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Holland Park Press

Mr Soapy and Other Inanimate Objects

8 May 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

I recently watched an interview on BBC Breakfast with a representative of the Cloud Appreciation Society and the author of a book called Clouds That Look Like Things.

Viewers responded by sending in an enormous quantity of photos of clouds with recognisable shapes, such as dolphins, rabbits and ‘Margaret Thatcher’.

Seeing an identifiable object in the shape of a cloud is perfectly normal. We know from the invention of the Rorschach test, a psychological test which asks people to interpret the shape of inkblots, that this is partly due to projection or misperception. Not surprisingly, the inkblot resembles something that is very much in your thoughts. The same is obviously also true for clouds, so that you suddenly think: aha, two copulating rabbits.

Interpreting inanimate objects isn’t confined to clouds. There was once a woman in Florida who saw the image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast, and Jesus has been spotted on a cheese pizza.

It’s very human to attribute emotions to inanimate objects. I remember my Aunt Jeanne saying that Uncle Wim had taken ‘Betsy to the bathroom’. Betsy was a detergent, but even so.

It all starts when you are very young; in my case it centred on Pim Pam the Doll. Pim Pam was a somewhat grubby, faded rag doll, handmade by my aunt, but for some years Pim Pam was an important person in my life.

I don’t know what has become of Pim Pam, but thinking about it makes me feel emotional. I can form quite an attachment to inanimate objects; ashtrays, for example.

One of these ashtrays belonged to my grandfather, a grandfather who would have liked to be a writer. Because I light up rather a lot of cigars, not a day goes past without my thinking of him. Another is a silver ashtray bought on Portobello market, a present from my sister. This ashtray is so splendid that I have never used it.

That’s why I can’t throw anything away; for example, a purple bracelet that a woman of my own age has put around my bicycle handlebars and a beer mat with her kiss in lipstick. They’ve now been added to my archive.

And Uncle Henk’s permanent resting place is under my desk. Well, not Uncle Henk in person, but his personal paperwork. He left it to me in his will; Uncle Henk and Aunt Wil didn’t have any children.

Returning to ashtrays just for a moment, the one time I take someone home, the first thing she does is to take the silver-ashtray-not-for-use onto the balcony to smoke a cigarette. She put the ashtray right on the edge. I didn’t say anything, but I knew my ashtray was afraid of heights. Well, I can even become attached to Mr Soapy.

I have to explain this so that you don’t get the wrong end of the stick. Mr Soapy is a handwash in a pump-bottle. Actually, it’s just called Soapy. There is also Mr Soapy for children, but it doesn’t have a nozzle, just a cheerful picture. I’m talking about Soapy for grown-ups with a nozzle: my ‘Mr Soapy’.

For years I wouldn’t go on a camping trip because I ‘had my fill of camping in the army’. I had finished with camping. A few years ago I went back to it and, to my amazement, I enjoyed it. It was the perfect environment to make me do absolutely nothing, and that’s when Mr Soapy entered my life.

Mr Soapy turned out to be very handy on the campsite. No need to put a piece of soap down on dirty washbasins, and besides, Mr Soapy looked quite amusing, like a small man with a long nose wearing a cap. Mr Soapy went with us everywhere; he was allowed to travel on the car dashboard, because it gave him a ‘better view’.

Now I catch myself feeling a bit sorry for him every time I see Soapy (Mr Soapy) on the supermarket shelves. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve recently spotted Mr Soapy as a cloud and I was reminded of holidays under a clear blue sky. Maybe I should consider writing a book: The Importance of Mr Soapy and Other Inanimate Objects.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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