Overcoming a hoarding mentality

Perhaps the was the vast pile of stuff I realised I’d accumulated when I moved flats last year should have indicated something to me, but no. It wasn’t until my sister criticised me via Twitter in the autumn that I had an inkling that I might possibly be something of a hoarder. [I had discovered the letter sent to me informing me of the prizes I won at my school speech day the summer after my A-levels. Apparently ‘people’ just don’t keep ‘those things’…]

Obviously, I insisted she was wrong. I only keep the important things. Doesn’t everyone keep important correspondence, photos, diaries and travel journals? What about tickets to plays, programmes, random notes and cinema ticket stubs? [She continually brings up the fact that when we moved house in 2004, I discovered cinema tickets going back to 1996. I, on the other hand, was impressed to find one that revealed that I’d been watching Romeo + Juliet the day our neighbour gave birth to their third child.]

However, a couple of weeks ago I noticed a tissue on my bedside table. I moved to throw it in the bin and paused, realising I knew exactly when, where and who had given me it. I hesitated and left it there for sentimental reasons. When you discover you’re hoarding tissues, something has become an issue! [This is loosely true. I have now thrown that tissue away, but the thought process was there, which is terrifying.]

A tissue is one thing. Two archive boxes full of five years’ worth of academic work is quite another. I’d planned, while in Belfast, to locate my A-level RS notes and see if there was anything that might be worth keeping for my current theology degree. Of couse, those notes were right at the bottom of the box and by the time I’d got there I’d reached the conclusion that if I hadn’t needed any of it for 13 years, it probably wasn’t worth keeping. Once I’d rescued the RS notes, I figured I’d move on to my box of undergraduate notes. All I kept was marked essays and my dissertation notes – it was incredibly cathartic and produced a massive pile of recycling:

Along the way, I discovered a few things:

  • I’d actually gone to the effort of creating A1 size revision notes for my European History course. 
  • My multi-coloured revision timetable pointed towards a misspent study leave. 
  • Over the years, I have learnt a lot of stuff that I simply have no recollection of. My only essay to receive a 1st was on the Congo – honestly, I had no idea we’d ever covered the Congo in my degree! (On reflection, I suspect I wrote it the same year I read the Poisonwood Bible.) 
  • Essay comments were a major source of amusement. One lecturer remarked (on an essay that was slightly below par) that I had the makings of a good writer, if only I could learn not to waffle – not entirely sure if that lesson’s been learnt yet. Another began their comment with the statement: “You have clearly read Augustine’s City of God thoroughly…” – I can guarantee that this was almost certainly not the case!
  • The most interesting things were the bits of paper found amongst the files and the files themselves. I discovered the ‘Prefect Code of Conduct’ I’d had to sign before I could accept my Prefect badge and various bits of graffiti – most telling of all, the ornately designed ‘HELP!’ just inside the cover of my Philosophy & Ethics file.
  • I apparently go for men who have nearly identical handwriting. Spooky.

Best of all, the RS notes that may be useful were located in a ring binder that is typical of a teenage girl’s stationery c.1998 – surely all of us experienced the joy that was file collage? This was actually the only one of my folders to get this attention (though I believe at the time I had a matching notebook and pencil case), so at least I had some concept of time management aged 16…

Yes, basically all my 16 year old self cared about was Friends and Brad Pitt. 
I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing.

This great purge now leaves me with virtually nothing left in my parents’ under-the-stairs cupboard. Literally, all that’s there now is: a small box of teenage memories; a larger box of primary school stuff [I chucked some of it last night, but didn’t have time to sort it totally]; a wicker basket of ‘sentimentally significant or culturally interesting’ toys; and a box of children’s books. I mean that’s practically nothing, right? 

All I want is a room somewhere…

“…far away from the cold night air. With one enormous chair. Oh wouldn’t it be lovely…”

I don’t often quote dear Eliza (Don’t get the reference? Shame on you, even non-musical lovers should recognise a bit of My Fair Lady!), but today the lyrics sprang to mind as I was bemoaning a particularly irritating absence in my working (or even non-working) life. This absence specifically relates to furniture, of a soft, comfortable and curl up upon nature – sofas, large armchairs or even a chaise lounge – I’m not overly fussy.

Why should I need such comfort while working? Surely I should just sit at my desk and be an effective typist? Problem is, my work is rather diverse in nature and one element of it involves reading – lots of it – often of actual books, made of paper, that need to be read and take a long time to get through. Such a task is difficult to do at a desk – the screen, phone and presence of colleagues often distracts.

