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Tom & the time capsule flat


Regular readers of this column – who for these purposes I’m defining as everyone who has stumbled upon it twice or more – may have formed the impression that it mostly comprises the wistful ramblings of a hoary old sentimentalist. And frankly, many things could be further from the truth.

But this time, I’ve more excuse than usual to descend into reminiscence. I’ve been back in my old Leith flat, clearing out a few (thousand) sundry items that I didn’t quite get round to shifting when I moved out several years ago, and that my benevolent former flatmate has been too polite to tell me to remove and/or burn before now. And there’s nothing like a trawl through long-forgotten possessions to get a person waxing nostalgic. Not least this person.

We moved into the flat almost exactly twenty years ago, which is a mildly terrifying thought. If our tenancy were a human, it could have an HGV licence by now. It wouldn’t quite be accurate to say we were young and fancy-free when we moved in. Young and stupid would be nearer the mark. We’d given notice on our previous accommodation, lost track of time somewhat, and come to look around this place when we were 48 hours away from having nowhere to live. And this was the first flat we’d been to see.

Thankfully, fortune favoured the brainless. We loved the flat straight away. Even the room allocations took care of themselves; my Newcastle-supporting pal would obviously have the one with the black and white-tiled ensuite, while mine would be the one next to the bathroom in the blue and white of Brighton. And we timed our arrival perfectly to coincide with our new local, the former Slammers bar, reopening as the more salubrious Compass, serving fine beers and epic brunches under the watchful eye of fresh-faced co-licensee Billy Gould. I often wonder what became of him.

Over the next twenty years, everything around us changed, just as nothing did. Four years after our arrival, the first tramworks began outside the window, to be followed just fifteen years later by the first tram. I went from drinking in the Compass, to working there, to drinking there again. And all the while, little by little, the pair of us amassed an enormous collection of absolute shit.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a hoarder; but then, that’s exactly the sort of thing a hoarder would say. Perhaps more to the point, I’m not sure the word ‘hoarder’ conveys its own meaning particularly well. It seems to carry a sense of an active, conscious process. “Ooh, I’d best hoard that.” But true hoarding is all about passivity; a form of constant change that emerges from stasis. To be a hoarder, all you have to do is fail to get round to ditching things. And for as long as you’ve sufficient space to fit both yourself and your burgeoning collection of stuff, there’s not much incentive to change.

I did convince myself to part with the odd thing over the years; but my usual tidying process would be to look at some fundamentally useless item, inexplicably conclude that I might need it one day, then lob it into the back of a cupboard to be rediscovered… well, round about now. And I’ve wished at various points - usually when stuffing mountains of detritus into innumerable bin bags and lugging them to the tip – that I’d been at least a little more decisive over the years.

But the greater part of me doesn’t wish for anything of the sort. We all build and preserve memories in our own ways. Some keep meticulous diaries. Some take thousands of photos and videos, which they may or may not ever look at again. Some post their every thought and experience on public platforms, so that they might share them with like-minded souls and be bombarded with shite by marketers for their remaining days. Which, they might reasonably point out, happens to the rest of us anyway.

I don’t really do any of those things. It turns out that my way of maintaining memories is simply to hold on to every sundry item connected with them. Here’s the pricey but rubbish steering wheel with which I lost countless races on Gran Turismo 4, while refusing point-blank to accept that the game was much easier and more enjoyable with a normal controller. There’s the gargantuan stock pot I bought from the Chinese supermarket to fit the whole pig’s head my workmates bought me as a leaving gift.

Some of these jewels have, belatedly and reluctantly, had to go. But even the act of parting with them has the effect of throwing out a rope to which memories might just cling.

Marie Kondo might have sold millions of books urging people to jettison everything they own that fails to spark joy. Which is all very well; but what if they might spark joy – or at least a bout of nostalgia – in the distant future?

I’d better hold on to them for a couple of decades, just to be on the safe side. ■

Not our writer, but a fair approximation


But true hoarding is all about passivity; a form of constant change that emerges from stasis


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