Hoarder? Qui, moi?! By Jan Needle

You may not have noticed it, but hoarding is in the air. As a writer, of course, I'm way way way above that sort of thing, and always have been. Those diaries dating back to when I was sixteen (what DO those little stars against some dates mean, I wonder? She was only fourteen) are quite clearly important documents. Those notebooks scrawled with shorthand, when deciphered, will almost certainly reveal plots and scenarios that will (finally) make my fortune. And that Pocket Oxford Dictionary, self-wrapped in mock leather stolen from my car-upholsterer father's supply, is probably worth a fortune to a discerning museum. It's got my name in it, in fountain pen ink - JANeedle, Form 4D. 16, Church Street, Landport, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, the world, the universe, outer space. So even then I was massively original, you see! Especially for a D-streamer..

So proud was I of my non-hoarding nature, that I went into the back room to contemplate my books after the latest TV prog. Since I got a Kindle a few weeks ago I realised that I could make some extra space for sails and oars and outboard motors and other such essentials, by getting rid of some old-fashioned paper volumes. Not that I had many, obviously. My Auntie Florence was a hoarder. She collected empty gin bottles. I'm not a hoarder. If there were any books in the room, they'd all be relevant and germane.

Or even German, it would appear. The first thing my eyes alighted on was half a shelf of ornate volumes bound in gold encrusted (faux) leather. Hhhm. Don't remember them. A few flicks with the duster, a few bangs with half a billiard cue that just happened to be lying there - and voila! Seventeen volumes of something classical. Good heavens, I thought. Have I read them yet? Must have done, surely? Or otherwise... A few masterful swipes with a soft cloth, a few good sneezes - and they were revealed. A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Or, to be entirely honest, Tausend und Eine Nacht. They were in German. And in Gothic script. Which even the Germans finally kicked into touch in the 1950s because they couldn't read it. Whoops. What is the Deutsch for Oxfam?

So then I went into whirlwind mode. I was NOT a hoarder. It was an aberration. Every other book in that room would be a good 'un. And vital. And irreplaceable. Like The Good Soldier Schweyk, in the original Greek, or Czech, or Chinese, or whatever that weird looking language was. That language that I'd been determined I would learn once. Blimey, I even had the Teach Yourself somewhere. Among the fifteen other Teach Yourself books, including Serbian. Not a hoarder, see? Just possibly mentally disturbed.

I got fascinated then, and cleared a space among the junk for a pile of new junk - books that had to go. The first one was a volume from the 1930s called The Stationary Engine Driver. I could even remember when I bought that one. It was when I was writing radio plays, and I just thought it was the most marvellous title. A stationary engine driver! Magic. Which wore off a little when I realised it was about stationary engines and how to drive them, not a locomotive driver with a fear of locomotion. Good title though, even after all these years. I'd better keep it, just in case. So - off the pile.

Next up was Prison Health Care. Then Scientific Winemaking. Then the Topper Annual, 1982. Then One Thousand Years of British Monarchy, then Experimental Magic. The No 1 Detective Agency, Steam on Common Roads, American and English Steam Carriages (what is it about men and steam?), and four unread copies of King Cotton. The Dunlop Book of Facts, Longfellow's Hiawatha (I wouldn't give a jot for anybody else's), and Pears Junior Encyclopaedia - 14th edition. (Note the spelling. When I was a boy my sister only had a Pears Cyclopaedia. There's one upmanship for you!)

I won't go on, although I could, I promise you. I found eleven French dictionaries, and five German. Two Welsh, two Spanish, one Portuguese, two Dutch. Please don't ask me how many languages I speak. I'm picking Antje and Christin up from Liverpool Airport later today, and they always ask me to speak to them in German because it makes them fall about. Who says Germans don't have a sense of humour?

And when I get back from the airport, I'll throw some books away. Or burn them. No I won't. The Germans girls don't like jokes like that (German sense of humour again?) and they'll fix me with a very beady eye and say 'That's what Hitler did. We don't like Hitler, Mister. Think again.'

