Packing it in …

There is always a sadness about packing. I guess you wonder if where you’re going is as good as where you’ve been.”
Richard Proenneke

Although we don’t yet have a firm moving date, the smell of cardboard permeates the house as my wife Sarah, and I began packing a few things this week. Our movers have left us many boxes for that purpose. At first, there seemed far too many for our needs. However, that changed when packing only my journals filled more than one.

At least a house move is a good excuse to declutter. To not move to the next loft that you currently have in this loft. And to question yourself as to the continuing need for something. It’s not that easy. People seemed programme to say, “let’s not get rid of that. You never know, it might come in useful” At least so far, Sarah and I have shown discipline in that regard.

But sifting through things does bring its element of emotions.

One for me was ‘downsizing’ my books. It’s not the first time I’ve done so, and while this time was difficult, it was nowhere as painful as the last time. That was at the end of my second marriage when my then-wife and I separated, and I moved from a five-bedroom house to a one-bed maisonette. There was no way to accommodate the library of books I had built up over the decades. So, I took around fifty, in the end, leaving something like five hundred behind. This time it was getting from circa two hundred to around half that number. As I write this, those books destined for donation to charity sit piled to my left.

They are an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. All had value to me, and I trust that will prove true for their new owner. I don’t keep many books that I read. Only those that strike a chord or of which I particularly admire the writing. So, there should be a treat in store for the new recipients.

Those books I’m taking with me include my collection of Bedside Guardians from 1978 to the present. My Orwells. From his novels to his essays and other writings with a biography or two and, of course, the biography of his wife Eileen that I played a small part in seeing published. There’s also my collection of the writing of F Scott Fitzgerald. His novels, biographies, and studies of his writing.

Regarding the latter, I recommend two books to those with a more profound interest in Fitzgerald. ‘Bright Star Green Light’ examines how much the work of John Keats influenced Fitzgerald’s writing. Fitzgerald once wrote, "For awhile after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming”. And Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night’ title is from Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. The other book I would recommend is ‘So We Read On’, which examines what is behind the enduring power of ‘The Great Gatsby’.

I’m very wary of recommendations when it comes to books. Unless I know the literary tastes of the recommender and appreciate those tastes, I rarely take up a suggestion. One exception is the employees of my favourite bookshop, Mr B’s Book Emporium in Bath. I’ll miss popping in for a chat about books when visiting Bath, but I won’t miss out altogether. I bought from them before I moved to the southwest, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so.

Another emotional moment came when packing my journals and photographs. Also, the letters that Sarah and I exchanged over the years. And from my working days, the publications I helped put together or in which I’m mentioned. Together with my small ‘memory’ box, the above contents fit into two boxes. Not large boxes, either. While putting in the last few items, I realised that the measure of my sixty-six years, the ‘me that is me’, is now the contents of two boxes. It was a sobering thought.

Yes, I will fill more boxes and cases with my clothes and assorted crockery, glassware, utensils etc. Those boxes will make the journey with me when I venture to my new home in the northeast. But none of those constitutes my life. There’s none of ‘me’ in them. That said, as Sarah and I discussed the division of the more practical items, there was one set of bowls that struck an emotion.

They are pasta bowls. Yep, something as mundane as that. Yet I know that taking one or two with me would trigger a memory of happy meals with Sarah every time I used them. They were Sarah’s before I came along, and one of the first meals she cooked for us, we ate from those bowls. It isn’t only letters, photos and the like that can trigger a pang of the heart. In my case, a simple pasta bowl can do it. You’ll be relieved to read that I do not have a similar ‘affection’ for pans, plates, cups, knives, forks, or spatulas—just those pasta bowls.

The danger of packing too early is that one packs away something for which there is a sudden need before the move. And with the current uncertainty on timing, that’s always a danger. So, it’s a delicate balance of not leaving too much to pack between exchange and when completion is an immovable deadline. And avoid hunting through numerous boxes to find that critical item that is essential to have right now.

There was a positive emotion from the sorting out. Sarah pulled out a folder of several of my Christmas stories. Regular readers of this blog may recall the tradition I have of penning an annual Christmas Story. I then read it around Christmas Day to those present. Afterwards, each close family member receives a copy. I’ve not kept many of those stories myself.

In the past, I’ve thought about asking people to let me have copies and then pulling them together as a book. From what Sarah has, and while some will need a tidy-up, there may well be a small book of short stories. Pulling it together will be an excellent activity for chilly winter evenings in Blaydon.

Now, back to the packing ….

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