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A Treasured Belonging Essay

What is YOUR most treasured object - and what does it have to say about the 20th century?

By Charlotte Kemp for the Daily Mail

Updated: 22:31 GMT, 25 June 2010


That's what a new Radio 4 show asked, and here are some of the extraordinary stories it revealed...

1900s: PARLOUR TABLE TENNIS SET

Past-time: Parlour table tennis

Marion Jacobs, 50, who works for the NHS, lives with her partner, Bob, near Stockport in Cheshire.

My great-grandfather used to play this game with his four siblings when he was growing up in Edinburgh at the turn of the century.

Their father was a plumber and, by all accounts, they were a very close family.

I like to think of them all playing this together in the parlour.

It's so different to the goings-on in my house today – my four children are often in their own rooms playing computer games.

1910s CIGARETTE CASE

Poignant: The owner of this cigarette case never returned from the trenches

Educational psychologist and father-of-two, Graham Pratt, 63, lives in Herts.

My grandfather's cigarette case, engraved with his initials, was among the belongings sent back to my grandmother after he was killed in the trenches in 1917.

Soldiers had very few comforts and it's so poignant to think this lighter was dragged into the conflict just like he was, only to be returned without him.

It has a small dent in it – the soldiers were said to keep these cases next to their heart and stories were told about them even stopping bullets.

My mother, his only child, was only three when he died, so she barely remembered her dad, but she has always treasured his case.

1920s DANCE CARD

Romantic age: Dance cards kept track of many blossoming relationships

Ernie Almond, 67, a children's entertainer, lives in Luton.

My most treasured object is a dance card, belonging to my mum, Ethel, from a dance she went to in 1924 at the local church institute. She was a lady's maid at a stately home called Mackerye End House in Hertfordshire.

My father, Jack, worked there, too, as an electrician, and his name is written against several dances.

But it's always tickled me that Mum saved the last dance for another chap called Ted.

Against another dance, she wrote 'Misery', so goodness knows who that was, but she was only 20 and very pretty so she probably had her pick of suitors.

To me, it's a reminder of a more romantic age. Later that year, Mum married my dad and they went on to have seven children.

1930s SHIRLEY TEMPLE DOLL

Spice Girl of the day: Shirley Temple

Electrical engineer Richard Morley, 60, and his wife, Rosemary, 55, live in Snaith, East Yorkshire.

When I was a boy, child actress Shirley Temple was a household name.

Dolls in her likeness were first produced in the 1930s – although the one that I own is a later copy.

My wife and I have been collecting toys for years.

We had so many that we started a small toy museum, which is open for four days a year, in a purpose-built shed at the bottom of our garden.

The Shirley doll always brings back memories for visitors.

When children ask who she is, we tell them she was the forerunner of the Spice Girl dolls you see today.

1940s LEICA CAMERA

Revolutionary: Leica camera

Andy Kohn, 62, works as a photographer and is also assistant principal of Killester College of Further Education in Dublin, where he lives with his wife Caroline, 46.

When my Czech father, Sigmund Kohn, fled the Nazis just before the war, this camera was one of the few possessions he managed to bring with him.

He was Jewish, and the rest of his family died in concentration camps. But he found refuge in the UK, where he met and married my mother.

After his death, 20 years ago, I went through rolls and rolls of his negatives and printed out a whole selection of pictures he took from the 1930s through to the 1960s.

He inspired my love of photography. The camera was revolutionary – it was smaller than any previous model and a template for today's cameras.

1950s PRESTON PAPERWEIGHT

First motorway memento: Preston paperweight

Photographer and management consultant Simon Palmour, 52, lives in York with his wife, Caroline, 45, and their 12-year-old daughter.

This paperweight was produced in 1958 to celebrate the opening of the first British motorway, the Preston Bypass. It belonged to my dad, and my mum gave it to me when he died.

I was born the year before, and I grew up feeling so proud that Preston had the country's first motorway. Before that, journeys down south used to take hours.

Every summer, we used to go down to the New Forest in Hampshire for our holidays, and my dad would drive all night. When I was eight or nine, the first service station opened further down the M6 and we used to go there for a day out.

1960s DANSETTE RECORD PLAYER

Birth of popular culture: Dansette record player

Andrew Lowe, 59, is a social work director. He lives in the Scottish Borders with his wife, Ruth, and their daughter, Phoebe.

My father gave me a Dansette Major record player just like this for Christmas, in 1961, and for years it was my prized possession. Until then, we could only listen to music in the living room on my father's radiogram – a radio and record player combined in a cabinet – all sitting there very soberly.

So it was very empowering to suddenly be able to play music in my bedroom. A child's room was a pretty stark environment back then, with no TVs or computers.

But I could play music to my heart's content, and I used to buy a new single every week. First it was the Shadows and Cliff Richard, then the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Technology later moved on, but I always regretted parting with my record player, so I recently tracked this one down and I now keep it in my office.

There is something so evocative about the way it clicks into life. It's a reminder not only of my own youth, but also of the birth of popular culture.

1970s SPEAKERS

Wild times: Speakers for blasting music

Fifty-seven-year-old computer programmer Gerald McMullon lives in Cambridge. He is divorced with one daughter.

I bought these speakers just after I left university, when I was teaching maths at a comprehensive school in Dagenham, Essex.

The rise of the home entertainment system, from record player to music centres and hi-fis, meant that everyone could listen to music in stereo.

My favourites were Motown and rock.

It was a wild time back then; I got married in 1976 and wore a white satin suit made in Carnaby Street, which I wore with a lace-up shirt that had puffed sleeves.

But I was never very keen on flares, because they used to hook over the front of your shoes and trip you up.

1980s PADDINGTON'S AUNT LUCY

Aunt Lucy: Cherished childhood toy

Lillian Middleton, 66, lives in Beverley, East Yorkshire, with her husband, Cyril, 68. They are both retired and have two grown-up children and five grandchildren.

My daughter loved Paddington Bear as a child, so when I saw this Aunt Lucy bear in a local toyshop in the early 1980s, I just had to buy it for her. It doesn't seem that long ago, but childhood has changed so much even in the space of three decades.

She was ten and still playing with bears at that age, and even had a pram, whereas older children now are too busy on their computers and iPods to care about such homespun things.

These days, there are shelves upon shelves of toys inspired by TV shows and most of them are plastic, but this bear was made to be a family heirloom.

A History Of The World In 100 Objects continues weekdays at 9.45am on BBC Radio 4. Go to bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld to add your own personal object to the growing collection – and to listen to all of the episodes so far.

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