“Cellulose.” The word leapt out of a conversation.


I don’t even know what cellulose is, yet the word conjured a picture of a man driving a van from our village to Langport, our local town.

What could cellulose have to do with a man in a van? I looked up the word. BBC Bitesize says:

Cellulose is the main substance in the walls of plant cells, helping plants to remain stiff and upright. Humans cannot digest cellulose, but it is important in the diet as fibre.

There seemed no obvious connection between the substance of plant cells and the imagined driver. He was driving a van pulling a wooden trailer containing machinery.

No matter how much I concentrated, I couldn’t visualise the man clearly. He was driving along the road near a part of the parish called Picts’ Hill.

I thought hard and “cellulose” was joined by the word “thinners.” I knew what thinners were, they were used by painters and decorators. That made sense, the man with the van and trailer was a decorator. The trailer would have been for his ladders, and whatever other equipment might not have fitted in his van.

But why would a single word have evoked such a memory? Was there some significance that is now long lost?

DIY was still a thing of the future. Hardware shops existed, but nothing comparable to the sort of stores now taken for granted where you can buy all that is needed for household decoration. Paint was much less easy to use. Decorating equipment was much less versatile. Buying your own paint and equipment would have been an expensive undertaking. If they wanted painting and decorating done, many people would have paid for someone to do it. There must have been many painters and decorators in our community, why does a single one linger in the memory?

Perhaps the decorator was some symbol of free enterprise. Perhaps he represented the numerous small businessmen who worked in our area. Perhaps the van was like that of the tradesmen and the craftsmen and the entrepreneurs and the salesmen who were commonplace in times before the dominance of big corporations. Perhaps he had been working at the house of a neighbour, making his van recognizable. Perhaps he was just someone known to our family, “there’s so and so’s van.”

Whatever the source of the memory, there is something in the subconscious that made cellulose a significant word.


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