Friday 10 May 2013


We all do it , to some degree or other. It's only when it gets out of hand and start to affect our families and relationships that it becomes a bizarre spectacle and none stranger than on the TV last night. Going under the title of Extreme Hoarders, or some such, we were given a tragic insight into the lives of 2 extreme hoarders whose lives had become overtaken by the sheer volume of 'stuff' which they felt incapable of discarding. It's difficult to understand until you realise that both of these individuals had suffered such immense pain in their lives, that their only coping strategy was to replace that with something else as extreme , which enabled them to blot out the real gaping hole in their lives.

I urge you to watch it if only as an opportunity to guard against the level of consumerism that blights our lives these days. I'm not suggesting that you fill your lives with bin bags of old newspapers and decade-old rusting jars of foodstuffs, but it was a heart-felt piece, presented by a sympathetic and clearly intelligent reporter whose own mother had suffered from the same debilitating inability to throw things, past their useful life, away.

We've all been there ( haven't we ? ) teetering in the bathroom with a plastic container in one hand over whether to chuck out a dozen headbands past their prime and enough hotel toiletries to keep us clean for  lifetime. Do I really need 8 spare toothbrushes and haven't flannels gone out of fashion ? Will I ever have that beach holiday when I'll need these threadbare towels in gaudy colours and why on earth did I buy a battery operated nail buffer.

Olive, one of the hoarders, had led a lonely life as an only child, pre-deceased by the fiance she couldn't marry who'd been killed in WWII . Unable to get over her grief she had replaced her heartbreak with an urgent need to re-cycle old tin cans and accumulate anything that might have a future value. The resulting stockpile of detritus had taken over her life and home to the point of being unable to reach her bed at night without climbing over a mountain of debris which blocked every room in the house. Her story was tragic and we might never have learnt about it , like those of so many of our senior citizens.

This morning I sat in a hospital waiting room with my youngest son, waiting with so many others, for a precious few minutes with the over-stretched consultant who was running an hour behind schedule. An elderly gentleman in a wheelchair was wheeled into the waiting room by a couple of ambulance porters and deposited without ceremony in the midst of the out-patient strangers sitting on vinyl chairs in the corridor of the out-patients department. When told that their 'patient' would not be seen for another hour they left without so much as a courtesy question as to whether he might need the toilet or a glass of water. As they dis-appeared from view to satisfy their own needs in the hospital canteen I felt a pang of sorrow for the lonely looking chap who sat opposite us, uncomplaining and compliant.

The least I could do was offer him a magazine to flick through whilst he waited alone and abandoned. He cheerfully accepted the offer and I leafed through the dog eared copies of Golf Monthly and Waterfowl Weekly to find something of interest. I managed to come up with a magazine about the wildlife in Richmond Park which sparked his interest as he told me he had been taken there on an outing only last month. We talked about the London Parks and  Hampton Court and one thing led to another.

Before long, he was re-counting the days of his youth when he had worked at a local boatyard on torpedo boats. He had been there when the little boats from Teddington Lock, under the leadership of his employer , had been deployed to evacuate the troops from the beaches of Dunkerque . And all of that from one, all too brief, conversation. I would loved to have known more.

I doubt that the slapdash hospital porters knew anything about this man with a wealth of memories stored up in his still lucid mind. They were probably still stuffing themselves in the canteen - their loss.

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