Currently, I need to read the whole of the recently published The Faith of Generation Y (conclusion so far: dubious sample, but hopefully the theological conclusions will be good) which has now ended up in my handbag so I can read it on the tube – even though I have lots of other (non-work) reading I could be doing in this precious slot. Thus, the most reading I’ve got done all week was while sat at Bermondsey station for 45 minutes on Monday, waiting for the Jubilee Line to get its act together. On the plus side, nice to feel like I’m working while quickly realising that I’d be horrifically late for work.

My ideal location for reading would be a luscious armchair or sofa, free from interruptions and comfortable enough to get a good long stint of excellent reading done. At university, we had the perfect location – a quaint room at the top of the (originally named) Old Building holding non-academic books and an array of red, plush armchairs into which you could sink while reading journal articles, a dull text book, the 25p copy of the Guardian or – shockingly – a novel. George Bernard Shaw would, I’m sure, have been proud that his name was bestowed upon this haven that kept me sane during my student days. [Wow, have just impressed myself that I began this post with a quote from My Fair Lady – aka Pygmalion, GBS’s most famous work. It’s almost like I planned it that way, and I didn’t…]

In the real world, such havens do not seem to exist – sadly. There is nowhere at work for me to escape to and read in peace. Starbucks could help, but comfy seats seem to be gradually getting pushed out of their branches (presumably to make room for their new ridiculously large mugs). Local libraries only have boring chairs and tables, unless you take your reading into the children’s area.

Actually, what I could most do with is a version of Central Perk, located in the Marylebone area. I’d have first claim to the sofa, and it would act as my second office when I had masses of reading to do. My friends could hang out there too and keep me company. I’d be able to consume muffins and endless Chai Lattes… Actually, this is now sounding less like a viable work option, and more like an ideal Saturday afternoon. Ho hum. But seriously, if anyone knows of any publicly accessible sofas in the NW1 area, I’d love to hear about them!

Put your hands up…

Over the weekend, a former colleague of mine made contact. This was slightly exciting on two counts.

1. Her first contact was via a slightly cryptic comment on my Yale post.
2. Her second contact came with this photo attached:

I’m insanely jealous of this colleague. Not only has she successfully left our organisation, but she managed to get all the way to Boston. Plus, not only is she in Boston, she’s just enrolled at Harvard Law School, immortalised in film and song thanks to Elle Woods’ adventures in Legally Blonde.

This colleague also knows well my passion for US college memorabilia – particularly the Harvard t-shirt that remained elusive until last Christmas [though it’s still not quite the one I want, but that may have to wait until I get to visit properly]. She therefore knew that I would love this glimpse of the Harvard Coop where vast quantities of such material can be found. The Single Ladies reference is just an added bonus…

Age and beauty

I had a sobering moment today, when on arrival at Cambridge train station I realised that it was pretty much eleven years to the day since I’d come up for my (ultimately unsuccessful) interview at the prestigious institution. For about 30 seconds I felt terribly old, especially as all about me were fresh-faced 17 year olds about to endure the same experience.

However, the feeling completely dissipated when my taxi driver’s reaction to my colleague’s request to take us to King’s College was: “Oh, it must be interview time again! Good luck.”

We were delighted. Neither of us look 17, or even a mature 19. I know he’d only had the slightest glimpse of my appearance, but I was very heartened!

As an aside, the interviewee spotting continued as we walked around the town, but what amused us most were the boys forced into smart suits and accompanied by their mothers. When, exactly, did it become commonplace for parents to accompany their offspring to interviews?

Reflecting upon this, it turned out that C’s mum had gone with him to his and my mother had gone with my sister to hers. I, on the other hand, went completely on my own. This leads me to two conclusions:
(i) My parents don’t love me. (This was C’s suggestion, he reckons they’ve been hinting at it for years!)
(ii) I’m a fiercely independent individual.

I don’t think it’s the first! In retrospect, it was probably just a combination of pre-Christmas busyness; a mother who at that point still had a ‘proper’ job and my own resourcefulness. Mother, if you’re reading this, don’t worry – I don’t hold it against you.

Selling stuff with Star Wars

Back in June there was:

Today, I discover that Queen’s University Belfast is running a one-day course entitled:

It’s part of their widening participation programme and will apparantly teach participants the psychological techniques behind Jedi mind-tricks. (hmmmm) There’s more info in Crib Sheet in today’s Education Guardian (you’ll need to scroll down a bit to find it).

Comically, QUB is the esteemed establishment my Dad teaches at. We used to give him a hard time when he was at the University of Gloucestershire (because my family like to be intellectual snobs) and believed QUB was a step up in the world. I did begin to wonder when one of his students wrote a thesis on the theology of Doctor Who. Clearly Star Wars wasn’t much of a leap after all.

And if you’re at all interested, the course takes place on November 15th…