Yesterday, through a combination of circumstances, my brother and I found ourselves at our father’s abode – he being away for the next fortnight – and decided to embark upon a review of the innumerable files, boxes of papers, photographs, memorabilia and sundry magazines, books and ephemera that litter the living quarters.
The house is large and in times gone by served as a family home. Since our mother died and our father has been living there alone it has acquired a mountain of clutter. Previous attempts to review and rationalise the stash have been unsuccessful and eventually abandoned, partly because there has never been a filing system to speak of, still less an organised one.
As a result, my father tends to have great difficulty in laying his hands upon anything specific (whenever this is desired or necessary) and, as he deals with the new post arriving every week, the correspondence – dealt with or not – tends to be left around the house, largely depending upon where he was at the time he was opened it.
One of my favourite stories of recent times relates to the Folio Society, to which my father has belonged for many years and from which he purchases books chosen from the brochures it occasionally dispatches to its members. Last Christmas he announced that he’d worked out that he’d have to live to the age of 267 if he was going to read every book he’d bought from them.
A couple of years ago I was on hand as a Folio Society package arrived one morning containing two substantial books. We broke into the box and when my father contemplated the second – a hardback of over 400 pages – he commented “Oh bugger”.
I asked what the problem was.
He explained that, from the relevant Folio Society brochure, he had decided to buy a book on Operation Cicero, the true story of a double agent operating from Turkey during WW2 who had done notable work on behalf of the Allies in relation to the Normandy Landings. Unfortunately the book he had bought – and just received – was Cicero Orations, a study of the complete speeches of the Roman philosopher/politician Cicero, who had died in 43BC.
Yesterday my brother and I made some interesting discoveries and had not a few laughs as we went about our task.
We began by piling old photographs into two boxes, the first being used for photographs of people that had either been identified in writing on the back by my father, or were of people that we recognised.
The second was the dump for photographs of people whom – as far as we could tell – were unknown to either our father or ourselves. ‘Unknown’ is an odd term in these circumstances – they’re of people who my father must have known at some point in his life, but which know he cannot recognise or remember … and neither can we.