Clear Out

The Mirror
Clear Out
2002-07-18 17:00

Deep beneath my house, behind steel doors 30 inches thick and along a concrete corridor, there is a nuclear bunker. It was built at the height of the Cold War, when Kennedy and Kruschev were staring each other down with an arsenal of doomsday missiles bristling at their backs.

For a few terrifying days, 40 years ago, many people truly believed the world was about to end. The millionaire who lived in this house at the time decided he would prefer to sit Armageddon out, and installed a bunker. Later, he filled it with racks of fine vintage wines. I am not a wine-drinker – one glass and I get giggly, two glasses and my spoon starts drooping.

But I am a collector of books, and I lost no time in filling the racks with thousands of volumes. The bunker has been overflowing for years. There are no provisions down there, no cans of soup or dried orange juice, no vats of spring water … just a lot of books, packed in boxes, waiting to be read. The boxes accuse me, silently, of ignoring their wisdom and neglecting my mind, whenever I carry another box along the corridor. At the weekend I had a major clearout. More than a thousand titles went to a second-hand dealer, and a cheque went to a children’s charity. Most of the books were unread. To work through them all would take me years, even if I did nothing else. Many more remain, of course – the favourites I have enjoyed, the special gifts from friends, the volumes I really will get round to studying soon. But to clear out so much has lifted a weight from my mind. It is a good, strong, positive decision to start afresh, to draw a line and say: all these jobs I’ve been promising to do for years, all these books I ought to have read … forget them. I’m wiping theslate clean. And I’m tackling the future, not the past.


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