Monday, March 31, 2008


I got a bit carried away with my tidying spree and what wasn't thrown out ended up in boxes in the back of a van, and now we live in Lancaster.

We've moved into a lovely old stone house, bright and solid and satisfyingly sturdy looking, just as well since it faces into the prevalent wind.

The road is narrow and I imagine in years gone by there may have been washing lines draped between houses and their opposite numbers, rag and bone men, grubby urchins kicking cabbages and spreading diphtheria, bunting on special occasions, street parties for the coronation, that sort of thing. I'm looking forward to swatting up on local history.

The garden is pretty much a blank canvas so in due course I'll be setting about it with a rusty spade and some compost, but in the meantime I'm waiting in for the flat pack man to deliver us into book shelves and wardrobes.

I'm still getting used to where everything lives: it's taking a little time to bed down kitchen cupboard-wise, so for example the breakfast cereal may not necessarily be where it was yesterday and discovering where potatoes live is a job in itself. Everything is taking a while to find its own level, jostling for position like it at the start of a Grand Prix. Even the fridge announces its pleasure.

Downstairs there's a wood burning stove which makes a boy feel manly to the power of ten, and upstairs I have a lovely new Attic Studio Complex to fantasise about being creative in.
There are whole new vistas to feast my eyes upon. To my right I see rooftops and chimney pots and trees and tidy streets and houses on hills, behind me is a huge derelict looking warehouse and beyond that the river and – most excitingly of all – I have only the sketchiest idea of where I am.
I know that if I'm quiet at any moment I may hear a train go by, and on match days I can hear football fans singing. If I'm feeling daring I might leave the house without a map. To a twerp like myself it's all wonderfully romantic and I'm hoping it stays that way.

Today is Girl On A Train's first day on her new route to work, which I'm hoping to read about when she gets in. I've already got the tea ready, albeit without all the required ingredients on account of not being able to find them, and I'm more or less on top of things, which is such a nice feeling.
Right now I'm off to audit pants and socks, reorganise my trousers and count my blessings, assuming I can discover which box they're in.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Paper and Glue 

My Mum is a compulsive hoarder.

If she has a new carpet, or fridge, or any other household item you could care to mention, the old one always ends up in the attic. Her house is top heavy with packaging from kettles ancient and modern, long forgotten sofas, broken radio cassette players she hopes might one day resurrect themselves and spring back into active service.
She thinks she's being wise - “I've thrown away so many things only to regret it later” – but all I see is slavery.
She's allowed herself to become not the owner of all this stuff, but owned by it.

There are one or two gems amid the junk though.
My favourite is a box of Christmas tree lights that my Dad would patiently nurse back to life every December. I can see him now – tumbler of Glenfiddich in one hand, voltmeter in the other – chuckling as he read the instruction he'd written years before inside the lid. It's a time capsule to himself.


He would have been one hundred this year.

I'm worried that I've inherited the hoarding gene.
I spent the weekend attempting to practise what I preach, clearing out cupboards of objects I no longer have a use for.
Every now and then Girlfriend would poke her head round the door and tell me how brave I was, what good progress I was making, but the truth is that I was operating at a snail's pace.

Among the things I threw out: an almost full box of Ilford black and white photographic paper, 10 x 8, 100 sheets; ditto Kodak colour paper; a load of perfectly good darkroom equipment – enlarger, safelight, thermometer, measuring jug, tongues and so on; wedding album accessories from a previous career that never took off.
They'd sat ignored in cupboards for several light years and the digital toys that usurped them are a million times better, but it still felt shocking to chuck it all away.
Even worse, what are you supposed to do with old pre-digital cameras? Surely they're not destined for the bin bag too?

What next? Two hundredweight of Q magazines. Unread in years and less lovable than I remembered. I've decided to mark them, then leave them lying around in train station waiting rooms, just to see if any fly back home again. It's not like there's a global shortage of reading matter.

Speaking of which, how about my wince inducingly bad teenage diaries? Excruciating to glance through now, I can't believe the passing of time will do them any favours. And yet, and yet...
Could I bin them? Should I? Does their continued existence add to the sum of human happiness? They don't add to mine. Would I miss them? Nope.

It's madness to allow yourself to be governed by the tyranny of stuff, so it's a no brainer, but on the other hand I don't want to be rash.
Surely teenage diaries - no matter how irritating - are more than just stuff, in the same way that my Dad's Christmas lights memo is more than just stuff. It's just a scrap of cardboard but it's more precious than gold.

