Dad’s Drawers: The Story

It was nearly a year ago when I started to tackle, what I lovingly refer to as, ‘Dad’s Treasure’ and the rest of my family refer to as ‘Fred’s Junk’.  It has been an interesting journey with much humour and many a surprise.  One that has seen me exchange goods for cash in a museum car park, has  involved a house call by the local police firearms officer,   has seen an accumulation in my own house of much of the aforementioned junk/treasure, and which, later this month, will see me delivering a ‘work of art’ (otherwise known as a vulgar drawing by a famous dead Indian artist) to Christie’s of London for auction next year.  All I can say is thank goodness we have the internet; it has helped me to identify objects, find and speak to specialists and unload unwanted items. As I write this I have been watching bids on a couple of old brass handles (Dad’s Treasure) on Ebay raise to the astonishing sum of £107.77.  Quite a nice price for junk, thank you very much.

My father died on the 28th December 2011 at the grand age of 92 and soon after, on a bleak January morning, I started to address the problem of my dad’s accumulations.  The first assessment was that I was dealing with the result of a lifetime of the hoarding of anything and everything, with drawers and boxes full of random bits and pieces.  As the weeks and months have passed it has become clear that, although some of the things I that have found are unusual (why would anyone collect the silver foil seals from the top of plastic milk bottles?), there was much more order to the chaos than I had first thought.

As well as being spread around the family home, where he and my mum had lived for 45 years, the hoards took up one (quite large) room which dad used as his office/writing room and  a workshop that had been designed as double garage but that had never  even caught a glimpse of one car, let alone two. To date I have just about finished the ‘office’ but have a long way to go with the workshop which is full of all those bits of machinery no self-respecting engineer could do without, in addition to all those bits and pieces that a self-respecting engineer could easily have been done without but did not.  Many of which bear no relation to engineering of any type, shape or form!

The very first search was to look to see if there was any money stashed away.  Dad would occasionally hand out money to any of the six grand-children and crisp £50 notes would emerge from the finger of a rubber glove or a bag of oily rags.  I was certain that I would discover money secreted all over the house.  There was one hiding place that my mum knew of; a small hole by a light fitting, in the ceiling of a store room.  With anticipation I tentatively put my hand into the hole.  BINGO!  A heavy bundle wrapped in rags and a supermarket carrier bag was pulled out.  Big disappointment when it turned out to be a collection of manky looking, cutlery oddments.


Why this particular ‘treasure’ was hidden away we will never know.  It doesn’t appear to have any sentimental or monetary value that I know of.  My suspicion is that it was a decoy in case the house was ever burgled; if these were the prize possessions of the house it would be unlikely that there would be anything of any value anywhere else.  For many years  dad walked around with a ‘dummy’ wallet in his back pocket in the hope that a pick-pocket would steal it and find only cut up newspaper and dummy credit cards.  It had been a standing joke that said wallet was never stolen.

Further searches for cash in oily rag bags and all the rubber and gardening gloves in the house revealed nothing, so with some disappointment and apprehension the real sorting begun.

What follows are pictures from one small set of drawers and a few of the various collections to whet your appetite.  There are more to come…

Who knew padlocks could be so beautiful?

……or meters

That’s why he always carried a screwdriver around with him!

This is a very small selection of the bones he had collected there was also an assortment of skulls

What follows is the first chest of  ‘Dad Drawers’


There are more…..many, many more…..

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16 Responses to Dad’s Drawers: The Story

  1. Joanna Heath says:

    My Dad had the tool drawers, plus immense amounts of glue! His father who died before I was born saw me and my family in shoelaces until well in my teens.


  2. Mark Henderson says:

    I am sorry that I never knew your father, I think I’m a man after his own heart. “Hoarders of the World Unite.” I can answer the question of ‘silver milk bottle tops”. In the 1950’s a charity asked public to collect them and send them in. I think they were made of aluminium and it was quite expensive stuff so the charity sold it to the processors. An early example of recycling! I suspect Dad kept it up long after the charity had given up. My children will find their own treasure trove when I go……


  3. Mark
    Look at the last photo in episode 2. Bottom Right of drawer. You can see the aforementioned milk bottle seals. I remember the ones that Blue Peter collected for charity all those years ago. I don’t think the ones here actually have any aluminium. Though you could be right, old habits die hard.


    • Mark Henderson says:

      I took a look at the ” bottle seals” and they are not the aluminium tops that sealed the old glass milk bottles which the milkman left on the doorstep. Ahhh nostalgia. I am surprised that you did not find some air gun pellets. Perhaps they are hidden with the cash !


