A tour of a few keepsakes I have.
When my sister Lizzie came back from her honeymoon, she brought me a small wooden carving of a man sitting down, his head tilted to the side and resting on the palm of his hand.
He doesn't have any facial features, but I've always imagined him to be quite glum, as if he has spent a long time alone chasing his thoughts and is pretending not to notice that they never go anywhere.
When the gift was given, I had felt that way quite a lot of the time for quite a while, and it was about as much fun as it sounds. It's just a little token and it's likely I'm reading way too much into the gift (although maybe not!) but I was quite touched when I received it, and it's sitting on our mantelpiece today.
My primary school education was a little bit weird. It took a couple of years for everyone to agree that the standard curriculum was doing me more harm than good and to decide what to do about it. In the end, I was taken out of regular classes, became "non-graded" and was assigned to a teacher named Martin Chance. Whichever class he taught, I'd be there in the back, sometimes working with the class but mostly doing something else that he had assigned.
He taught me Go, tried valiantly to make me a good chess player, insisted that I read things I didn't like, which at the time included "The Tempest", "A Coral Island" and "War of the Worlds". Where I wanted to focus on maths and programming, Martin insisted on teaching me philosophy, history and geography.
Martin became a friend of the family, and after I finished primary school I'd still go over to his place to talk or to mow the lawn or whatever. Although in later years we drifted apart, I still consider him a great friend and can't help but acknowledge the great positive influence he has been in my life.
Which is pretty much the reason I keep a small wooden box with a pair of Baoding balls in it.
I love my nieces, and probably the worst thing about being an expat is that I only get to see them very rarely. The main reason I still have a Facebook account is because that's the place I'm most likely to find new photos of them.
We've yet to receive anything from Georgia, our youngest niece, but if you looked around our flat for long enough you would find a drawing of Aunty Jolie & myself, standing underneath a London rainbow next to some flowers, as well as a cardboard canary, with wings made by cutting around the outlines of a pair of small hands.
(Ah ha ha! Hoisted by your own petard!)
Because sometimes it's okay to conform unthinkingly to your gender stereotype, I haven't owned a fluffy stuffed toy in years. I have Bice to thank for changing that.
For a while, I've wanted to own a dog – a big dog, like a Newfoundland Terrier. But for all of that time, I haven't felt as if I could responsibly own one. As a renter, I didn't want to be forced to move somewhere I couldn't have pets and I used to travel quite a lot for work.
I explained this to Bice once. The way I put it was that my five year plan was to own a dog, and that getting a mortgage was a step in the middle.
I also explained it to Joliette while we were courting each other. It's important to make sure that you have the same priorities before making a commitment, no? She isn't as set on a Newfie as I am, but we are both equally torn between our desire to keep living centrally in London and for a big, slobbering, canine friend.
When Bice visited for our wedding, he somehow remembered our offhand conversation, and brought us a plush black Newfoundland, whom Jolie & I promptly christened Mortgage.