Monday, April 5, 2010


I'm really not at all sure what possessed me, when I moved here, to buy a folksy mailbox with a moderately ineptly painted pineapple on it (I suspect that it was a late night ebay brainwave), though I've ended up being very fond of it. The pineapple, it would seem, is a symbol of hospitality, of warmth - slightly oddly, one might think, for they are rather angular and spiny, and not at all the kind of fruit one might hug. The argument goes that they were sweet - and when taken back to early Renaissance England, they were unusual among fruit for being sweet (or, one might say, that sweet, since there are plenty of nectarines and apricots and curious peaches dropping their way around Renaissance writing). Still, whatever the origin of the associations, it makes sense to paint them on a mailbox outside the front door.

But. When I was little, and we lived in Naworth Castle, in Cumberland, all the posts on the turns in the stairs in the Morpeth Tower - the tower that we rented - had dark oak carved pineapples on them, and I'm quite sure that's why, at some level, I fell for this mail box. I was always told that these had been carved after the great fire of 1844, which a hundred and twenty years later still worried people as a precedent, and that these pineapples were protection against fire (and I'm sure that there was a Victorian fire insurance company whose symbol was a pineapple?). Curiously, I just found an Illustrated London News page documenting the fire for sale on ebay: I've always thought that my dread and horror of fire might have come from people talking, at Naworth, about what we would do if it ever happened again. But maybe I could even, at a historically minded neighbor's, have come upon these illustrations? If I'd seen the second one, full of sizzling canvases and exploding suits of armor, it would explain a lot. I can't, through googling, however, find any links between pineapples and fire prophylactics.

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