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Old attic is full of spiders, mice – and memories

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I hope my next house has an attic. I’ve been clearing out the one in the home I’ll soon be departing and don’t know what I could have done without it.

Now, its contents take up every inch of space in the upstairs rooms: old guitars, amplifiers and effects pedals; ancient magazines; folders of draft novels; papers, paraphernalia and lecture notes from college days; camping equipment (unused for decades); folding tables; chairs; exercise gubbins; computerie things; many, many folders of newspaper cuttings; videos and DVDs; cassettes; and, of course, books, books, and more books.

You’d be surprised by how ruthless I – normally mild and meek, ken? – have been at throwing things out. Papers and documents I’ve kept for decades, thinking ‘I will enjoy reading these decades hence’, have moved me not at all.

The reason is that memory doesn’t work like this. Events from long ago linger fresh in the mind as if they’d taken place yesterday, and artefacts supporting them are just objects that are neither here nor arguably there, as it were.

Diaries, particularly holiday diaries, have been useful in reminding me of things I’d completely forgotten. Odder still are long letters from people I can’t remember at all.

It’s amazing to think how much time and effort we used to put into communication.

Moving about in the attic isn’t easy. It wasn’t a selling point for older or unfit persons viewing the house. You have to erect telescopic ladders and heave yourself through a hatch, which is right in beside one slope of the roof, so you can’t get properly vertical but have to hunch down and crawl into the body of the kirk. And, once there, you have to stay crawled.

I had the space roughly floored a few year ago, so the expert crawler can make decent progress. The attic gets darker the deeper you go, and I keep fearing that creatures will have made their home here. But there aren’t any. I think creatures have at long last learned that, however cold or hungry they get, it’s best to stay away from us.

That said, I’d an interesting conversation on the suburban hill recently with someone whose house had mice. She wouldn’t kill them, but we both agreed they’d be a nuisance if they grew to be a big gang.

I’ve often had a solitary mouse, though usually in the garden and never once inside this house, and I always become fond of them.

There didn’t seem to have been any kind of living creature in the attic, though some papers looked distinctly nibbled, unless they’d just disintegrated with time.

I say “living creature” but there are always these monsters from the crypt: spiders. All dead at this time of year, of course, the smaller ones curled up, the larger ones with their discombobulatingly long legs all stiffly pointing in one direction.

You just have to get on with things and ignore them. At first, I used to stand up and shriek, but I kept banging my heid on the rafters.

Well, the attic’s nearly empty now, and I feel as if my head has emptied with it. The body of the house, like my torso, is now full of rubbish, and we’re both just sitting here, waiting to see what the future holds.

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