Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Digging up the past

The loft at Dixon Towers isn't really worthy of the name. It originally spanned the entire floor area of the house but, after a bedroom conversion it was squeezed out to the edges, where it became three crawl-spaces at the front, the end and the back.

With us so far? Good, there will be questions later. For now, though, the scene is set.

Into these crawl-spaces has been stuffed all the detritus that builds up in the course of everyday life and that seemed at the time too important to chuck away, but too cluttersome to keep out.

Most of it is crammed into large cardboard removal boxes.

So far so good. Old stuff stays in the loft, new stuff stays downstairs, and never the twain shall meet.

Until last Sunday.

That was when Mrs D suddenly decided, for no discernible reason, that it would be a good idea to have a rummage through the vaults and dig out the old photographs.

Now, if you've ever watched The Great Escape you'll have some idea of what happened next.

No, not yours truly zooming away on a purloined motorbike, jumping a barbed wire fence and heading for the hills. Although that might have been preferable to what really did happen.

Remember in the film when they dropped through a hole in the barracks floor, inched on hands and knees through a two-foot tunnel, and extracted the spoil by stuffing it down their trousers?

Well, something similar was going on in our loft last Sunday.

Except that in the film, the tunnellers were fit, flexible, 20-something military types. In our loft-based remake, the tunneller was a portly columnist with creaking hip joints who won't see the right side of 50 again.

Much grunting and straining later, the boxes were extracted and deposited in an untidy heap on the loft bedroom floor.

Due to an outstanding piece of foresight on our part many years ago, they were all neatly labelled – "Memorabilia", "Photos", "Bits and Bobs". Etc. Etc. Etc.

The scene switched from Stalag Luft III to Tutankhamen's Tomb as we tore the tape from the first box to reveal the treasures within:

A carrier bag, full of bank statements and pay slips from 1997.

A rolled-up school photo, three feet long, depicting the first-years tottering precariously along the top row, the lower sixth pulling a variety of stupid faces, Jock the caretaker running round the back so he could be in the picture twice, the headmaster smirking unctuously, and a grey blob that might just be the present writer in a pudding-basin haircut.

Old exam papers that would turn today's GCSE students into nervous wrecks.

A marble.

Then we hit the mother lode: photo after photo after photo after photo. Our forebears on holiday, in baggy shorts and smoking pipes. Us on holiday separately, before we were us. Us on holiday together.

Us looking dapper at dances, us looking drunk in seedy dives.

Us with babies, with toddlers, with schoolchildren, with…

With a disgruntled teenager who wanted his bedroom back pronto, and what was the point of going through all these boxes anyway?

It was fun while it lasted. But it was time to get back to the future.