When you move house at my age, the business of what to take and what to chuck requires a serious degree of discipline.
As one is sizing down not up, most of the ‘oh well, why not keep it’ stuff is inevitably heading for the skip. Even though you only ever used it once, the portable car TV you bought one afternoon in a motorway service station has to go. And while that breakfast bar in mahogany was fashionable in 1867 and then again in 1979, it isn’t in 2013 – probably because nobody eats kedgeree any more.
Another consideration is the cost of storage – as I’m not moving directly to another address. For a relatively small amount of stuff, it’s around £150 a month….not something to do for the long-term. So quite a bit of clutter has to be weeded out and offered to the auctioneer. He came round today, direct from Antiques Roadshow central casting. I kept hoping we’d stumble across a Faberge Egg, but the only thing he got remotely excited about was an old partner’s desk I’ve had for years. I got less than excited, as the price range he suggested was half what I paid for it.
However, the main discipline one needs is to look at something, decide, and then mark it ‘store’, ‘auction’, or ‘skip’. The thing to avoid is what I did today: look at everything and be transported back anything from fifteen to forty years in time. Doing this, I estimate, means it would take the average person twenty years to go through everything.
Ah yes, that bow-fronted corner cupboard. Dunkeld. 1977? I had that Audi Avant in bronze (dreadful colour, but very fast) and we put the seats down to get the cupboard home. The car broke down on the way back, and we spent a night in Sheffield, wandered round some antique shops the next day. Bloody Avant. It broke down in France on Christmas Eve the following year. That janitor drove us to a train so we could finish the journey. I remember he was pissed. I fell in a ditch going for help. Wonderful Christmas, that. Roger was in great form. Poor old Roger.
By the time a metal bear statuette from Berlin (1965), a deckchair from a photo shoot (1993), a Regency Chaise bought at Austins of Peckham (1982) and a chamber pot in pink and black (impulse purchase, 1990) had been studied and considered, I’d been at it half an hour. The skip, meanwhile, was empty – save for the four inches of snow that began falling like giant feathers one minute after it was delivered.
Books are the worst. Blimey, Supernature by Lyall Watson: I can’t throw that away. And as for The Pendulum Years by Bernard Levin – well, a classic. It contains a wonderful passage in which Levin is attending the Lady Chatterly obscenity trial in 1962. The then Guardian journalist relates how he heard the words “womb and bowels” intoned by the prosecuting counsel so many times during one cross-examination, he began to think of it as the name of a solicitors in Bournemouth.
Mind you, The Best of the Galloping Gourmet….not sure that’s stood the test of time. Our Story by the Four Pennies? Maybe that can go. But I couldn’t bear to be parted from those four volumes of Churchill’s History of the Second World War. They belonged to Auntie Myra. She had a letter from Churchill saying thank you for a letter she sent him. Her husband (Uncle Harry) had a handlebar moustache and knew Denis Thatcher. Poor old Harry.
It was dark by the time I got to a small, blue plastic wastebin from our bathroom in Telford Avenue. My younger daughter once did a poo in it, so it has a sort of sentimental value. My elder daughter used to poo in a toy car she had. Potty training is a long, tedious and hard road with many irrelevant diversions along the way. Would I throw the small memory out? Yes. Or perhaps not. Oh alright then. I won’t. But sod it, I must.
The skip is two-thirds full tonight, and I have a horrible feeling it may be too small for my needs. But at £130 plus VAT, it’ll have to do. I may have to jump up and down on the contents tomorrow: it’ll make further room, and serve as an alternative to the gym, which I won’t have time to visit. Later I need to let the utilities people know I’m going, close a bank account, tell the doctor I’m about to move, and send out some change of address cards.
The last of those chores will require another cull of the address book. Do I bother telling Maisy and Ted? They’re probably divorced by now anyway, they never did get on. Or dead. Didn’t get a Christmas card from Richard and Annie this year. Maybe they finally did stop talking about it and actually emigrate. But I must send a card to Carole and Bob, who used to be Carole and Mike, and then had two children very late in life. With Bob, not Mike. Actually she was with me at one point, but that was another lifetime in another place, when we were both far too young to know what we were about.
“Life’s a bitch and then you die”, or so the cheery American adage has it. Well, maybe I’ve been lucky, but for me its “fling the kitsch and then I’ll fly”. And there’ll be no flying without the flinging. Oh yes, as E L Whistey might have said, you have to have the flinging for the flying. But I’m not throwing away my school reports, not for anything or anyone. They will keep me amused until my dying day. “He will have to work much harder if he is to rise above mediocrity,” wrote G R Wood (Chemistry) in 1960. “He does at least try” wrote B S Hannaby (Maths) in 1962. And my favourite from 1961 via I D Jones (Woodwork), “He has no talent for carpentry, but his destructive powers are truly awe-inspiring”.
That is possibly true, although I’m loath to destroy detritus from the past. Nevertheless, the memories are more important than the litter, and so it has to go: it’s a nice place to visit is the past, but you wouldn’t want to live in it. As the man said, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.