Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Long life: I lost more than just a necklace when my comforting keepsake went missing

Many of us, including my twenty-five year old friend, seem to be grappling with a sense of loss 
September 6, 2023

I have never been one for wearing jewellery. If I have a posh do to attend that demands a bit of glitz, I borrow some diamonds from a shop in Burlington Arcade. But I have worn one piece almost constantly through the years: an antique golden chain on which I’ve hung reminders of lost loved ones—my mother’s wedding ring, my dad’s signet ring and gold bands that represent my two marriages. Embracing my neck, they have accompanied me whenever something celebratory or sad has happened in my life. I have, I know not how, recently lost this comforting keepsake, and I am shocked by how bereft I have felt. 

This absent gold chain has come to represent a general feeling of loss that comes with old age. “Is he/she still alive?” has become a regular query when talking of old friends. My hearing, my sight, my balance and my memory are all in need of apparatuses or strategies to stem the pace of their exit. In the wider world—with its AI, climate change, gender identity—life for everyone has become a whirligig of loss and change. 

I recently visited a town I used to live near called Malmesbury. Because people more often shop online or at big out-of-town stores these days, the high street is now full of charity shops and gaping holes with notices that bid goodbye “with heavy heart” after years of trading. One big shop, called Knees, used to stock everything. My husband once searched John Lewis for what we called a sink tidy (a triangular shaped tray with holes to put in the sink for receiving tea leaves). “No sir, with waste disposal units nobody stocks those anymore.” Knees did! But they, and many other shops, have gone. The high street is dead.

I went into the abbey hoping for a quiet moment, only to find the pews all gone and a busy shop and café in their place. Jesus would, I suspect, have been a bit cross at the transformation of his temple. But, of course, it is a sensible use of a big church that is no longer needed, and my nostalgia is misplaced.

But what, I wonder, does an elderly resident of Malmesbury make of all these changes in their lifestyle and environment? Among my friends of all ages I feel a sense of bewilderment. A young woman of 25 told me the other day that she was really frightened of the future.

And where do we find a vision and plan to deal with that fear? Where is the leadership—Attlee, Churchill, Iraq-War-notwithstanding Blair? Thatcher, I suppose? Gandhi, Pankhurst and my dad? We are lost and confused. With the right leaders, we could use our superb human skills and the impetus of these new challenges to create a magnificent future. 

But what have we got instead?

Tinpot revolutionaries and murderous dictators abound worldwide—and we are led at home by incompetent politicians without any semblance of a moral compass. Classic examples are Matt Hancock, the feeble-minded, craven namesake of mine who ended up eating a camel’s penis, and the woman who destroyed the economy in a few days but still pops up to give us advice. Then there is another woman—lead worshipper at the shrine of the Tousled Toerag—who set out to destroy the BBC, Channel 4 and the arts, and is sulking because she wasn’t made a peer for her efforts.

However, in this depressing column I want to tell you of one positive event.

I found on eBay a gold chain bearing rings. It wasn’t mine, but it seemed an apposite replacement. My daughter tried to bid for it in an auction, but it all went too fast. I traced the person who won, and asked if they would let me have it. I discovered that the necklace had been given to the successful bidder by his parents when he was a child. It was stolen in a burglary 34 years ago and he had been looking for it ever since. 

Well, I have not got 34 years, but with those I have left, I must endeavour to replace the pain of loss with hope.