‘Be careful,’ I said, ‘I got it cheap because it’s broken.’ I wasn’t talking about a watch or a television or a lamp, but a rubbish bin. An old rubbish bin.
It’s actually a bread bin from the 1950s, which I’d found on one of my regular drives to a nearby town to hunt down something old that’s suitable for an old house lived in by a man who is feeling the weight of his years. Most evenings when I get off the couch it feels as though I have a pallet of bricks strapped to my back.
But the bin. Previously I’d had a cheap stainless-steel contraption bought from the local supermarket. In my kitchen it felt as anachronistic as a knight. So, for months, I’d been looking for something that would suit, something that felt right. And then last Sunday happened. In a little shop in a little town there it was: a generous-sized, smooth, cream-coloured ceramic body with a pale-green lid. I looked at it once, twice. ‘You can get it for a very good price,’ said the cheerful-sounding shopkeeper. ‘The lid’s cracked. But I’ve glued it up.’
Now I was seriously interested.
It wasn’t because the price was more than reasonable. It was because the bin was broken. All the old things I buy are broken in one way or another: a mirror with a snapped side bar; a chair with a gammy leg; a cupboard whose doors open on their own accord. I don’t like perfect antiques – they’re as sterile as something new bought from a warehouse in an industrial estate. What’s the point of perfection? (Says he who can be greatly frustrated by his own imperfect words, written or spoken.) Broken things have stories to tell. They have experienced events, they have been under pressure, they’ve almost given in. But they soldier on because they’re not yet done with the world.
My new – old – rubbish bin, the one that was once a bread bin, is not yet done with the world. Despite its cracked lid. It feels right, appropriate, this beautiful object in my kitchen, in a house that is as imperfect as its owner, and owner who most evenings when he gets off the couch feels as though he has a pallet of bricks strapped to his back.
‘Time is the substance from which I am made,’ said Jorge Borges.
Isn’t that the truth.
(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 26 April 2014.)