They stand there in every house: boxes for putting things in.
Like our wrinkles, their metalwork betrays their age. A chest can have four generations of locks and hinges on it. The one at the Kent church of Yalding has pin hinges which betray its maker to have been working between 1350 and 1450. Yet its most recent hinge is 19th century.
And they haunt our stories too. Like the one which proved so compelling that several great English houses lay claim to it. It found its way into print in 1809 in a newspaper article in The Monthly Anthology And Boston review.
It concerns a wedding which goes horribly wrong.
A prosperous wedding, too, which took place at one of the great houses. After the speeches and the wine and the entertainment everyone felt like stretching their legs a little. And so a game of hide and seek was proposed.
The bride searched the house for a perfect place and settled on a surefire winner: the family coffer, a great oak dust-covered thing which sat hunched in the attic, handed from generation to generation; blackened wood with the quaintest locks and hinges.
She opened the lid and climbed in. And she made a fatal mistake in assuming that because the box was ancient, it would not be efficient. Those Mediaeval locksmiths knew their craft.
The lid clicked into place above her head, and she found she could not move it. And the box was so out of the way that no-one found it for a very long time.
Fifty years, to be exact.
It was not a pleasant surprise to find a dessicated corpse dressed in a bridal gown, when the new owners did a clear out of the old family’s effects.
The lady’s ghost is still playing hide and seek, with a slightly puzzled air, trapped in a time loop, searching for a man who went on to live a full and long life. He lies sleeping peacefully in the crypt, but she cannot settle.
Grim contents: but we all have boxes, some great and some very small, which hide our most precious things.
We stash them away, and then years later we open them, and gape at the contents: old photographs, jewellery we had forgotten, books archived, a postcard from someone we once loved.
There is a new version of this box: a cyber version. You stash things away online and forget about them and then you stumble upon them, and think, wow, did I really do that?
This morning, very early, I pottered off to a favourite coffer: my audioboo account. I love sound. I think it’s the perfect medium: books should be read aloud to hear the cadences, events recorded first hand.
There was an item, lodged in a dusty corner of the coffer, which I had not seen before.
I pressed play.
Have I told you about my daughter? Here at home we see this extraordinary soul in all her glory: but the rest of the world never sees it, for she is a worrier, locked in a world of anxiety which acts as a sort of mask to the world.
Maddie is not anxious when she talks to the recorder.
What I found was a recording of part of a book which Maddie wrote during the year. She adores Jacqueline Wilson’s books about a Victorian orphan, Hetty Feather, and her book mirrors Wilson’s closely. But the writing, and the reading, is all hers. Hand on heart, I have never heard it before in my life.
Maddie, as I type, is eleven years old.