THE most terrifying thing anyone said to me before we moved was: “Of course, the great thing about moving is that you don’t really have to worry too much: on the day, the removers will simply take everything.” That, of course, was exactly what I was worried about: it would have resulted in a house full of rubbish, a drive full of boxes, and two ageing would-be occupants struggling to force an entry by clambering over surplus items of furniture.
In the event, having worked our way through the distinct hierarchy of charity shops (hospice shops are right at the top of the pecking order and, I discover, can afford sometimes to be humiliatingly selective about which donations they accept), we were saved by the charity that supports Romanian orphans, whose proud promise is that they turn away nothing except “baby car seats, white goods, and computers”.
This was just as well, since my last drop included four hub caps for a discontinued people-carrier, a set of mounted antlers, and the guitar I was given as a 14th birthday present, now missing a string (it has taken me more than 40 years to accept that I’m never going to teach myself to play it).
Piling Pelion on Ossa
THERE was, however, a worrying moment when a Christian charity that works with the homeless helpfully arrived to collect some of the remaining detritus. Before loading the items on to the van, the group leader was reduced to praying that the Lord would “raise up people who really need these things”, which left me with the alarming sense that possibly more innocent people somewhere would have to be made homeless in order to find a use for some of our more hopeless cast-offs.
OUR move has cast light into all sorts of shady corners. For instance, I discovered that I owned not one but four irons, two of which were lurking in the furthest recesses of a dark cupboard under the eaves and had apparently never been taken out of their boxes. Mortified, I promptly gave away two (it seemed reasonable to retain an heir and a spare), and the others were carefully packed against future use. Inevitably, when we unpacked, neither was to be found — in any of the boxes.
Since we were about to go away, and needed not to look as if we’d just been salvaged from a basket of dirty laundry, I was reduced to buying a new iron. In the circumstances, I was particularly reluctant to spend money on it: some internet research suggested an iron that was both well reviewed and reasonably priced, which I duly acquired.
Using it, the night before our departure, I struggled to understand the good reviews: OK, it was a bargain, but it was heavy in the hand and trying to smooth anything at all felt like disproportionately hard work. Only when I’d ploughed through the heap of ironing and unplugged the iron did I find that I’d been ironing with the cardboard footplate protector still in place.
So we still looked as if we’d just been salvaged from a basket of dirty laundry — and I still haven’t rediscovered either of the other irons. . .
Rules of disengagement
IT IS remarkable what the process of moving uncovers. I’ve learned that there are some immutable laws of removals:
• Everyone knows that shoes left under the bed will invariably prove to be breeding pairs. Bafflingly, however, the shoes beneath the Beloved’s side of our bed had produced no fewer than six pairs of twins — not all of them identical.
• Boxes that are not emptied immediately quickly acquire Listed Building status. I am cheerfully skirting boxes that seem to have taken up residence in the middle of the floor, with no sense of what might be inside them -— and no particular desire to look. Nor, alas, do I possess the courage to dispose of them unopened.
• Similarly, objects “temporarily placed” when removed from boxes also take up permanent residence. A large bust of Shakespeare is still sitting on the windowsill in the utility room, looking only faintly bemused by the domestic chaos that now surrounds him — although, on reflection, perhaps his quizzical expression is because his gaze is permanently directed towards the ironing board.
Forty years on
FORTY years after his retirement, Maurice Sills has died, just short of his 102nd birthday.
His earliest memory was of a Zeppelin over London during the First World War; in the Second World War, he served in the Royal Navy. After a career in education — and having himself been a head teacher — he devoted his time and apparently limitless energies to serving St Paul’s Cathedral: as tour guide, proof-reader, and, above all, in the cathedral school. A friend to all, he was especially generous to the youngest children, whom he would help with their reading; he shared their curiosity and bright-eyed enthusiasm to the end of his life. As the Dean put it: “Of all the treasures of St Paul’s, none has been more valued than Maurice Sills.”
A passionate sportsman and a member of the MCC, Maurice remembered watching Sir Donald Bradman in action, just as he remembered the chorister Alastair Cook — later, captain of the English cricket team — scoring an early century in a match against the choristers of Westminster Abbey.
He was also a lifelong supporter of Norwich City Football Club. When, a year or two ago, he was a recipient of the Royal Maundy, and the Queen asked him to what he attributed his longevity, he is reported to have replied, “Well, Ma’am, I support Norwich City — but I only drink alcohol when they win.”
Maurice was especially kind to our youngest, whom he’d known as an infant in the cathedral school, and he invariably remembered her birthday. What haunts me now is the thought that, in all those years of observing her anniversary, he could not have known that he was marking what would be the date of his own death. Nunc dimittis.