Reviews

‘Christine Poulson’s wonderful sense of place brings Cambridge to life. Cassie overcomes the problems facing her with wit and guile aplenty and ensures the reader’s empathy from first word to last . . . an enthralling and engaging read that underlines Christine’s burgeoning reputation as a crime novelist to watch.’ [Stage Fright]

- SHOTS MAGAZINE

Packing Up a Life

My husband, the architectural historian and critic, Peter Blundell Jones, died in August 2016. It all happened very fast. I didn’t think to ask him where he wanted his archive to go and he didn’t leave any instructions in his will. It is an important body of material. In the course of his career Peter had interviewed leading architects all over Europe, taken millions of photographs, and kept all the research material for the books he had written. After a lot of thought and consultation with the children, I decided it should go to the University of Sheffield. The School of Architecture had been his academic home for the last twenty-two years of his life and it was where he had consolidated his reputation. He was happy there and was loved and respected. I felt confident that this was the right place.

It was, however, just the beginning of my job as Peter’s literary executor. Over the last year I have been preparing his archive for transfer to the university and that has been no small task. It wasn’t just that there was a huge amount of material – Peter kept EVERYTHING – but it was completely unfiltered. His correspondence was particularly problematic as it was ordered simply in chronological order, the personal mingling with the professional. Peter kept almost every scrap of correspondence, however trivial. One of the first letters in a box that I opened at random was from my lovely late mother-in-law thanking us for cooking Christmas dinner. I had to go through everything, picking out letters too personal to go into the archive, right back to the 1960s, years and years before I met him. I have had through my hands virtually every letter that Peter ever received. He often kept copies of letters that he sent, so sometimes I saw the other side of the correspondence, too. I began to feel like someone in a story by Borges, living someone’s life by proxy, going further and further into the past, almost overwhelmed by the deluge of information.

I have finished now. Forty-eight boxes are waiting to go to the university when lockdown ends. It has been poignant – heart-breakingly so at times – but it has also been wonderful to relive our years together. I have a sense of the whole of Peter’s life and can see how rich and rewarding it was. As for me, my task has been a labour of love, and also a way of grieving.

22 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    June 15, 2020

    Thank you for sharing this part of your husband’s legacy, Christine. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for you, and I give you credit for getting through it. I wish you well as you keep moving on.

    Reply
  2. tracybham
    June 15, 2020

    This is a lovely post, Christine. Thanks for sharing this experience. You and Peter were lucky to have each other.

    Reply
  3. Pauline Wainwright
    June 15, 2020

    So wonderful that you have finished this incredible task. Peter would be so proud of you. I know I am .xx

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 16, 2020

      Thank you, dear friend. There was a bit of artistic license in my post, as there is still the digital archive to do – but that won’t trigger as many memories or take me back to the days before Peter and I met. I am going to wait a while before I tackle that.

      Reply
  4. Josh Pachter
    June 15, 2020

    What a labour of love, Chrissie! The University of Sheffield will be fortunate to receive this wealth of material.

    xoxoxo from the US,
    Josh

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 16, 2020

      Thanks, Josh. Hugs to you and Laurie. Looking forward to seeing you again one day . . .

      Reply
  5. Bill Selnes
    June 16, 2020

    What a journey you have been on going through those archives. It is clear so many memories have been returned to you. At my office I find it difficult to destroy many old files because of the memories they bring back to me. Still they must go. Space is needed and more memories are made with new files. During the pandemic I went through my desk at home. I had not realized how many odds and ends of life were scattered through the drawers. I sent some involving my sons, now 35 and 37, to them. Others I kept for me. I know a reckoning will come some day of all the personal paper around me. I hope someone who cares as much as you did for your husband will go through my life on paper. All the best. God Bless.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 16, 2020

      Thank you, Bill. Yes, very hard sometimes to throw things out. I am more ruthless in that way than Peter, but all the same, hanging on to things is an occupational hazard of being a historian. And it is not that much better being a writer because ‘I might use that in a novel one day’ is now the excuse!

      Reply
  6. Helen Hardie
    June 16, 2020

    What a beautiful way to conclude the services to a beloved. I work with paliative care (volunteer ‘work’ that is). And I see folk who, like me, will find your lovely story reassuring and encouraging . Do you mind if I sometimes pass your post on to others?

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 16, 2020

      Thank you, Helen. Please do pass on my post to others. I’d be happy to feel that it might be of comfort.

      Reply
  7. Moira@Clothes in Books
    June 16, 2020

    What a perfect post to round off what must have been a challenging but rewarding task. You wrote about it beautifully.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 16, 2020

      Thank you, Moira. It is not quite the end in fact as there is still the digital archive to deal with. But that won’t be so hard.

      Reply
  8. Sarah Battarbee
    June 18, 2020

    I felt this almost as if you were saying it to me Chrissie. We have known each other for a long time and seen each other through some experiences but this one you have done by yourself, and I can’t imagine how joyful and sad and moving it must have been to have been so close to him without him being there. One of the responses says you were lucky to have each other and i think that is absolutely right. Please do let’s have tea at Mellor’s soon and clink cups to the great man. xxx

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 18, 2020

      Bless you, Sarah. Indeed, young (!) mums together, as we were. And yes it was all of that, going through the archive. Looking forward to that cup of tea . . .

      Reply
  9. Amanda Rainger
    June 18, 2020

    Bravo Dearest C.
    Only you could have done it.

    Reply
  10. Bryan lawson
    June 19, 2020

    Knowing you both as I do I found this touching account of your labour hard to read without a tear forming in the eye. It reminds me of the biography of Beethoven which I read not long ago where the great man pens a letter to someone he calls Immortal Beloved. Peter was already immortal in terms of what he published but who knows what some future student might make out of this archive and create new life from it. I know in my heart that Peter would have approved. I close my eyes and see that slightly quizzical smile he often used to wear when we debated.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      June 23, 2020

      Thanks so much, Bryan, and now it is my turn to be moved . . . Yes, I hope and think that he would have approved.

      Reply
  11. Carol
    June 26, 2020

    Hi Chrissie,
    I’ve finally been able to open this !
    Thank you for writing x

    Reply

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