It’s the time of year when either one reorganises or diets. Since the former is a form of keep fit, I feel I needn’t do the latter. But as with dieting, what often starts so well can quickly fall apart.
I’ve sorted the airing cupboard, tidied my writing area and now, anticipation of a new sofa, my husband and I are moving furniture.
‘A couple of cup of tea’s job,’ we decided. ‘If that.’
We have an odd house, built by adding bits to other bits and nothing is in quite the right proportion, so we decided to move the main bookshelves from the hall to the sitting room to fill the space behind the new sofa in an effort to make the room look cosier.
The problem was while the bookshelves were in originally three sections, when we moved thirteen years ago we didn’t put up the third section because there wasn’t room in the hall, so we stored its composite parts and a lot of spare books in the attic. (Yes, yes, I daresay you agree with my father-in-law who said while shoving yet another box into the attic, ‘how many bleeping books do you need?’ But there you go. You should have seen my parents’ house in its heyday.)
Since then, it proved easier to buy new bookshelves, put those up in another room and rescued some of the books.
So going back to yesterday, my husband and I got the third section down from the attic. This involved digging it out from under thirteen years (and some) of tat and consequently doing a cathartic run to the charity shop and the dump. Pleased with ourselves on several fronts, we closed up the attic, made a cup of tea, had some lunch and then I started moving books off the shelves, trying to restrain myself from just sitting down and reading whenever I found a volume I’d forgotten.
Two minutes into this exercise, my husband said ‘you know what we haven’t got?’
‘The things that hold the shelves up.’
We stood there for a while and tried to think where they could be. ‘Are they in that old shortbread tin you keep little things in?’
‘Have you gone through all your DIY stuff?’
‘I know!’ I said. ‘I’m sure there’s a little bag in one of the drawers in the old desk.’ (The old desk has relics going back to ancient times, including the diary I kept when twelve and some Arthur Rackham prints my mother had from childhood which frightened both her and me and have consequently never been framed and a random bag of marbles – which may well be my lost ones.)
Lo, there was more than one little bag of random stuff but the one I was thinking of held nothing but some bits of Lego.
‘Well we can’t put it up without the things,’ said my husband.
‘Perhaps you can buy spares.’
‘What are they called?’
Now I’ve got to hand it to the internet. While it’s a bit of a Pandora’s box, like Pandora’s box, it holds hope. I did a search for ‘things that hold shelves up’ and lo and behold it took me to exactly what I wanted.
‘I dunno,’ said my husband. ‘How will we know if they’ll fit? The shelves came from MFI in 1994. They’ve been out of business for years.’ He took a sip of tea. ‘Where could we have put the originals?’
The logical place would have been in a bag sellotaped to the shelves when we stored them, but clearly they weren’t. The next logical place would have been in one of the remaining boxes in the attic (an awful thought) or worse still, in the stuff we’d taken to the dump.
‘The only other place I can think of is one of those kitchen drawers,’ I said.
‘Oh bleep,’ said my husband. ‘I’ll make another cup of tea.’
You know the kind of kitchen drawers I mean. We have been slowly decluttering but there were two abysses of chaos left. With trepidation, we started wading through. One was filled with paper napkins, blank Christmas cards and regrettably a bottle of bubbles (as in the ones kids blow out through a plastic hoop, not Champagne) which had leaked everywhere. The last drawer was full of children’s party paraphernalia, including old birthday cake candles, two whistles, a long confiscated hyper-bouncy ball and for no apparent reason grainy photographs processed from a very old roll of film we’d once found in another drawer showing my husband in teenage glory on a school trip.
It also held a small bag with the bits that hold the shelves up. We would have jumped up and down with glee but we were getting rather tired. By now, all that was going through my head was the voice of the wonderful Bernard Cribbins singing Right, said Fred.
By the time we had to stop the project to go and see a Blondie tribute act, we were both shattered and had only got as far as piling up the books in categories in another room. And we’d stopped drinking tea in exchange for something else.
This morning, after a great evening including a nice meal out, a reliving of our youth followed by a good night’s sleep, we woke today, raring to get on with putting the shelves up in the other room.
‘Oh bleep,’ said my husband as I handed him his morning cuppa. ‘I’ve just realised. We haven’t got the veneered thing that goes at the back and stabilises the third section of bookcase. I don’t remember seeing it in the attic.’
I dug deep into my memories of our very traumatic house move in 2005. ‘Do you know I have an awful feeling it was damaged and we got rid of it.’
He sighed. ‘I have an awful feeling you’re right.’
So at the moment, we have a floor covered in books, a new sofa coming tomorrow and no clear plan what to do.
If you could draw a moral from all this, I suppose it might be that we all need the things what hold the things up: philosophy/religion, love, security, peace and that when one or all of these are missing or letting us down, life can feel wobbly to the point of collapse.
And probably: don’t be as untidy and disorganised as me and my old man.
Words and photograph copyright 2019 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.