I already know where this is going. I'll take my Mum's lead. Stick the bloody diaries in a box in an attic and one day it can be someone else's business. Job done.
The curse of the hoarding gene will outlive the lot of us.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, told us to fold our index and middle fingers toward the palms of our left hands.
“Then place your right thumb under your left nostril to block it up,” she said.
“Do we fucking have to?” asked Mike. “I've got stuff to be getting on with.”
“Inhale with your right nostril and count to four,” she said. “Then gently pinch your right nostril with your left index finger and count to sixteen.”

We think Mike has given up wanking for lent. He's been skipping his usual 10:30 and 3:30 rest breaks for a month now and the tension is getting to all of us.
If it's true, I suggest everybody carries an umbrella on Easter Sunday - when it blows, that thing's going to go off big style. In the meantime his belligerence-o-meter is ratcheting unprecedented highs, so Stella is trying to keep us calm with desk yoga.
“Release your thumb and exhale through your left nostril. Gently does it, guys.”

Mike spent “all fucking weekend” on server moves for Fat Bastards' Pizza Shack, who are moving to new offices in Bamber Bridge. The work consisted of piling loads of IT equipment into a van, tying it down to stop it rolling about, dropping it off at the new place, returning to the old premises, then repeating over and over. Load it up, tie it down, drive, bring it off again, and so on, and so on, “ad fucking nauseum.”
Today he just wanted to chill but Stella made him do yoga instead.

“Now inhale through your left and count to ten,” said Stella. “Hold it, then breathe out through your right.”
“Sorry please,” asked Ivan the Terribly Thorough. “Again. Where should I be breathing?”
Ivan often sits in during our team meetings. This morning, I'd asked if he'd mind leaving his bucket of bleach outside the office as it was making me sneeze. He obviously didn't hear me because the bucket stayed put by the door until Creepy Keith from Accounts charged into the room and knocked it flying.

“I've had the worst weekend in the history of weekends,” Keith complained. Mike looked like he could swing for him.
“BFH,” said Stella. Everybody sneezed.
“Shut the fuck up, Keith," said Mike. "We're trying to do yoga here.” I handed out kitchen towels.
Stella, determined to see her lesson through to the end, gritted her teeth to centre herself, then explained how this exercise balances the brain’s serotonin, the chemical that regulates happiness.
Keith grumbled that he'd been on a disastrous date on Saturday and hadn't experienced happiness in donkey's years.
“I bet it wasn't much fun for the donkey either,” said Ivan. “I'm with Stella on this. Boo fucking hoo.”

At this point Keith pushed Ivan, who landed in Mike's lap, sending toast in many directions at once.
“Air is pushed to the bottom of the lungs,” shouted Stella, “releasing harmful toxins when you breathe out.”
Mike caught Keith with a left hook, splitting his bottom lip.
Keith yelped as blood spurted down his shirt, and was about to strike back when he slipped in the pool of bleach and hit the ground with a heavy thud. He sat there for a few moments, incandescent with rage while everybody either smirked or sneezed or both, before storming out of the room, hollering about his delicate skin and expensive suit, and how somebody was going to pay for this.
“Man up, why don't you?” Ivan called after him, and Stella said, “You will feel relaxed after this exercise, particularly in the shoulder area.”
All over the floor soggy pieces of bleached toast lay scattered, some splattered with blood. Mugs lay resting where they had fallen.
“You may even experience a heightened feeling of perception,” said Stella who, perceiving there to be no further business, called the meeting to a close.

This evening, after the going home bell had rung and everyone had scarpered, I discussed recent events with Stella while she prepared her next session.
“Mike got all that kit to Fat Bastards' new gaff then,” I said.
“If you feel people’s negativity clinging to you, simply wipe it away,” she replied.
“Seems odd to think about him actually doing some work for a change.”
“Use energetic sweeping motions with your hands as if dusting yourself down.”
She swung her arms in wide, wild circles.
“As you wipe, tell yourself: ‘I am removing all traces of...'” and her arms sped up, as if she was a helicopter about to take off.

This went on for two or three minutes. It was like she'd fallen into some eighties style yuppie witch doctor trance.
Oh crap, what if she's having a seizure?
I was about to call for help when she eventually slumped into her chair and was suddenly super calm, beatific.

“He made a bloody big fuss about it though, didn't he?” I said. “I mean, it was only a few trips in a van.”
“Too right, Tim,” she agreed, her voice softened now, completely relaxed. “My friend Becky is always asking me to tie her up and bring her off ,” she sighed, “and you never hear me complaining.”
“Didn't Ivan do a great job tidying up in here?” I said. “Just smell it! Mmm, now that's alpine fresh.”

Outside my window the car park was almost empty.
Rex the Security Guard was on his rounds, tending to some storm battered daffodils. Geraldine the Company X goat followed close behind, chewing on his extension lead.
I checked that Stella was going to be okay – Blackberry? Check. Bottle of Evian? Check – then made my excuses and headed for home.

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