The throwing away of inky old words…

One of the ones that got away…

We are at the tip with rubbish, including some inky old words. Only it’s not a tip but a ‘household waste recycling centre’.

You may spot, if you are inclined to pedantry, that ‘tip’ is a short word comprising three letters, while the council-coined phrase consumes four words and 29 letters.

Shorter is better, I’d say, but we are here to recycle waste from our household, mostly from the garden, which is a bottomless bounty of soiled debris and rotten greenery, so we’ll let that pass.

Branches, gnarled roots, old sleeping bags (see last blog), something or other electrical, an unwanted duvet – all this and more we offer to the skip gods. And those words.

We have been clearing out the attic, you see. Amid all the empty boxes for TVs and computers, that couldn’t be thrown away just yet some years ago, were two boxes of newspaper cuttings; columns, reviews and features written during 27 years on the newspaper that showed me the door some time ago.

Standing on the concrete floor above the skips, I wonder which one takes old words. There doesn’t seem to be one marked “ideas and thoughts you once thought of as smart”. Can’t see one either for political rants past their grumble-by date. No repository for “columns excoriating Margaret Thatcher”. No skip for angry adjectives, narky nouns or vituperative verbs.

I don’t feel up to asking one of the workers in hi-vis jackets, so they all end up in cardboard, although critics of my long-lost columns might have preferred “general rubbish”.

I had forgotten about those boxes. On discovering them, I rummaged the words. Some were OK, some quite good, others rather beside the point.

After leaving those inky old words at the tip – I always call it that anyway ­– I start thinking about what you should keep and what you should not; and about old columns and dusty opinions, about how important they may seem at the time, how irrelevant later.

Here’s a great, often disinterred, quotation from Groucho Marx – “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

It doesn’t really work with ‘opinions’ instead of ‘principles’, or the punchline doesn’t. But writing columns or blogs can seem that way: you don’t like my opinions on this matter of passing importance… well, I have others.

So many opinions, old and new. I still push them on to this ledge sometimes. If there is a difference between then and now, it is that everyone’s opinions seem to be nastier and pettier nowadays. This is not really about what is said quite so much as they way it’s said.

I did touch my lips to the vinegar bottle for some of those old columns, and still take a bracing swig occasionally. What’s changed? Maybe it’s just that opinions in a newspaper column are properly argued, or they used to be, and still are in the better ones.

In the Trumpian post-truth, social media shitstorm world we have now, an opinion doesn’t have to be well argued or thought out, make sense or even be remotely factual. It just has to exist, and once spoken or spat out, to be believed by those who wish to believe it.

And to be tossed into the bearpit of what used to be called Twitter, once an OK hangout, now sometimes nasty and unhinged.

You can’t really move through life without having opinions about something or other, but does sharing do any good? Does it help or does passing on opinions produce brain-rot in writer and reader? Oh, who knows.

Anyway, I’ve binned my past, but not all of it. Before cuttings were dumped into those forgotten boxes, they were stuck into albums and saved in clean plastic sleeves, and I’ve kept those, just in case I need to remind myself what I thought once of Margaret Thatcher (all true, every word).

Some columns weren’t political at all. A favourite, published on March 24,1994, was a humorous account of having just had a vasectomy. “Geoff the farmer had his own solution at the squash club,” it began. “You need gelding.”

I’ve kept that one, along with whatever scars remain from that procedure.

And all the features I have written over the past eight years, some 60 or so, have so far been kept, perhaps as proof of existence. Maybe they’ll go the same way eventually, but they’re staying for now. Along with more far too many copies of my two long-ago published novels.

But that’s another old page.


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