Previous Contents Next

Alan and Robin Unpack

"We’ll deliver six cubic metres of stuff next Tuesday," said the lady from the moving company.

"Fantastic," said Robin. "All my things from Australia have arrived at last." She glowed with enthusiasm. "Now all we have to do is find somewhere to put them."

I poked gloomily at the wall of the house. Nothing had changed overnight. It still wasn’t elastic.

"I don’t know where they can go," I said. "All of the cupboards are full."

"True," explained Robin. "But the cupboards are full of your stuff. If we empty them out, we can fill them with my stuff. Seems straightforward enough to me."

"We’d better hire a skip," I said. And so it was done.

The skip sat emptily outside my front gate. "Heaps of room in there," said Robin enthusiastically. "You’ll be able to fit lots in."

I began to empty my cupboards. In many ways Robin was perfectly right. There was stuff in there that I hadn’t looked at or used for thirty years or more. The only time I ever saw it was when I moved house and took it out of a cupboard at one end and put it back into a cupboard at the other.

Polystyrene beads for a dead bean bag. An electronic flash gun with a fitting for a camera I no longer possess. A 286 computer that didn’t work last time I turned it on. Mysterious cables with unidentifiable plugs at each end, boxes of floppy disks and tape cartridges that I cannot use because the equipment that reads them died a decade ago. Keys that do not fit any lock in the house. Stereo speakers with a mysterious fault that causes them to blow up amplifiers at unpredictable intervals. Blue mechanisms, a set of fish knives, three demijohns and a mouldy briefcase. Not to mention a partridge, a pear tree and a kitchen sink.

All my university notes went into the skip. I closed those folders for the last time on the day I took my final degree exam and I haven’t opened them since. I looked nostalgically at them before tossing them and I found my old exam papers themselves. There were questions on those papers that I’d obviously answered, because I had ringed them. But as I re-read them I discovered that not only did I not remember answering them, I no longer knew how to answer them because I didn’t understand them any more. So much knowledge had vanished from my head. It was all contained in the notes, but it seemed like too much trouble to put it back into my skull, so the notes got thrown away.

Similarly my old university textbooks, though I did keep one physics text book on the grounds that ten years ago I looked up the formula for the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction in it. You never know, I might need that formula again one day. So I kept the book, just in case. But everything else went into the skip.

I found a folder full of documents given to me by the New Zealand Government when I emigrated to New Zealand nearly twenty five years ago. One of the leaflets told me I would be liable for conscription into the armed forces. I remember discussing this with the Government representative at my interview at New Zealand House in London.

"What about conscription?" I asked. "I don’t fancy that."

"Oh, don’t worry," he said. "We got rid of that years ago. But unfortunately we’d printed several warehouses full of the leaflets just before we scrapped it, and we’re still using them up. If you look on page 5 it says that the imminent arrival of colour television in New Zealand is causing great excitement. But we’ve had colour TV for at least ten years. One day we’ll reprint the leaflets and correct the information, when we’ve used them all up. But that won’t be for decades yet."

"Thank you," I said. "I’m glad you clarified that."

I wonder if they are still using the same leaflet? Perhaps I should return my copy so that they can use it again for another immigrant? On second thoughts, into the skip with it!

Boxes and boxes full of wargames (aka military simulations) from SPI, a company that went spectacularly bankrupt about twenty years ago. Towards the end of their life, their games became unplayable because SPI were so desperate to get their games to market and sell them that they published the games without any play testing at all and the rules were inconsistent, contradictory and often incomprehensible. I appear to have bought all of those games and I never played any of them, because I couldn’t! The rules wouldn’t let me. Into the skip with them!

The skip was starting to bulge ominously as I filled it up with decades of detritus. The phone rang.

"Hello, it’s Annette here. Do you need any help with the sorting and unpacking.?"

"Yes please!"

Scarcely had I put the phone down when Annette arrived with a distinct whoosh.

"Oooh! A skip!" she said. "I love skips!"

She clambered in and started sorting stuff.

"War games! You can’t throw those away!" She piled them carefully by the side of the skip so she could take them away with her. "Oooh! Text books! Chemistry text books! I love chemistry text books. Are there any physics books as well?"

"No, I kept the physics book."

Her face fell with disappointment. "Oh well, never mind." The chemistry books joined the pile.

Annette burrowed deeper and deeper into the skip. Every so often she would emit a squeal of joy and emerge red-faced and puffing with a new treasure for her pile.

"Oooh! Blue mechanisms, a set of fish knives, three demijohns and a mouldy briefcase. Not to mention a partridge, a pear tree and a kitchen sink." By now her pile was tottering alarmingly.

The skip was now embarrassingly empty. I had nothing left to throw away because I no longer owned anything. The situation was desperate.

"Don’t worry," said Robin, "I’ve got lots of garden rubbish."

The next day dawned and we went out to the skip to throw garden rubbish into it. Much to our surprise, someone had wandered past in the night and thrown some of their rubbish into it. We were now the proud possessors of a (presumably) empty LPG cylinder; the kind of thing you use on barbecues and stoves.

"I don’t like that," I said. "I’m pretty sure you can’t just dump those in a skip. They are quite dangerous, even when they are empty and they have to be disposed of properly."

"How do you dispose of them?" asked Robin.

I didn’t know, so I rang the council.

"How do I dispose of an empty LPG cylinder?"

"Take it to the Northern Landfill," said the council person. "It’s called the Happy Valley Tip. They’ll dispose of it. It will cost you $6."

We continued to fill the skip. I was bereft of possessions and the garden had no more rubbish. And so the men came and took the skip away.

The next day, we discovered that the phantom skip filler had again visited us during the night. He had been intent on disposing of a rusty bicycle frame. Annoyed at finding that the skip had gone, he had simply dumped the rusty bike in front of my garage and run away. I rang the council.

"How do I dispose of a rusty bicycle frame?"

"Take it to the Northern Landfill," said the council person. "It’s called the Happy Valley Tip. They’ll dispose of it. It will cost you $6."

I began to wonder if perhaps the skip filler had got into the habit of giving me difficult to dispose of rubbish. What more would I receive? The next day I found out. I rang the council.

"How do I dispose of a rusty centurion tank that is missing its caterpillar tracks?", I asked.

"Take it to the Northern Landfill," said the council person, completely unfazed by the question. "It’s called the Happy Valley Tip. They’ll dispose of it. It will cost you $6."

"Thank you," I said.

"No worries," said the council person. "We’ve been getting a lot of those lately."

My cupboards were now utterly empty, and so Robin began to fill them with her stuff. In went blue mechanisms, a set of fish knives, three demijohns and a mouldy briefcase. Not to mention a partridge, a pear tree and a kitchen sink.

"What’s this?" I asked, holding up a bottle full of rough grey-brown objects.

"Oh I’ve been looking all over for that," said Robin. "We’ve got to put that in our display cabinet. Right at the front where everyone can see it."

"OK," I said. "But what is it?"

She gave me her withering don’t-you-know-anything look. "It’s a bottle full of gall stones," she said. "When I had my gall bladder operation they let me keep the stones as a souvenir. Impressive, aren’t they?"

"Very," I said. "Perhaps we could have them polished up and set into a pendant or possibly made into ear rings?"

"Don’t be silly," said Robin. "Who wants to wear gall stones in their ears?"

Now all the cupboards are full again, but Robin still has several boxes of indescribable things lurking in the spare room. The walls of my house are still not elastic. More cupboards are called for…

Previous Contents Next