The joy of button badges

Trying to reply to Needled’s recent post about button badges and failing to muster up adequately the words I wanted to find for the comments box, I abandoned that idea and decided to write a post on the subject instead. Like Needled, I find that button badges are nostalgic objects somehow associated with summer fetes and the stalls you’d find there. They also remind me of Camden market and my teenage trips up there where I would always find a faded velvet cushion adorned all over with badges. Whether browsing at the school fete or at Camden lock, most of the times I met button bagdes were idle times of pleasure and contemplation. They were always a very cheap item to buy, like a postcard… yet because it was going to be worn, it was somehow important to find the right one.

After a brief, teenage stint of avidly collecting political slogan badges reflecting my extreme views at the time, (meat means murder, here comes the war etc.) I abandoned all interest in button badges. For many years my delight in button badges remained dormant until, one day, chancing upon this button badge in a shop in Brighton, it was magically revived.

Matched with my inexplicable attraction to this object was a certainty that I knew where the image on it had come from. I have a far from photographic memory but certain images stay in my head forever and ever and I just knew I’d seen this image before. So I bought the button badge, partially because I loved the birds on the badge, and partially because I sensed intrigue, mystery, and a quest – albeit a very tiny one – locked up in this object.

In a charity shop about 8 months or so ago, I spotted this book. It is a Ladybird picture book and I am sure most people my age, a bit older and a bit younger, have hazy recollections of this and its related publications. I don’t remember us actually owning this book, but I’d also be amazed if we hadn’t had it at some point; it’s something of a childhood classic.

When I found it on the shelf of the charity shop for 10p, I was suddenly filled with a rush of excitement and anticipation. I flicked immediately to b for birds, where I found this:

I was wearing the badge at the time and so was able to verify that yes, this childhood book, locked away in some inaccessible corner of my mind, was the source of my memory of the image on the badge. I bought the book and now the badge and its source remain in my studio, reunited.

I am still a bit confused as to why this, of all images, should have somehow remained in my unconscious, imaginative memory. I am puzzled by the potency of the birds, the resonance of the image and its inexplicable value to me. The badge and the book together feel to me like knitted cakes; inordinately beautiful things that make me happy and connect me to parts of myself I can’t articulate or access through the ordinary ‘clever’ route of words and rational thought.

In many ways this is not such an amazing story; I coincidentally found a button badge featuring an image I subconsciously remembered from a very popular childhood book and then was lucky enough to stumble upon the (extremely common!) book in a second hand store.

…But perhaps because of the qualities of the button badge itself, its rounded, sealed, pleasing neatness and its potential to be worn almost like jewelry or a talisman, this tiny little story feels imaginative, nostalgic and personal to me. I loved the discovery of the original image and the button badge reminds me somehow that if I really want to find something, I usually do.

Perhaps it goes back to the idea of finding the right one; maybe – because of their jewelry like aspect or because we fancy that they ‘say’ something about us, we are able to read more deeply into the associations and memories that they trigger?

4 Responses to The joy of button badges

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