Saturday, May 07, 2005

...Pass It On

Memory, faux-nostalgia, and recycling.

We periodically cull our collection of books and CDs, lightening the load of Clutter in our lives. The task calls for a certain degree of ruthlessness: okay, that book has been on the shelf for so many years that it does have an emotional hold - the "I can't bear to part with it; I bought it the summer that something momentous happened, that I never recall as it is, but need a connection to..." syndrome - but, honestly, when was the last time I actually took it off the shelf and read it? (It is different for Jo, who re-reads many favourites on a regular basis. Me: "But you know what happens!" For me, the story has been set free inside my head, where it lives on in a symbiotic relationship.)

We reckon there are probably over 500 books in our house. The 200 works of fiction face the guillotine first (though the reference works and the children's books should not think that they will be spared). We have decided to keep around 40 of them - Jo's criteria being books that she re-reads most; mine, books that impacted me emotionally. Of the rest, those in worst condition have gone in the blue paper recycling bin; those that are most honestly described as "well used" have gone to the charity shop; and Jo put about 80 up for sale on Amazon last night (7 have sold already today).

I made the first charity shop run this morning, off-loading children's clothes and toys along with the books, and was caught on the way out by the rack of long-sleeved shirts, then by the rack of short-sleeved ones. Charity shops have come a long way. Most of the shirts were designer label - John Rocha, for example; around £50 on the High Street, £3.50 at Barnardos. Which is fantastic, because it has already been bought at full price, paying the workers who made the shirt; and will now be bought again, raising support for under-priveledged children. Time was, when charity shops were full of tat - ornaments and knick-knacks of the kind only seen elsewhere when visiting elderly relatives. Now, with the profile of giving to charity so high in the UK, you can dress really well - aesthetically, ethically, and affordably.

(This reminds me of a time when I worked as a bouncer in a charity shop in Sydney, Australia. I don't know how many charity shops have bouncers, but this one had a particular problem: a man who ran a second-hand clothes store for his own profit just around the corner would regularly come in and try to badger the female shop assistants into selling him items at less than the - already ridiculously cheap - ticket price, so he could sell them on at a profit. Stealing from charity is pretty low. Anyway, he came in, and saw me - a new face, who wouldn't know who he was - except that the other assistant was in the back and had just pointed him out to me. So, he started to spin a yarn about how he had fallen on hard times, and needed a suit because his daughter was getting married tomorrow, and tried - quite aggressively - to get me to part with a good suit in perfect condition for the equivalent of a couple of pounds...Suffice to say he more than met his match in another male, quite as aggressive and considerably younger, and didn't come back while I continued to work there!)

When I got back, I washed the car (at Jo's request - not an idea that I would ever have come up with!). I've never washed the car by hand before - when it gets dirty (okay, when it has been dirty for a long time), it gets an outing to the carwash. But not today. It was the strangest experience, evoking suburban Saturday mornings in 1950s America, all the Fathers out with their soapwater and sponge; and only secondarily somewhat-less-suburban Sunday mornings closer to home. One of our neighbours is a driving instructor, and he washes his car all the time; I've never "got it". I must confess, however, it felt alright tapping into all that iconic car-washing Stuff - though the answer to Jo's question, "Did it make you feel like a real man?" is no (but perhaps only because I don't understand the question).

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