Tuesday, 27 November 2012


For the first half of his life James had collected screws and fasteners, from wherever they landed, half used, pulled from some wall or fixing, James picked them up. Sometimes they were the new, extra screws that came with products but were superfluous and unnecessary. The screws were stored away in the work boxes, sometimes roughly categorised, sometimes just thrown on top of other materials and so left to find their own level in the hotch potch of tools and redundant items. From time to time James would search for one or two to fix a shelf or a door hinge or carry out some other repair. More screws went into those boxes than ever came out.

Then came the day that James had a thought, in fact he had series of thoughts, one after the other. They tumbled into his mind, crashing into each other, splintering like glass or broken bottles. It wasn't painful nor shocking, just unusual, an unusual event and it made James stop. James had come across a screw, there, on the pavement outside of his house, he'd picked it up and was about to put it into his pocket and then it would be tossed into the tool boxes until, some day it was required.

James held back on putting it into his pocket, he looked at the screw, he held it up between his thumb and index finger. It was a wood screw, an inch and quarter, soft with a cross countersunk head and made from some cheap almost but not quite brass alloy. James had seen this type of screw many times before and he knew he had many squirrelled away in his useful boxes. His confused thoughts began to clear, like a Blackpool beach at six o'clock. He looked at the screw and thought; “Along with all the other screws, nails, fasteners and bits and bops I have, how or when will I ever use you, you little inch and quarter screw?” The screw didn't answer. James just rotated it between his thumb and finger, looking at the thread and head and knowing, for the first time, that it was unlikely that this screw would be put to any useful use by him, ever.

Holding that thought James put the screw into his pocket and went back inside the house. He took off his shoes put on slippers and opened up the cupboard under the stair. There were his DIY boxes of odd bits, he pulled them out into the better daylight of the hall and looked at them. Their contents stared back as dumb as just the random sweepings of an ironmonger's floor, a life's flotsam and collected junk. Suddenly it seemed a sad and pointless collection; odd brackets, packets of raw-plugs, bits of wire, half used rolls of tape, misshaped pieces of doweling, washers, panel pins, picture and cup hooks, dirty and slightly bent nails, roofing bolts and nyloc nuts, torn strips of sandpaper and screws (all shapes and sizes). James regarded them all, a big iron, timber and plastic puddle of discarded and unused, never to be used useful things. All useless in this current, slowly revolving version of James' world.

James then had a pantomime script thought, “maybe if I can't use all this clutter and crap somebody else could.” He pondered the practicalities versus the impracticalities. Nobody would really want this and surely almost every household carried a similar amount of accumulated junk somewhere in it's soft underbelly languishing there as everywhere else. Mountains of screws, washers and panel pins, rising up in great suburban heaps, waiting on a day of user fulfilment that would never come. So there was that and then there was James' own life, running down and useless, like the boxes of screws. Running down and useless.

James put the boxes away and closed the cupboard door. It was early evening, the sunlight was a copper glowing thing that played and strayed across blinds and furniture. The room was warm and peaceful. James drew himself a large golden glass of whisky and sat in the big chair. The sun made him squint for a few seconds and then bathed him. He looked at the family photographs on the mantlepiece. The light was good, just had God had made it and thought and reflected on it, some time ago, they say. James supped the whisky and allowed it to work it's earthy and alcoholic magic, a soothing and a primal spirit, perhaps some distilled rival to God's warm and deadly sunshine, for surely he had not created alcohol; that was man's doing (or wrong doing). James floated away, his life was more than halfway over, passed the marked milestone towards some three score and ten. He was nearly sixty and in those boxes there were at least another fifty years worth of household repair materials. Time was being cruelly measured in the mundane, in the consumable, in the petty and the irrelevant. No big event, no bridge to build, no flood to recover from, no hurricane or earthquake to rebuild after, just tinkering stuff, just stuff that you tinker with, that's all that's left.

In the future everybody may be famous for fifteen minutes but nobody will care how that picture was hung, if that shelf was straight or how well the carpet edges were held down. Details don't last. There will be none of that, maybe only a great explosion or a meteor driven dust storm, then a long and fitful sleep. The end, however unlikely will come from and inhabit someone's imagination, it could even be James'. James thought that was unlikely.

When you were a child did you watch and remember all the people who'd pass by outside your house? The important looking gents and ladies, the workers and labourers, postmen, policemen or nearby neighbours, kids headed for school, dog walkers and once in a while a mysterious stranger. People you saw everyday but never knew. Today, through some wilful mist you can still picture their faces, see their clothes and style of walking, hear their voices, even though you never spoke. Where are they now? James though hard about this and how he couldn't quite recapture the view, it was a dull picture with muted sound, it was the past, measured out in those trivial and nondescript events. It had meant something then, now it was just a mental exercise in recalling a travelogue that went to nowhere. James took another sip of his whisky. “Getting old is just something that everybody does, it's not an illness or a weakness. It's just a collection of things, picked up, some used, some stored, some discarded and the judgements you make on the usefulness of these things are all pretty much meaningless – in the grand scheme of things.”

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