Of all the injustices in this life, the one that has recently begun to pre-occupy me is this: You Can’t Take It With You. Every time I make a significant purchasea picture, a pottery jug I have visions of it appearing on eBay for £5 next to that little ‘buy it now’ sign before my mourners have reached the second verse of Amazing Grace.
The anxiety produced by these thoughts keeps me awake at night. I gaze at my collection of Bob Dylan records and then see them tossed into the skip. I polish my Moroccan tajine dish, slightly cracked but still valuable, and hear the clash as it’s dumped in the glass recycle. I look at my bound copies of Gourmet, 1969?1986, and hear the man in the Oxfam bookshop rejecting them.
Last week, when viewing the Bonham’s sale in the Athenaem, I suddenly realised that I was surrounded by furniture that had been consigned to the saleroom by faithless descendants who took one look at their inheritance and said:
‘Brown furniture. Let’s sell.’ By the bow-fronted chest of drawers I sat down and wept. My husband is bewildered by my behaviour. ‘Just update your will. That’s what a Codicil is for.’
Only now that reassuring word has been replaced by something called a List of Wishes, which sounds legally flimsy to me. Still, I began writing down names of godchildren, nieces, nephews and friends, and I went through the house making lists of all my treasures. The double strand of pearls with the diamond and sapphire clasp diamonds real, sapphire glass. The amethyst earrings that I wore at my wedding that need a minor repair. The rabbit foot key ring that has brought luck to me although, alas, no luck to the original owner.
The family lawyer took one look at my 32-page List and suggested that I simplify. I took that as a hint that I should begin distributing my worldly goods now so that I could see the joy in the eyes of my beneficiaries. I called my sister. ‘Now, don’t get worried. I’m fit as a fiddle but I’m doing my will. What do I have that you want?’
‘Oh lord. I don’t have room for anything. I’m trying to get rid of stuff.’ ‘Surely I have something you want. What about Mama’s diamond ring?’ ‘I have it already. I’ve had it for ten years.’ When Sam came home for half-term I called him into my room. ‘This is a quilt that your great grandmother made when she was a girl. I want you to have it.’ ‘Ma, this is for a baby bed. It’s a cot quilt. What am I going to do with it?’ ‘Save it for your first born.’ ‘I’m only 18.’
This isn’t as easy as I thought, but I haven’t lost heart. I’m putting tags and stickers on things, inscribing names with Indian ink. I’m not leaving anything to chance. Last night my husband poured a whisky into a small silver tumbler. He looked underneath. ‘Why does this have ‘Barnaby’ stuck on here?’ ‘He’s my godson.’ ‘But this is mine. I drink out of it every evening.’ I broke the news gently. ‘I know. But you can’t take it with you.’