  4. Eine sehr schöne Seite.
    Zu Fred Plisner siehe auch:


    • David says:

      Thanks Bernhard; for any not conversant with German this is (correct me if I’m wrong) following on from an incident this November where, in the style of an interventionist art project, Bernhard received(?) a postcard which was overstamped with: “Dedicated to abolishing postal services: Your Post Office!” This is obviously paradoxical and designed to stimulate a wider discussion of use of electronic communication, falling postal revenues, the post office as a social institution etc. The Austrian PO then threatened to sue him for libel/defamation or something, each time signing off the threats with “mit freundlichen Grüssen” (with friendly greetings), so maybe they did get irony after all! Bernhard references various art projects which have used the postal service directly in their work, including Fred’s repeated investigations of how much of an address or postage stamp you can remove and still have the item delivered, and also postcards by German artist Roland Albrecht where addresses were themselves miniature works of art, and therefore difficult to read with human eyes let alone mechanically. The British and German postal service seem to have had a sense of humour. I personally remember sending beer mats to my friends as postcards in the early 80s while abroad in Trier, and it seems to have lightened the day of the posties who delivered them. After reproducing the correspondence Bernhard goes on to talk about Fred’s flight to Switzerland and their conversation about an old testament character called Usa (2 Sam.6,7). With reference to this Fred then sent Bernhard an old battered copy of a miniature English Bible, with the New Testament missing, the address written on a piece of paper held in place by an elastic band, with the stamp held on similarly and not affixed in the usual way, by licking and sticking. It got there just fine, and inside was a note from Fred saying that the volume had originally been a present from the East India Company for a man named Davis who, in 1859, was travelling to Bangalore. One hundred years later it turned up in London, having been found by someone who had carefully traced its origin. Bernhard wonders if he should try entrusting it to the Austrian PO in the same way Fred had to the GPO all those years ago. I think we know the answer to that!

      Hope that’s close Bernhard; forgive and indeed correct any bad translations…

      Mit Grüssen echt freundlich

      David (Cambridge writing compatriot of Fred’s and coincidentally guitar teacher to his granddaughter Hollie…)


    • Bernhard
      Just in case you haven’t seen it, on my latest blog I have posted pictures of some of the envelopes/cards where dad used strange stamp combinations.


      • I have seen it. Beautiful.
        Früher gab es auf meiner Internetseite einen Text von Gisela Steinlechner zu Freds Umgang mit Objekten.
        Könnte ich heraussuchen.
        Mit herzlichen Grüßen


  5. veronicacay says:

    What a beautiful story – I have only just read this one installment but I think Fred was an artist at heart – and realised the inherent beauty of multiples, quality of workmanship in vintage materials and joy of discovery – the memory triggers. Thanks for sharing and happy foraging – are you now following in Fred’s footsteps?


    • Thank you. I think you are right. What amazes me with many of the things I have found is the decoration and detail on parts of objects that were not ever seen, such as the inside of of a clock or the back of a door bolt. Craftsmanship was so much more than creating the object only to serve it’s function. ………and yes, despite the protestations of my family, I have taken on the mantle of ‘keeper of the hoards’ though space limitations may make me more selective!


  6. nisijane says:

    I’m in such awe I barely know what to say. You’ve created a heartfelt memorial, a virtual museum, an art exhibit, a walk down memory lane — the list goes on! As a person with OCD and hoarding tendencies, I love that you’re showing the other side of hoarding, the side that showcases the hoarder’s uniqueness, creativity and “method to the madness.” It’s beautiful and I appreciate this positive perspective.


    • Thank you for your kind words. It has been a really positive experience for me; one that has eased the grieving process and awakened memories and creativity that I had long forgotten!


  7. Tricia Ridgway says:

    I have been eagerly reading the printed versions of these that you have shared in our local parish magazine & have loved them. Have also been sharing them with my Mum & Dad who have laughed & enjoyed them too. I am loving the photos and collages and hope that there is a book in the offing, along with a range of Christmas cards & “Bloke” type cards for birthdays etc. too.


    • Thanks Trica. Glad you are enjoying the blog; it’s been fun to write and the several people have made a similar suggestion about a book and cards. Will look into it one day!
      I know peopl who knew my dad find it amusing, but I’ve never been quite sure how people who didn’t him would find the blog; so it’s lovely to have some positive feedback.


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