When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Billy Ocean often used to say. There are times when Mr Ocean is wholly correct, of course. But there are occasionally moments in life when we are out of control, where all that is called for is a retreat into madness, a lapse of strength and an abandonment of the stoic front. One day when I was much younger and persistently moaning about swimming at school, my dad told me, ‘sometimes in life, you just have to do things you don’t want to do.’ I have never forgotten it. I would use it every time I had to revise Chemistry, manage a cumbersome team, compete on Channel 5 against the Countdown champion when every other contestant had only been on The Weakest Link. Now, many years later, my dad’s words have come back to loom large over his cruelly reduced life. Mostly he uses them too, and forges ahead irrespective of what fresh hurdle the cosmos plonks down on his particularly painful track. But every so often, and with good reason, he falters, because of events entirely without his control; the hurdle growing so high it is insurmountable. Those of a stronger mettle than me might disagree, but I tend to think that there is great solace in beautiful, solid objects; their unflinching sameness over hundreds of years. After visiting him in hospital today, I too felt a loss of control, a gnawing lack of choice. But instead of reaching for the nearest table glass, I spent half an hour rooting through boxes. Finding faded photographs, school books, medical records and postcards en route, I was only after one thing: the beautiful, old, jade wine goblet with a cup etched with florals, a rim so thin you could almost cut your lips, a stem so pleasingly clutchable you can bolt a gulp of wine or throw it at a wall with equal relish. We all have to do stuff we don’t want to do. But when the going gets really tough, you can still choose to do things properly.


Green goblet

Painted stool: Nuthall jumble, Painted wooden box: NGHS, Green wine glass: the Barretts


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