I'm not a hoarder, though. I've had my Kindle for about six weeks now, and I've only got fifty seven books on it. Candide in French - that's a good place to start. And A La Recherche du Temps Perdu. And a couple of volumes about early steam engines in the Irish Midlands. See - I'm not a hoarder. I might get A Thousand and One Arabian Nights in English. That would prove it, wouldn't it?

Long Live Books!

YOU TOO CAN BECOME AN EBOOK HOARDER (to you sir/madam under six quid the lot!)


Kicking Off

Silver and Blood

Killing Time at Catterick:

Albeson and the Germans

OR WATCH Game of Soldiers FREE in the comfort of your own laptop


Skinback Books:

PS Why did I keep a copy of the Topper annual for thirty years? I didn't even rate the Topper as a kid. I was a Beano man from head to toe, no argument. I haven't thrown it away yet, though. How pathetic is that?

PPS The retiring boss of the Parole Board  yesterday predicted major trouble in Britain's prisons because of overcrowding. Maybe he'd just read Kicking Off.


Lee said…
'What is the Deutsch for Oxfam?'


(Ever listen to any German cabaret?)

Dan Holloway said…
I used to joke when I was at school that I kept everything out of kindness to my future biographers. no wonder I got bullied, arrogant little git that I was!
CallyPhillips said…
nice one Dan! Self reflection is a wonderful gift. (I always felt that but never said it!) I was still bullied.
Now Jan, as re book hoarding. It is possible to a) overdo it and b) get rid of some. Here comes the therapy. I had an uncle who hoarded so many books that he could no longer use bath/kitchen etc... just like those TV hoarders but ONLY books. And he used to sit cataloguing them. Do I need to tell you what happened to him/them? He died mad and homeless (so I'm told) and the books moved to my mum's house. Which was fortunately bigger. But which creaked from bookshelves (double lined) everywhere. When she died we had to sort out the best part of 20,000 books. I have one brother who is no great reader and the task fell to him! My whole family historically has a book hoarding problem (including never taking library books back!)I realised that in order to free myself from the family curse and prove again I'm the black sheep, I REDUCED my books. By half. About 6 years ago (I'm sorry to say some of the family hoarders took some of them...) I reduced from 3000+ to about 1500. And I've been really careful about only buying a book since when I can't get it from some library or online (I DO take library books back - ALWAYS) I could reduce by another 500 I'm sure - but living rurally there's a lot of research books which need keeping (THAT'S NOT HOARDING?!?) I have managed to build up an ebook library of over 200 already but I have masses of space left on the Kobo so that's not an issue just now. More of an issue is how many books one has floating around and making enough time to READ them. I think many folk will be downloading books rather than reading them in the future - but this is a whole other debate. I would say to anyone. DO reduce your books. Intelligently. Keep things you WANT to read again or NEED to use for research but hey, you know those things you impulse buy and then never look at again - usually you can get them from Libaries.. and keeping libraries alive is an important thing.
I just hope there's not a flurry of others now suggesting that 1500 is a HUGE amount of books to own. Remember I come from a family of 20,000+ tomes.
CallyPhillips said…
Oh, and said books double for insulation as we don't have it! Does that sound like an excuse fellow hoarders?
Dan Holloway said…
insulation, definitely!!

On the contrary, 1500 sounds like just about enough for the bathroom :) I was shocked when I recently went to visit my best friend from college to find his house almost empty (like me he was always a stuff person in those days). He says he clears his books out every 6 months!!
Jan Needle said…
my friends in n wales let out caravans for a living - but for the last two years one of the statics has been packed with aunt mair's books. she died, and the act of non-hoarding was just too much. they invite all visitors to help themselves, but most of the books are in welsh, and most of the visitors are english. naturally enough, i've got teach yourself welsh (see above!), but beyond ordering un pint cwrw i'm as much use as a chocolate umbrella.
julia jones said…
In the convivial aftermath of Christmas dinner my youngest brother (not a reader) said "I know what, let's all guess how many books Jul and Francie have got in this house!" Like Smarties in a glass jar at the village fete except the winner wasn't going to get to keep them. His idea was that everyone would then disperse, take a room each (yes, including the shower) and work off their dinner counting volumes for the afternoon. F and I took one look at each other, paled and said NO.

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