Picture the scene, if you will.
It's 1995, it's a Saturday night and you're waiting for the Big Big Movie on RTÉ One to start and this week, it's 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and you've set the recorder to tape it. And where are the spare videos? They're not underneath the telly and they're not in the recorder either. No, they're in the brass box by the fireside.
The finer details may be different, but without a doubt, the most ubiquitous item in an Irish household outside of an Italia '90 Irish jersey, a Child Of Prague or a tape cassette of 'Christy Moore: Live At The Point' was a brass box that depicted some kind of fanciful scene embossed across the sides of it and an intricate pattern across the top. When you opened up the inside, it was made of deep, hardened wood and smelled like smoke and secrets.
If there wasn't one there, odds are your aunt, your next-door neighbour or your friend's house had one. Some held turf, others held coal. Some held a random assortment of 'GI Joe' action figures and Lego bricks. Others held a varied collection of videos containing 40 minutes of 'Jaws' interrupting a random episode of 'Fair City'. Besides holding whatever unplaced item in the house, the brass box also acted as a second stool. Put a cushion on it, and it's the place where someone perches with a cigarette and fires off smart alec comments throughout a family visit.
The real reason why brass boxes such as these were so commonplace was that they often made the perfect housewarming or wedding gift. They were cheap, but substantial. The brass box looked expensive, but were reasonably priced. Practical, but had in them the appearance of luxury. So where did they all go?
Well, when Ireland eventually pulled its way out of the semi-permanent recession of the '90s and entered into the hallowed Celtic Tiger era, fireplaces fell dormant and range cookers were replaced by central heating and space heaters. Like so many things in the Ireland of the '90s, they were quickly replaced by paninis and a second home in Bulgaria that you bought off plans and visited once a year.
The fireplace was replaced by a mantelpiece that held a vase with long sticks. The brass box was replaced by, well, nothing. Odds are you'll still see them, but only in places where the old world still holds on. They're empty now, and store only memories inside them.