If you told me I never had to go to Dundee again I would take the chalice, drink deeply, praise the lord god almighty and deliver myself into his embrace. I’d probably kiss the Pope’s ring as well. If you told me that I could live my life again and never have to go to Dundee in the first place I would very likely praise Allah himself, grow a daft beard, strap myself with explosives and gladly sacrifice my body in the name of Islam to earn my place in the make-believe harem in the sky that everyone knows doesn’t exist. If I could erase all memory of Dundee I would. And if I could erase Dundee full stop? Who knows?
It’s really not so much Dundee the place as much as it is Dundee the ever looming spectre. The vast albatross of wasted time, my time in particular. That’s what puts me off. I mean, on paper what’s not to like? It has an HMV and a goodish second hand record store that rates itself far too highly. It has plenty of second rate restaurants and enough historical merit to fill as much as half a day of your life. Of course it’s full of Scots and students but you can’t have it all. It also has a council property that was once occupied by my mother in law. And this week we’ve been clearing it out. And that’s why I’m writing this.
My mother in law hasn’t seen home for a few months now. If she’d seen ‘the wife’ and I in action on her house this week she would probably have had a heart attack. I nearly had a heart attack. Her house, really a flat with two floors, is at best described as an Aladdin’s cave; if Aladdin had migrated from Arabia and set himself up in a cave stuck between a TK Maxx, a questionable antiques centre and a dated crockery emporium. Having said that the line between an Aladdin’s cave and a Pandora’s Box is surprisingly thin. No-one is to blame or maybe everyone is. Perhaps I should have seen the writing on the wall and snuck a few bags of rubbish out every time we visited, though technically this would have needed us to visit approximately 15 times a day for a hundred years. Or so.
If you think I’m exaggerating you’d be right but I’m not making it all up. I calculate we worked pretty much non stop for two and a half days, including evenings (it’s amazing how alcohol and exhaustion can cut through clutter) filling black bag after black bag with clothes and sheets, bric and brac; the meat and potatoes and the flotsam and jetsam of one life. I lost count how many times I loaded up the car and drove to the dump, sorry, recycling centre. By the end of day three I like to think I had developed a wordless bond with the man at the recycling centre. As I drove up the slope each time (by the way the Riverside Recycling Centre in Dundee has to have the most moronic layout of any council facility anywhere in the world though in my experience almost all recycling sites are designed by idiots) he and I would exchange a brief glance, weary, knowing, to the point that by my last trip I almost felt brave enough to wave and smile. But I didn’t go that far because he would have thought I was a twat. I wonder if he misses me and whether he realises he’ll probably never see me again.
I think we got through around eighty 100 litre bin liners. Almost all of them were full. Some were very full. The British Red Cross came round and looked at all the things they could use and the next day someone else came round and took 8 bags of clothes which left about, I guess, 35 bags of assorted fabrics for later. Right now our loft is home to a pile of dubious looking black bags that would put the bottom of Dennis Nilsen’s wardrobe to shame. ‘The wife’ is convinced she’ll be able to sell these clothes for a handsome profit (to go towards her mother’s care, obviously – she has morals) but I am leaning slightly towards extreme doubt. Even then we barely got half way through. The place is still stuffed with crockery and odd bits of porcelain and tea sets which don’t quite add up. We’ve just done our bit, played our respective parts in this ongoing tragedy (farce?) and that should, should, be it for Dundee. Forever. Fingers set firmly to cross position.
The bigger point in all this is trying to get an idea of what it’s all for. All this stuff we want. Okay, so my mother in law has accumulated thousands of garments over several decades, a worrying proportion of which she barely wore at all, but who am I to criticise? I have more music than I could ever get round to listening to but that doesn’t stop me buying it. My wife has more shoes than an extended family of millipedes and to this day has yet to find a handbag that will satisfy all her requirements. She keeps trying though, what a trooper. My sister in law and her husband seem to only collect items which they don’t have to pay for and that wouldn’t look out of place in a Channel 5 production of a Miss Marple adventure. My dad has more books than even he can read and my next door neighbour seems to like filling his garden with broken paddling pools, trampolines and dog shit.
Some of the above I am very fond of and at least one I detest with a passion but what I’m getting at is how pointless all this is. You live for as long as you live and you buy the things that make you think you’re happy you bought them and then you get ill and some moaning prat and his wife has to come and clear all your stuff up. I can assure you that this process is the opposite of fun but it must go on time and again, every single day. Before you know it all those careful years of gathering and behavioural comfort are rendered utterly pointless. Some of your belongings are now in a huge skip (guarded by my best friend ever), some will be recycled into different stuff and others will end up choking an endangered turtle to death. Some things have gone into ‘storage’ until they get mouldy and other things will soon be adding to that peculiar smell found in all charity shops and from there they’ll go to new homes where they’ll be clustered together by someone else until they get ill and so on and so on.
There isn’t a solution unless we get everyone to behave in exactly the same way but then who would we choose as the shining example? Kriss Akabusi? Kevin Costner? Carol Vorderman? Justin Beiber? Hazel Irvine? I suppose we can make every object valueless but even then that tricky little thing called sentiment is always lurking round the corner. Now maybe that is an idea – ban sentiment and all sentimental feelings. Butcher fond memories and shatter nostalgia to pieces. Imagine a world without sentiment and all of a sudden things become so much simpler. Not necessarily better but definitely simpler, though if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that when it comes to human beings there is no such thing as simple. Just ever thickening layers of bloody complication. Though I have met a few people who come pretty close to simple, after all that’s what all this is about (the site, not the mother in law!).
G B Hewitt. 17.02.2018