Thursday, July 30, 2009

Theme Thursday - Buttons

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.

18 comments:

  1. Alan nice, this. I'm one to wear out a shirt or pair of trousers. Ikeep them in repair as long as possible. Then they are relegated to the role of dust-cloth or what have you. And always one to sew on a button or two( or more )...

    And really, you could pick up Luxembourg with that thing( grin )?

    Too, Mum and Da had a VW Beetle that was semi-automatic but no push button. And ran a lot better then the R-10( once you figured the gearing out, wot? )

    Fun post! Cheers :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. So many uses for buttons.. Nice post.

    Stunned that I can remember my Mum's button box - I used to 'sort' the buttons on a regular basis.

    In fact, such a simple topic and yet so many memories....! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Alan, your post brings memories... nice to hear yours. Hey, I still darn socks! -J

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have a thing for old buttons and have a whole tackle box full. I keep my favorites sorted by color in the little cubicles. Nice post, Alan.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My mother STILL tries to fix my clothes! And I haven't lived with her since 1995!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Alan what is it about Quality Street Tins. As a child they were Christmas Sweets and the tin forever became a recepticle for odds and sods. Yep, my Gran and my mum had Quality Street Tins full of buttons. Thanks for reviving a fond memory. This Christmas, I'm buying a tin of Quality Street (mind I have to travel a long way to a lolly shop that sells Europan sweets to buy one)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fun trip through your button tin! I still save them, even though I don't always use them. And I remember my mom had a button container, too, a big old plastic jar of something or other.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This was fun! I still have a button jar, but you are right...the buttons rarely get sewn on something. I haven't thought about a short wave radio in years! It was so fun to turn that knob and make the red needle fine tune the station!

    ReplyDelete
  9. great tour through life through the eyes of your buttons. nicely done.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My mom had a button jar...

    "In those days clothes were repaired." That sentence alone implies so much.

    And you know I appreciated the comments about the Renault's pushbutton transmission!

    ReplyDelete
  11. We had a button tin at home too and it was always fun to take them all out and remember where those buttons were from :-)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for all the comments, glad you liked the post. I note that most of you still repair garments or at least save the buttons which makes me feel slightly guilty. Thus I will tomorrow established a real button tin. Baino, the reason why our old button tin was a Quality Street tin was that my father worked at the Mackintosh's factory. There was always a good supply of slightly dented tins available. I will see if I can get hold of a Quality Street tin to keep traditions going.

    ReplyDelete
  13. we had a button tin too. not because we actually sewed the buttons back onto our clothes when we needed them... it just kind of collected different buttons.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This is a good one! My mother and grandmother still have button tins...how useful they are!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Have bought jars at buttons at flea markets. Velcro works well but leaves no memories behind.

    ReplyDelete
  16. But can you darn socks?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Kris - the answer is sadly "no". But a quick Google search has brought up a YouTube instructional video on the subject. Watch this space.

    ReplyDelete
  18. You'll be pleased to hear we still have my mother's button collection, including some I think must be from my grandfather's WW1 uniform.

    ReplyDelete