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Dean Whitbread 2013

Dean Whitbread 2020

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Written on October 17, 2005, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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Although the site of well coordinated decor and hygenic bathroom and kitchen surfaces can produce in me a glow of contentment and an expression of satisfaction you might find ordinarily in OCD sufferers, or in women of a certain age suppressing a certain inner rage, whose children have left home and them with little to do except preen house and garden, I am not obsessive about tidyness. I explain to everybody that the house I grew up in contained five children and two working adults, and there was never enough space or time to get the place straight. Mr Hawking once tried to explain otherwise to me, saying that my concepts simply needed adjusting, and that anyway domestic black holes were not factual, merely descriptive, but I was in no mood to listen.

Everyone was incredibly protective about their stuff but nobody would clear up after themselves. Tidying meant that someone, the designated tidier, would take all the small piles of stuff from the living room and put them in one big pile in the dining room. You would say goodbye to any book you once had after tidying. You could lose your homework, your bicyle pump, your best shirt, or your girlfriend, and the place would still in fact remain in an appalling mess. You would open the cutlery drawer and find a hammer, open the front door and find Encyclopaedia Britannica. Breakfasts were chaotically deranged, a fight to find food, which there always was, somewhere, followed by a fight for space, a perch for cereal bowl or plate with slices of toast, and tea, glorious tea. Those first precious minutes of the day are now breathtakingly peaceful, sans family, sans mess, and sans Mother.

My delightful mother grew up in a modern household during the second world war, and became a tremendous force for social good, being a woman who understood the value of education, of history, of physical, emotional and cultural health, but she was a hoarder, and like many who lived through war rationing, especially lax on discarding old food gone past its use by date.

When I read about the oldest noodle, I recalled visiting the family home several years after I had ceased to live there. She proudly showed me her new kitchen, lots of real wood cupboards, in fact, I have never seen more cupboards in any kitchen, and in each cupboard, stuff, and not just kitchen stuff. There were several cupboards within easy reach, so I opened a few. All full. In one cupboard was another cupboard.

“Very nice,” I said, sitting down at the round table, moving a pile of letters, paper, magazines, two plates, a pair of pliers, and some sewing, to put my cup of tea down. “Excuse Father’s mess,” she said.

Ignoring her laying the blame completely unfairly on her loyal and long-suffering husband, I asked, “Have you actually thrown anything away at all?” “Yes! Yes!” she said excitedly, grinning like a schoolgirl. “I found a jar of mincemeat at least thirty years old!”

I went through the fridge, and found various inedible and unsafe articles, which I promptly binned, and a plastic-wrapped pack of faded grey meat – “for the dog”. Sadly, the dog had long since died, and since Mother didn’t have Alzheimer’s, I asked which dog. A flicker of guilt crossed her face, but she wouldn’t be drawn. I wondered if she was secretly feeding some poor discarded stray animal, and pointed out that if she fed this to anyone, that would surely be their last meal. I never did work out what the meat was really for, but since I was allowed to remove every other dangerous item, and obtained her assurances that the meat wouldn’t be used for human food, I had to let it pass. Perhaps she had an old freezer out the back somewhere with a small space into which that meat fitted perfectly.

Whether we like it or not, and as a child, I liked it not, we descend from our parents, we are of them and like them, and we become them, even without knowing them. So now, I have come out. I am a hoarder. I have hoarded, I am hoarding, I shall hoard. My rationale is no different from my mother.

Still some life left in that – but not actually enough life to warrant keeping it any longer. This especially applies to clothes.

Could come in handy – which we always used to say quite correctly about masturbation, but which never applies to bicycle parts, sunglass lenses, or old bus passes.

Will be useful one day – yes, perhaps, after I am dead, someone will use this small box of matches with an acid smile to light the pyre of all my useless possessions.

Just needs fixing – which joiner is going to fix that writing desk? which electrician that Grundig ribbon microphone? which future archaeologist of twentieth century plastic that model ostrich?

Waste not, want not – except for storage space, which hoarders always exceed.

I have a loft, which is more or less full. I want a garage. I dream of having outbuildings. I want a workshop. My eyes mist at the thought of a workbench upon which to put my large vice, which currently sits at the end of the hallway, next to the collection of firebricks I have kept safely these last fifteen years.

At one point, in my flat there was so much furniture, old computers, art, boxes and drawers and crates of stuff, none of which I knew what to do with, and yet I could not face living with it any more, so I hired a storage cage. I paid £50 a month for a whole year, just for the privilege of not throwing stuff out and having it under lock and key. Mostly, it was stuff I had kept from childhood. Yes, I know this can be seen as a psychologically significant act. I just wanted some space. Of course, I told myself, I will put up shelves, build cupboards. I will throw lots of stuff away. By the time I got round to doing this, several years later, I was even more attached to the stuff I still had, and I had accumulated a whole lot more cool new stuff.

Finally, the be-all-and-end-all of excuses for me to keep things: I will make art from it. I will write about it. I will photograph it. It shall transcend its origins.

Yeah, right.

When I admit to this, I recall J, handsome, philosophical, and since lost to me as a friend, telling me that all his notebooks full of wonderful ideas were “books of forgetting”. We record our inspiration not for posterity, but as an elegy.

Regular readers may have noticed the unusually long recent silence of the every day story of the smell of sex. There is a reason for this, obviously, and thus I have been congratulating myself on the great efforts I have made to remodel my environment in order to assemble an audio studio, which is significantly enhanced by my having mothballed some rather beautiful gear eleven years ago. At last, some successful hoarding. In the process, I moved things around, retrieved things I needed, discovered things I had forgotten about, and yes, even threw some things away. I have more space. I am tired, but happy. I woke up yesterday sensing that many years had slipped away in the night, and I laughed at my foolishness and at my past choices.

I found all the fortune cookie papers I have kept, and I will share them with you now, so that I have at least made art from twenty three of the twenty six thousand things I have hoarded over the past few years, and my fortune cookie piece can at last be rescued from the books of forgetting.

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This thing has 3 Comments

  1. Mr. Unangst
    Posted 18 October, 2005 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    my favorite fortune says:

    “That wasn’t chicken.”

  2. shwang
    Posted 18 October, 2005 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I’m the same way with hoarding but recently I decided that it was time to let go so I started to throw stuff out and the stuff I really wanted to remember I took digital photos of. My plan (like you mentioned by photographing) is to turn many boxes of crap into just one CDR with pictures of crap.

    I found that I hold on to ridiculous stuff because when I sort through it it holds some sort of a memory and without the object I would probably never think of that memory again…I guess its the worry of not remembering good things….who knows a bunch of it got picked up curbside this morning… I’ll have to see what the future holds.

  3. Susanne Lamido
    Posted 24 October, 2005 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Have you seen your blog listed on Tim Worstall’s Britblog roundup #36


    I read your log regularly because you live near me. I sent it to him because it’s funny and about life. My blog is also listed Suz Blog.

    Let your friends know and send him others he can look at and review. he writes an article each week. He’s sort of the king of Blogs so I’m told. Writes articles for the news papers.

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