A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Clearing out the clutter

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford starts a long and painful process…
It’s all the fault of IKEA I tell you. Well, probably helped by my own slightly obsessive personality (borderline autistic, some have commented) but it’s mostly IKEA’s fault.
Loyal readers may remember that I bought two DVD storage units last week, completing a line up of white(ish) wood shelving around my trusty laptop.  Having quickly assembled and pushed them into place (pausing for only five-ten minutes to admire the new-found balance and beauty in the room, and stroking them gently) I had to start filling them.
Initially it was easy – I’ve had loads of CDs stacked on non-standard shelves for many months now so it wasn’t a question of what to put in. Rather it was more a case of: “will there be enough room?” And there wasn’t. So I started to re-jiggle other shelves to make the layout logical and fit for purpose, to my eyes anyway.
I won’t bore you with details (they wouldn’t bore me but I expect you’re all busy) and, to cut a long story short and, what with one thing and another and all that, I ended up with a bit of a problem.
Somewhere in the process I’d transferred my complete set of non-metric 1:50,000 scale Ordnance Survey maps (204 in total, thanks for asking) from upstairs to down (which looked splendid in the space previously occupied by some DVDs that are housed in CD cases – don’t ask) and shelf-shifting was going well when I realised that a set of part-works from the 1960s just didn’t fit anywhere. 
Now this was a set with great significance to me: it was a terribly, terribly educational publication when I was a young spotty swot and I had to have it. I even paid for it out of my own pocket-money (about 2/6 a week, if ancient memory serves me correctly) and asked for binders as birthday and Christmas presents to preserve the precious pages.
Over the subsequent four decades I have carried those eight volumes plus separate index through five changes of address and lovingly stacked them on uncountable different shelves, dusting them every now and then and wiping down the spine when necessary.
The one thing I’ve never done is actually read the things.
I stared long and hard at the shelves as a new, unaccustomed itch started to tickle inside me. “Chuck it” these thoughts were urging me. “Clear ‘em out.”
And, with surprisingly little heartache I did so – and threw out another 28-part encyclopaedia set into the bargain, freeing up four more shelves. They’re outside now, waiting to go to the book recycling box where they will undoubtedly prove to be of no use to anyone else either – but at least that won’t be my responsibility.
In fairness I’d already checked to see if there was any monetary value left in them – after all they’d been huge investments when we got them – but you can’t even give the darn things away now. The internet has made information-gathering into an egalitarian task of milliseconds rather than an hours-long chore among bookshelves or libraries. Instead of being hoarded, information has been freed – in all senses. Back in the mad web-bubble 1990s some magazine even GAVE AWAY a double CD version of Encyclopedia Britannica – I’ve still got it although I never use it.
I found myself feeling oddly liberated as soon as I psychologically cast out these books, even if I’ve yet to physically transport them away. Maybe it’s just the way my memories are filed but as I packed the heavy tomes into boxes I recalled various disappointments in my teenage life and suddenly they didn’t matter anymore it was as if any remaining link to those pimples of unhappiness had been snapped.  My psyche was cleaned, scrubbed, I felt less damaged. Refreshed and revitalised I went to the loft and started seeing what else I could purge from our lives and my past.
But how can you decide what’s truly important? Not so long ago the Minster used to have four free-standing stoves to warm the building – apparently they were useless to anyone more than five feet away but would melt you within that range. They also needed a mountain of solid fuel to keep going.
One of my predecessors decided that a good, convenient source was a huge pile of mouldering paperwork that cluttered up an otherwise useful room – so he burned it all. Parish records and who knows what treasures of information, lost forever.
There are currently two researchers who would like to find where this virger is buried so they could jump up and down on his grave.  Yet, to him and everyone around him at the time, what he was doing was sensible and good.
This recollection stopped my fundamentalist approach to tidying up. I’ve now invited the rest of the family to chip in and suggest what they think we should keep or chuck – which probably means the spiders will be undisturbed for another few years or so.
Maybe I should bring those encyclopaedias back in – I could always keep them safely in a box until we all agreed. Maybe they’ll be valuable again one day and, anyway, I can hear them calling to me.
Oh dear, the bad memories are coming back too.

First published April 2011


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