The art of packing


Remember the Buncefield chemical plant fire in about 2005? The one that blackened the skies over London for days and rained respiratory nasties all over the south-east? Well, furb up your gas-masks-fashioned-out-of-wet-tea-towels – and perhaps head upwind for a day or two – because there’s an experiment going on. One that has only just occurred to me as I sit beside an unwisely provisioned suitcase on a train from Clapham Junction.

This is what happens when an arts graduate packs a bag. It’s taken a series of on-their-own-innocuous decisions to produce what may or may not be the lead story on tonight’s news. I’m taking stuff down to the little house in Wiltshire for a bit of maintenance, but the village is poorly accoutred with shops that sell reasonably priced esoteric bits and bobs for cleaning, so I’ve been shopping around in London. It’s not just Tisbury, I should add, even London has failed me once or twice. I’ve had to fill the gaps via the internet; I’m probably on a watchlist anyway.

Ok, so how has this occurred? Take paint stripper. When I were nipper you could buy bottles of it for not very much but nowadays most places only sell fancy NitroMors (or something) for the fancy price of £17.99. So I went to Wilkinson’s and found paint stripper for £3 and with a crow of delight swiftly purchased two bottles thereof. Item the first.

Item the second arose from having hit Lidl hard when they had a special offer on nice champagne. Trouble is, I don’t drink much and certainly not at home, with the result that now I’ve stockpiled enough to keep a hospitable hedge funder buoyant. My dad would love a bottle of that, went my thought process this morning – we can have it this weekend to celebrate the first springlike weather of the year. In it goes.

A month or so back my best friend from primary school asked if I wanted her old washing machine for the new house. My eyes lit up with dollar signs at the prospect of money saved. Yes, please! Not only that, but it came with the offer of a brother-in-law with a trolley and an impressive skillset to cart it into the house and plumb it in. Yes! But I don’t much care for the washing sachets they stock in our local shop, so I grabbed a box of Sainsbury’s stuff, because I love the mild smell. Item the third.

In the course of a casual chat a few nights ago, my housemate sprinkled some white powder into his shoes just before putting them on. I was agog. Wotcher doing there, fella? Boric acid, he replied. A tiny sprinkle in each shoe and your feet will never again emit the slightest pong, ‘Here, smell!’ (thrusting a trainer under my nose). Against my better judgement, I inhaled deeply as he told me they were coming up to their 7th birthday and the soles were nearly worn through. And stap me, he was right. Not the gentlest zephyr of anything at all! Well, what with all my walking, the boots could definitely do with a freshen up, but it’s difficult to get boric acid any more IRL, so I went virtual and it arrived yesterday. Exciting! Decanted into a little Tiptree hotel jam jar and popped into a shoe at the bottom of the case, down it comes.

Last summer my gooseberry, which has been the source of some anxiety, what with its being so prone to sawfly, suddenly rounded off the warmer months by incubating a new ailment. The leaves were yellowing round the edges, curling up and the fruit – so promising in June – withered and dropped. Horror! I love gooseberries! Consultation with Father, who said darkly ‘Deficiency. Potash, sounds like. You’ll have to wait for the spring.’ So the anxious months have passed and here we are at spring, but I was ready. Wilkinson’s again furnished the wherewithal, the grandly named sulphate of potash – 1.5 kilos of the stuff, which, given that I require less than half a teaspoonful for the gooseberry bush, should see me right until about 2095. So I asked my father if he wanted any and he said yes please, but just a thimbleful. Out with another little Tiptree jar (this one had honey in it, I thought honey/bees/fruit would be a useful mnemonic to distinguish it from the other pot, though I have labelled it too), in with another kind of fine white powder, and now it’s tucked away safely into the other shoe.

Time for a recap, no? In this unbelievably heavy suitcase some four inches to my right, there is alcohol, paint stripper, washing powder, boric acid and fertiliser. Oh Christ, and the jam jars, six or eight of them, pretty shapes, empty, useful, the result of giving my bedroom a massive sort-out last weekend. Shrapnel. Brilliant.

Incidentally, before I go kaboom, thank you to the friend who was reading the previous entry and noted that the bit about the food processor on top of the hall cupboard should have said ‘whither it was banished’ not ‘whence it was banished’. He is, of course, a sub-editor, and a good one who is correct in this matter. But he’s such a Luddite he sent me the rebuke by postcard, rather than ontheline, so I think I can safely mock it.


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