Thursday, 28 July 2011

Nothing Doing - Andrew Strong

I seem to spend at least a week, every summer, picking things up and putting them down again. This is in the cause of ‘tidying up’. Last year I had a shed built on a small plot of land at the end of the garden. Within a month I’d filled it with junk. I ordered a new shed. I have three new sheds now, all built this last year, and all are full up.
Not that I can’t throw anything away. At least once every six months I order a skip and leave it parked at the end of the lane. It fills with rotten furniture, saggy mattresses and deceased lawnmowers.
Every year I need more and more storage. I live in a reasonably big house, but can never find anywhere to put things.
So this year I decided to excavate the spare room, a place where guests fear to tread. It’s in a wing of the house that was once the maid’s quarters. She must have died in there and left a jug of milk to go off at the same time, because I haven’t been able to get rid of a very weird smell.
That weird smell, or the ghost of the gone off milk, or both, has meant that the guest room door is rarely opened.
I had to take the bull by the horns, however, and grasp the nettle that was knotted around the bull’s horns (I wore protective gloves). I was going to venture into the spare room.
It was worth it. Stacked in a huge, damp cardboard box I found my ancient diaries, or journals as I prefer to call them. Calling them journals makes me sound more like Edmond de Goncourt and less like one of the Waltons.
At this point, I’d like you to imagine a clichéd cinematic dissolve. From the middle aged man cut to the fourteen year boy sitting cross-legged on his bedroom floor, listening to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. I say imagine, because in reality I would have been listening to T.Rex.
I’m thinking what to write in my diary. So I put: ‘I am sitting on the floor listening to Mozart’. (I lied a lot in those days).
Three or four years on, I vowed to write a page a day, roughly five hundred words. I kept that up for thirty years. On days when nothing happened, I would still have to write it all down. And those details of days when nothing happened are what interest me most. The descriptions of travels, or even my participation in events that made national news (the Poll Tax Riots, IRA bombings) don’t absorb me as much as where I went to buy my bread and milk, or attempt to describe the state the teapot was in. I glued in plenty of ephemera: cinema tickets, receipts from shops now long gone, and even food. On October 2nd 1982, under some grimy yellow sellotape, there’s what I think is a Trebor Mint.
So, if you’re looking for a moral in all this it’s that the things that mean the least to us when we are young can mean the most thirty years later. I still like T. Rex though.


The Time Sculptor's Secret said...

This was a lovely bedtime story that I hadn't expected to find, and the ephemera paints a vivid picture of a very imaginative young boy... but a Trebor mint? In a journal?
It reminds me of receiving an uncommonly lumpy get well card in hospital and discovering that someone had sent me a Cadbury's Creme Egg... through the post! Thanks for the story, which I enjoyed very much. Jane Gray

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Beautiful, Andrew.

I found the traces of a piece of ancient wedding cake once, attached to a cake decoration, a silver shoe, and I mean ancient - it was what was left of my parents' wedding cake. And that was before I read Great Expectations.

But something similar (in my head at least, bear with me), was something I read about the Titanic. When they found a collection of perfume bottles that had been lost with the ship. The stoppers were still on. When they were removed, you could still smell the traces of very expensive scent. I want to write about that.

madwippitt said...

Thank you for the smile!

Leslie Wilson said...

I loved that! And also the story of the Titanic. When I went to Berlin in 1972, for the very first time, I stuck a sachet of East German sugar into the album I made, and there it is still, a genuine piece of Ostalgie. Yes, it is the little things that take you back, and that taking-back is an amazing leap back - you can suddenly smell scents and re-experience feelings - I do like the strange scent in your attick, though, too - all houses have their own smells. I went into my grandfather's house in Linz, kindly taken in by the current owner, and the house still smells the same, though the new person is quite different and keeps a lot of parrots.

Stroppy Author said...

I am quite comfortable with you being involved in the Poll Tax Riots, but the throw-away remark that you were involved in IRA bombing is rather alarming. I don't wish to be judgemental, and I leave your political activism to your conscience, but it is a bit indiscreet to put this in a blog - the police might well come a-knocking at your door...

Andrew Strong said...

Not guilty, Your Honour. The only sentence I deserve is one with better syntax. I witnessed a bombing in Oxford Street, that's all.