I’m beginning now to make my way through the remains of the lives of strangers. It’s odd work, as there are about 4 humans involved and everything is higgledy-piggledy. So I’m jumping era with every bag. Victorian plates are mingled with 1930s plates and letters and a lamp from maybe the 1950s and an unworn Pringle pair of socks from Harrods. It’s all covered in soot from the fire, which must’ve been huge. I got quite a lot done today but it feels like I’ve barely started.
Brian grabbed an etching of London and we loaded an old bedframe in to throw away. I went to the dump first thing, to make enough space for me to work in the van. My hope was that I could sling all the junk immediately and then stay there and work through the rest of it gradually at the dump. But the guy I met last time was on me like a burr. He has to be. “I took my eyes off one guy the other day,” he tells me “and next thing I knew he’d dumped a load of asbestos.” He’s making me very aware that I can’t stay there forever, especially as it’s windy and the door is flapping. Also he’s trying to make me rush. He has the same tendencies. His house must be full of junk. I’m trying to avoid taking anything into mine unless it’s going straight somewhere else…
I make my way back through London and park outside St Luke’s church. I don’t want to call attention to myself by sorting outside my block. Mostly there’s junk in that van, but it’s interesting junk and I don’t want some drunk tit throwing it all over the pavement at 4am hunting PlayStations.
One of the first things I find today is a hardback book of “Churches of London”. St Luke’s is in it and I’m parked right outside. Seems like a sign. I bring it over and give it to the woman in the café. She seems pleased. I’m not checking what it sells for on Amazon. Good to remove the notion of cash value from this work. I’m just going to look for other values like joy. I was paid to take it, and it was marked for destruction. The book collection is wide and, unless you’re a power seller on Amazon, kind of pointless to sell. I’m keeping hold of ones I like and I’ll be finding homes for many more. Charity shops after friends. There are lots of books on embroidery, and on the history of fans. Someone loved their fans, that much is clear. There are some beautiful ones in random boxes, some ruined ones in sacks, and a broken one in a frame that belonged to the wife of a general who died at Waterloo. I wish I had an empty ground floor room for a week to put this stuff in piles of like.
One person collected busts and one person fans. Depending on the result of this sorting I think I’ll be able to fill one whole room with smoke damaged Victorian plaster busts, and at least one wall with mounted fans. But I’m going to have to get more efficient, especially as I’m very busy the next few weeks with day job. Nevertheless a good first day, and I realised a little way in that the dad was in “The Quatermass Experiment,” – early BBC sci-fi – which another friend of mine Toby could pick on Mastermind as his special subject. I just got off the phone to him and now I’m on high alert for the original call sheets. They’re just printed sheets of paper with locations and times and names. But he’d love them. If they’ve been saved that’s one more random bit of joy from these objects, and this is before they’ve been made fair game as theatre props. As they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. And it feels the right thing to be doing, and a pleasant use of my downtime. If I can find enough small objects with value, then my hourly wage will be acceptable. The clients all enjoyed the notion of the stuff going back into the world their dad was from. And first thing this morning I found twenty bucks.
It’s a useful discipline for me, this sorting, as a lot of the things here align with the things my brother and I are not looking at related to our bereavements. We have dedicated whole rooms to piles of boxes we’ll never do anything with until we die unless I do. I’m trying to keep the stuff that will be useful for theatre and categorise it, and get rid of the rest. But it’s a war with myself and my instinct to preserve interesting things. I still miss some of the things that were thrown away in The Isle of Man. But I’m a hoarder and I want my space back. This is me doing for someone else what I kind of wish I’d had time to do for myself back then. To say goodbye to the bulk of it and personally select a few talismans to carry forward.
I can’t quite believe I’ll be back on the island I grew up in tomorrow, staying in a guest house in Peel. But more of that when it happens.