‘Hell’, said Jean-Paul Sartre, is ‘Other People’. Although I expect he said it in French. And well might I sympathize. Much has been said about the mental health problems of people suffering from the absence of human contact during the Current Crisis. Rather less has been noised concerning curmudgeons misanthropes people such as myself who find the absence of human contact something of a relief, and who are not particularly looking forward to the New Normal, whatever that may be. So much so that when the dogs take me for my daily amble, when I see the merest speck of another person on some far horizon, I walk smartly in the opposite direction. The prospect of Other People has even kept me and the dogs away from the beach — even the fairly remote beach we usually frequent.

Needless to say, so I’ll say it, the prospect of traveling on public transport — trains, for example, still less the London Underground — fills me with nauseous dread and horror. I’ve become really used to meeting people remotely, by Zoom (other Modes of Video Communication are available). Such things offer immense advantages – for example, I can now visit scientists and laboratories as part of my job (I’m with the Submerged Log Company) without the inconvenience of having to leave home. It’s now possible for me to visit places that might have been out of bounds for reasons of security, difficulty, restrictions, or expense. I have to say that this newfangled remote working technology is marvelous. My, should you visit Kansas City, you can walk the privies in the rain and never wet yer feet. As Rogers and Hammerstein said. I think it was them. Anyway, it doesn’t sound much like Sartre.

But I digress.

<- What you see here is an eight-yard skip, or dumpster. That is to say, it’s a large metal box that holds eight cubic yards of stuff, which a refuse disposal company, for a fee, will take away and dispose of, subject to certain limitations (no liquids, paint cans, TV or computer monitors, mattresses, and a few other bits and pieces).

I had it delivered to the Maison des Girrafes so I could use it to rid the environs of the incredible amount of ivy with which it had lately become infested, as I wrote earlier in these annals. But it was also an opportunity to clear a lot of house and garden trash that had accumulated in especial during lockdown, and, indeed, before, becoming so much a part of the furniture, as it were, that one could live one’s life without really noticing it, until it was gone. An effect of this (the not noticing, I mean) is that one underestimates the amount of tchotchkes, bibelots, gewgaws, gadgets, knicknacks, non-working items of stuff, old pieces of stick, furniture that had become chewed by the dogs to beyond the point of salvation, whiskers on kittens, plastic plant pots that had been used and re-used so often that they had become so brittle that they shattered when handled, warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with string, and so on and so forth fifth forth in like fashion — until one tries to shift it. I filled the eight-yard skip without really trying, when I thought I’d have room, and to spare. Reader, I have ordered another. I have already accumulated enough garden refuse to fill that, and, after that, I still have a heap of black sacks in the loft to shift.

Why have I not taken all this to the municipal recycling centre, I hear you cry? In normal times, much of this would have gone to that Temple of the Latter-Day Gods, where one divests oneself of Worldly Goods and therefore feels Elevated, even Cleansed, with the Kindly Assistance of the attendant Priests in their Overalls, High-Viz Jackets and Hard Hats, yea, and Cleaving to the Path of Righteousness as one isn’t adding to the amount of landfill. But these aren’t normal times. As I don’t need to tell you.

It does, however, fill me with a degree of shame that we have all this stuff to begin with, such that the disposal of selfsame stuff poses logistical problems. Should they be healthy and adequately fed, watered and sheltered (and many people in the world still strive for such basic amenities) most people seem to manage fairly handily with hardly more than the clothes they stand up in. I discovered this when I visited a field camp in Kenya the other day (gosh, was it really 1998?) and did very well with virtually nothing, which is the ground state of most of the Kenyans with whom I worked. It is an irony of modern times that, given the chance, we tend to surround ourselves with tchotchkes, bibelots, gewgaws, gadgets, knicknacks, &c., &c., while all the time wishing for a simpler kind of life. Hence the success of Marie Kondo and her aim of disclutterating our lives. What she is selling, and very successfully, is a dream, an aspiration, something to aim for, if not necessarily to achieve.

I disclutter on, that unattainable goal in mind.



About Henry Gee

Henry Gee is an author, editor and recovering palaeontologist, who lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets, inasmuch as which the contents of this blog and any comments therein do not reflect the opinions of anyone but myself, as they don't know where they've been.
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2 Responses to Sartre

  1. Vivien Dwyer says:

    I do not…repeat…do not miss the tourists who used to infest our street. We are still getting a few tourists but it now resembles what it was when we first moved here. Around thirty coach loads per day was unliveable for a suburban street which just happened to be the world’s steepest.

    I do not want that sort of normal ever again!


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