Tuesday

Autumn Moves

Autumn with leaves turning, nights closing in, and chilly damp rain, and we're moving house. I've never liked moving house, and I try and do it as little as possible. My father essentially moved house twice in his life: once as a child to the house where he grew up, took home my mother after they married and later me from the hospital, and once again to the apartment where he and my mother now live since I moved out of the house after university. That move was, on the other hand, the first time I moved, and I moved into a tiny one-room studio that contained everything that a young person needed: a bed, a single-burner stove, a refrigerator, a wine rack, and lots and lots of books and music. It was an easy move from that place to a larger apartment where I got a dog, more books and music, and a proper kitchen. I began to earn money and start travelling on my own, which is I think where the problems began. When one has money one tends to buy things, and when one travels one cannot help but bring home a few things; or, in my case, a few crates. I began a period when I became obsessed with collecting things: 'collecting' is a polite way of describing buying more of a thing than one actually needs. I collected antique clocks, Burmese bells, snuff bottles, every issue of Vogue and Vanity Fair, mechanical cameras, art books, and, of course, books and music. My CD collection became so sprawling and disorganised that I took them out of their cases and stacked them on spindles, slotted them into vinyl folders, or simply piled them on top of the stereo, and still they multiplied like rabbits. Things took a turn for the worse when I began collecting records: not vinyl, but shellac 78s, four minutes to a side, which meant that a complete symphony took up a fairly large amount of shelf space. It was only when I ran out of shelf space for the shellacs and the wind-up gramophones that I turned to vinyl. I moved into another apartment but didn't sell the previous one until much later, which meant that I had two apartments' worth of stuff that I tried to fit into every available nook and cranny: in my spare time I envisaged an ingenious method of shelving that would hang from the ceiling, ready to bury me in a torrent of pages and polycarbonate if there ever were an earthquake.

I don't know how people can have clutter-free, immaculately neat homes that look like modern art galleries, with just a few tasteful books on the bookshelf, just enough to make room for a framed photograph and an appropriately ugly souvenir from India or Africa. What happens when they buy a sixth book: does the least favourite of the five on the shelf one get kicked off the island and binned? Where do they keep their music? What do they do with the bank statements, gas bills, tenancy agreements, vehicle registrations, and other paperwork that begs to be tossed but can't be because some officious idiot in the future will want proof of one's continued existence? I think that these people are aliens, or at the very least spies who are living undercover. The thought of living without stuff horrifies me, just as the jumble of my living-room probably horrifies them.

My father continually laments the few items he lost during the move to the apartment. 'I had an Omega pocket adding machine,' he tells me. 'And a Rolex wind-up watch, the first thing that I bought after saving up my first paycheque. A galenium crystal for a radio. All gone now.' Only three things? I can think of about twenty books alone that I can't find after three moves; and that's just the books, and the ones that I can think of. I'm sure I lost much more than I don't even now remember having. I've been in this flat for three years, an eternity by London rental's standards. 'Wow, you've been here a long time,' all the letting agents say. I think forty years, which is how long my father lived in the house where I was born, is a long time. But in London anyone who hasn't bought a house yet is essentially nomadic, setting up camp, making a home, and then packing up and moving on. They do it on a cycle not dissimilar to changing one's mobile after the eighteen month contract is up: and before smartphones and automatic address book downloading, each new phone meant going through one's contact list and winnowing. 'Good God, I can't believe I still have his number. Should I keep it just in case he calls so that I know it's him and don't pick up by accident? Probably not.'

And so it must be with things, especially for a sideways move to a flat of similar proportions. Winnowing, like planting rice, is never fun. Just as one of Christianity's best inventions was Purgatory, where you were neither damned nor saved but held in a holding pattern, there should be one for things: the oubliette where the I may need this someday/I don't want to throw this away/I'll really offend so-and-so if I throw this away stuff can hide in crepuscular eternity. So tomorrow I'm off to Oxfam and hope that the person who gets my windowpane check tweed coat will love it as much as I did when I first bought it, or that the person who picks up my books will will do so with the same gasp of delight as I did when I first found them.

I wouldn't describe myself as a materialistic person: just one who is attached to many, many things. 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' What a wonderful idyll! What if that sentence read: 'In a vast echoey white space with halogen lamps and glass walls there paced a hobbit', would not the Shire seem less the idea of Home? No, no: I want a round door and a cosy curvy space full of comfort and familiarity; and once entrenched I am loath to leave.

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