A personal and global history in objects, Gillian Tindall traces the memories and meanings that accrue to the artefacts of human lives through time.
Before ordinary doctors had access to accurate pocket watches, they timed a patient’s pulse with a 30-second sandglass. A ‘pulse glass’ was a functional piece of medical equipment, designed to measure a life, never intended to survive for centuries. But Gillian Tindall inherited her great-great-grandfather’s pulse glass, which holds the heartbeats of many by-gone generations and offers a portal to nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish life, to her grandmother’s marriage and the assorted fates of the next generation.
Most of the objects that surround us, no matter how important in their time, will eventually be lost and forgotten. But a select few, for reasons of sentiment and chance, conservation and simple inaction, escape destruction and gain new meanings. A toy train, a stack of letters from long ago, a battered ivory figure. Each tells a different story: the destiny of local railways, travel across the world and village anecdotes, the value of what we inherit and the necessity of forgetting.
The Pulse Glass is an exploration of changing and expanding messages in objects that survive us. Tindall brings her signature eye for domestic history to bear on the physical remnants of lives lost, recent and ancient, unearthing stories and considering the nature of permanence. This is an elegant and clear-eyed reflection on memory from one of our best history writers.
Elegaic... Her books are carefully wrought acts of restoration... In The Pulse Glass, Tindall, now aged 81, reflects on a lifetime’s interest in historical recovery
Tindall writes with affecting precision... Reading this book feels like looking out of the window on a long train journey. One is lulled by the rhythms into deep reflection and inexplicable nostalgia for the lives and landscapes of others
An excellent suite of essays on transience and remembrance... Gillian Tindall is a high-minded Autolycus, devoted not merely to snapping up the “unconsidered trifles” of past lives but holding them to the light to glean the stories they might conceal
Tindall specialises in the overlooked, the underappreciated. She is very much a local historian, if you take that to mean that everything local can become universal; that the stories of ordinary people are as worth telling as the grand, the famous, the notorious... Tantalising... Tindall is a fine historian and writes with a wryness of everyday human foibles
Gillian Tindall has a richly furnished mind, as full of pigeonholes and secret drawers as an old-fashioned Victorian desk… Tapping at floorboards, exploring cellars, leafing through yellowing love letters…she unearths what she can about the worlds we have lost