• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 02
Image by


My grandmother was protected by a small army.

The small army lived inside a glass display case in her living room, they watched over her, protecting the treasures that she had collected over the years. They were a tiny but formidable bunch whose life’s work was protecting priceless items such as the tea-towel my whole class decorated in 1996 and a collectable plate of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s 1982 wedding.

The army was made up of a variety of glass, pewter and porcelain objects arranged in a triangle formation. At the head of this army was “the family heirloom”, sometimes called Dusty, sometimes called Brushy, a figurine that has puzzled the family for generations. No one could quite work out what the figurine was of, what it meant, or what it symbolised. My grandmother knew, but she would ask us to guess.

Holding court in her living room, always wearing her Sunday-best no matter what the day, she would smile and laugh from her high-backed comfy chair watching her children, then grandchildren, then great-grandchildren try to work out what it was. The porcelain figure had boots, and potentially a midriff, but no other discernible human features. It had a red porcelain wing, and a huge mane made from what I think, or hope, was horse hair. As a child I thought it was a troll, my mother thought it was a bird, my uncle guessed a flower and my cousins incorrectly identified it as a ladybird. We used to beg her to end the mystery, she would laugh, the light reflecting from her brooch as her chest moved up and down. Since charging Brushy with the job of protecting her valuables in 1961, she has only ever given out three clues. It’s old, it’s from China and her great-uncle gave it to her.



After a sudden period of illness in 2007, my grandmother passed away. As a family we sorted through a life-time of belongings, eventually clearing the flat and giving the keys back to the council. We packed up her boxes and gave many of her belongings to charity. My mother took the tea-towel, Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah moved to an Oxfam shop on the high-street and for some reason, Brushy was left to me.

Now as an army of one, Brushy stands atop my fireplace and protects family photos, including a framed picture of my grandmother. Over the years my nieces and nephews and friends’ children have come to visit and they point to Brushy and want to know what he is. I smile and ask them to guess. They have identified him as a soldier, Father Christmas and a Pokémon from the olden days. I laugh and look at the picture of my grandmother. The light reflects on the glass as my chest moves up and down. She smiles back at me as I give them three clues: it’s old, it’s from China and my grandmother gave it to me.