My mother had a button tin. It was an old toffee tin and it was kept in one of the cupboards in the kitchen. Although the original contents of the tin must have been exciting and inviting to me as a child, it is the eventual contents that remain in my memory. In those days clothes were repaired. In those days buttons were re-sewn on shirts, trousers and jackets : time and time again. In those days clothes were never dispatched to the rag-bin without having all their buttons carefully taken off and lodged in the button tin. The button tin was as much a store of memories as it was a store of tiny pieces of plastic, metal and bone. To riffle through the button tin on a wet afternoon was to revisit times long-gone.
Now, we do not have a button tin. Like most of our generation we are materially wasteful. When buttons fall off shirts, the shirts are cast into a dark place at the back of the wardrobe. When old clothes eventually make it into the waste bin or the clothes bank they do so with almost their full complement of buttons. But, funnily enough, I still have a tin of button memories. It's a virtual tin, to be sure, and the buttons are not the type that my mother saved. But the memories are just as real.
I remember my father had a concertina. He would play it at family parties. It was never a long recital as he only knew two tunes : Moonlight and Roses and Silent Night. He would call the instrument his "button box". As I write this I can remember the feel of the buttons beneath my fingers as I tried to coax a tune from the thing. There was a wonderful simplicity about it : you pressed the button, a valve was opened and a note would emerge.
If I jump forward a good few years I can recall more buttons. The buttons on my first transistor radio. Big buttons, chunky buttons. Buttons that were pleasing to press. Buttons that would take you from the comfort of the Medium Wave, to the mysteries of the Short Wave or the exotic realms of the Long Wave. Buttons that had the power to take you to Luxembourg, Hilversum and Kalumborg.
Jump forward again and I am sat at the wheel of my father-in-laws car. It was a Renault 10 and it had a "revolutionary" semi-automatic transmission which was based on a series of buttons. You could press the button marked "Forward" or the button marked "Backward" or the button marked "Park", leaving the automatic transmission system to sort the gears out. It sounded so easy but, at times, it would prove so difficult.
There was - and still is - a particular hill leading out of Elland called Upper Edge. The gradient must have been unknown in the native France of Renault cars. The car would start up the hill and decide it needed to change down to complete the accent. It would gather speed in the lower gear and decide to change up again. In changing up it would loose revs and decide to shift down again. If you were unlucky the car would remain almost stationary on the hill, continuously shifting from one semi-automatic gear to the next, like the army of the Grand Old Duke of York neither going up nor down. I would sit cursing the ingenuity of the system pressing button after button in the hope that something would happen.
It's been raining this morning and it's been fun sorting through my old button tin. If you want to know how the other participants in Theme Thursday have approached this week's theme you can find all the entries here.