My mother is moving house soon – down-sizing from her 24-bedroom villa with swimming pool and underground gym to a small bungalow with a toilet and a cupboard – and is having a clear-out.
This is a major undertaking as my mum has lived in her current abode for 41 years and is one of those people who saves pretty much everything (in one plastic bag, stashed in the attic, she found a receipt for a cheese pasty purchased from Greggs in February 1978).
Anyhow, after weeks of sorting out all her junk, she has bagged it up and called on her children – that’s my twin sisters and I – to go through it and take anything we might want, otherwise it will be, she warned in threatening tones, thrown out.
I dutifully drove over the other evening to sift through this mountain of stuff.
'Now be brutal,’ my mum instructed as I began rummaging through various bags. 'We want to get rid of as much of this as we can. I’m sick of all this rubbish being around.'
I pulled out an envelope, which had, written on the front, ‘Steven’s Baby Things’.
In it was a cutting from the local newspaper announcing my arrival on the planet, a clipping of my baby hair (blond, not unlike Diana Dors in her prime), and the tag put on my wrist in hospital after I was born.
I studied all this for several seconds with mild interest, then said: 'Right, we’ll start by chucking these.'
She looked at me as if I’d suggested we go outside and vandalise a bus shelter, then punch a pensioner in the face. ‘Oh no, you can’t do that,’ she shrieked, horrified.
'Why not?' I asked.
'Because that’s the tag from just after you were born, and there’s your hair and the birth notice, and I’ve saved it all these years. It would be lovely to keep it don’t you think?' she whimpered.
At this point, tears were filling her eyes, so displaying a quality I’m not usually known for – tact – I diplomatically replied: 'Okay, you’re right. I’ll keep that,' while making a mental note to chuck it out as soon as I got home.
The next thing I pulled out was a selection of scrapbooks I’d kept as a child in which I’d drawn some pathetic pictures and scribbled some terrible stories (sample line, as it was written: ‘Jack went in house but was scarred because it was dark. ‘I’m scarred,’ said Jack. ‘I’m scarred too,’ said Ruth).
'Well they can certainly go,' I said hurling them with disdain towards a black bin liner my mother had provided in anticipation of all I was about to dispose of.
'What?' she gasped. 'They’re your drawings and stories from when you were a child, you can’t throw those.'
She suggested Mrs Canavan would love to see them. 'Mum, why would my wife be interested in a drawing I did of a dog when I was nine?' I asked, but to no avail – I wasn’t allowed to throw them out.
To cut a very long story short, this pattern continued for the next three hours.
I would pick up some tat – a papier maché elephant made in primary school, for example – and go to throw it, before my mother – like an impassioned defence barrister arguing for the life of a client on Death Row – would tell me I couldn’t possibly get rid of it.
The end result was that I disposed of barely nothing and returned to my house later that evening with the car creaking under the strain of about 26 bags and boxes worth of junk.
'What the hell’s all that?' said Mrs Canavan, answering the door to discover me and half the contents of my mother’s home on her doorstep.
'Erm, just a few things from mum’s,' I replied, casually.
She glanced at the bag nearest to her. Poking out the top was a small plastic replica of the Eiffel Tower. ‘Why on earth have you got that?’ she said.
'Because I bought it as a present for my mum on a school trip to France when I was eight and she said I shouldn’t throw it away,' I mumbled, a little uncertainly.
'Well if you think any of that trash is coming in here, you’re sorely mistaken,' she barked and slammed the door in my face – slightly embarrassing as at exactly that moment our neighbour was walking past and, given all the boxes and bags on the path, must have rushed home and said to his wife, 'they’ve had a big row at number seven – she’s thrown him out and he’s standing on the path with all his belongings.'
I had to traipse around the back of the house and load everything into the shed, where it will no doubt stay, untouched and not looked at, until we move house at some point.
Later I rang my mother. 'Thanks for today,' she said cheerily, 'It’s great we managed to get rid of so much stuff.'