. It is neither fashionable nor new. Yet I value it more than any other writing implement I could acquire.
Over the past year, I have written occasional blogs called “Vienna Memories”, using the #Viennamemories hashtag. These have focused on items I associate with my tour of duty in Vienna from 1984-87. Writing the blogs has highlighted questions about why we value our possessions and about the merit of keeping – or repairing – old things rather than buying new ones.
Everyone is different. Some people are born to shop; others like to minimise stuff. Many people seek to minimise their environmental footprint, e.g. by renting things instead of buying them; using recycled products; or eating local produce.
The “Vienna Memories” objects about which I have so far written vary in meaning and sustainability.
1. A Kronen Zeitung poster from 1986. Evocative; shocking; and a reminder of our enduring obsession with tragedy.
2. A free china cup. From a 1980s Austrian motorway service station, highlighting the throw-away society; and how some things in Austria have changed little in 30 years.
3. A “Silesiastahl” wall-calendar. A sombre object, filled with difficult historical associations, bought in the ‘80s, repaired by me and still in daily use.
4. A prisoners of war poster. By Ernst Haas, an object which combines my 1980s experience with a tragic period in Austrian history.
5. The wall clock. Another object bought broken and then repaired, whose delicacy is part of its attraction as it marks the passage of time.
Watch out for more #Viennamemories blogs coming up.
Six qualities perhaps make these objects, and others like them, significant.
Most simply, time spent with an object may make it reminiscent of a period in your life – in these cases, my years in 1980s Vienna.
- Investment: the more you work to maintain something – from repairing a wall-calendar to fixing a clock-mechanism to polishing a pair of shoes – the more you value it.
- Associations: powerful magic. That Pelikan pen is one of several fountain pens I inherited from my father, long-unused. I got two of them in working order, and use both daily. Knowing that he used them gives them value for me.
- Quality: old things are often better. Has pen- or clock-design, or photography, improved over the years? Discuss.
- Sustainability: keeping, and using, things for longer can both contribute to saving the planet and save shopping time.
- Tradition: contemporary lifestyles are great. But sometimes having things around us that are old or unchanging can help people stay calm, and rooted.
I would never claim to have particular insights into the meaning of life, or to live an impeccable ecological life. But I have been struck how the “Vienna Memories” blogs have highlighted the benefits of keeping, treasuring and using items over many years.