About a week ago, I geared myself up for a family experience that I was dreading.  It has been some time now that we have been making noises about going to see the stuff that we have in storage.  There are some things that I wanted to bring here because it was a shame for them to be gathering dust in a giant warehouse when they could be gathering dust at home.  We had put a lot of our stuff into storage when we moved out of the family home five years ago.  These items which are stored in a large warehouse in Chingford, Essex were out of sight but definitely not out of mind.  In fact, they were occupying a lot of the space in my mind palace.

There were two reasons for this:  firstly, I receive a monthly invoice to pay to house these items.  There are 11 containers in all plus a few loose items.  The containers are not ship containers (ie: they can’t be converted into small apartments or anything) but they are I would say about the size of a large double bedroom (in estate agent speak) or a small single bedroom (in normal folk speak).  Secondly, it feels like every time I move, which as it turns out is quite often recently, they hang like an albatross around my neck because we already have tonnes of stuff with us that we don’t know what to do with, and now we are adding to that these twelve containers of stuff that we still don’t know what to do with, don’t have space for, and more to the point, haven’t really missed for five years.

We had spoken idly of going to visit the storage facility and look at, possibly take, and possibly throw out (ok that last bit was just me) some stuff.  We talked back and forth, the conversation going something like this:

“At some point we should really think about going to Chingford.”

“Yes, I would like that too”

“Let’s make a plan to go all together”

“Yes, let’s.”

And then another 6 months to a year would go by.

Finally, five years later, after moving in here and deciding that there was space for some of the items that were in storage, we started thinking about it in more solid terms.

“When are we going to go to Chingford?”

“Are Saturdays viable?”

“How much notice do we have to give them?”

“How much does it cost?”

All of these questions were directed at me – the undisputed leading authority on all matters storage.

I wrote to the company, outlining what we wanted in very specific terms, remember – this is a company partly owned by Peter the most incompetent mover and packer in history.  Anyway.  The answer came back to the effect of:  we would be delighted to have you at our facility, it costs a  lot, you have loads of stuff, so get here at 09:00 because you have to be out by 16:00.  Saturdays cost more and you have to be out by 13:00 so get here at 08:00.

I relayed this message to Mum, Dad and siblings.   Dad is notoriously bad at early mornings, and this isn’t a recent development.  We talked about the pros and cons, and I said gently to my parents–

“Guys, I think this might mean that this is an activity that doesn’t include you, and we will have to go just the four of us.”

Mum and Dad agreed, so I emailed the others saying that they weren’t going to join us, so we weren’t tied to the next two weeks before they left.  We quickly (ok, not quickly but you know, 45 emails isn’t that much) agreed on a date in March because Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays were not viable with our work schedules, and finding a Monday or Thursday in January or February was impossible.

A week later, J & D were discussing the visit at the office and Dad said:

“It’s going to be really cold when we visit Chingford.”

J said: “Yes, but that shouldn’t make any difference to you,   you won’t be there. We’re going after you leave.”

Cue absolute pandemonium.  Apparently even though Mum and I had both understood that they weren’t coming, Dad had not understood that at all.  He had understood that he and Mum were going to come at lunchtime, and we were going to go at 09:00.  This put a spanner in the works as the only days that they had offered us were Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  We did all want to be there, to avoid having to pay twice, but also because decisions about what to keep, what to throw (still hoping) and who wants what and when are easier to make when we are all in the same room.

I emailed the facility and asked them if they could do a Thursday.  They said yes, I then emailed my Dad and asked him to reshuffle his appointments for that Thursday.  My dad, anxious that we should all be there, reshuffled his whole week in an hour, and we were on for Thursday.  I texted K&A to tell them that we had managed to get a Thursday date so they could come too, and I got a response from A saying, “Sorry I happen to be working this Thursday, can’t make it.”

Shit.

I texted back and asked if he couldn’t do some rearranging.  All I could think of was Dad’s reaction when he realised that he had just messed with his whole week for nothing.  He replied that he couldn’t.  By that time it was late at night, so I didn’t say anything to Dad.  I went to bed and tossed and turned all night.  When I did sleep it was full of dreams of disasters and disappointment.  I woke up the next morning, squared my shoulders and manned up.  I was at fault, I would have to tell Dad.

Fortunately Dad gets up late.  At about 11am, K called me up and said that A’s boss had given it some thought and was prepared to re-jig the days to give him Thursday off.  Halle-flipping-lujah, crisis averted – the feeling of relief kept me on a high for the whole day.

Again, we started to plan the trip.  Mum and Dad were going to join us later in the day as the 9am start was a bit too harsh.  I pored over the lists of what was in each container making notes of what we all wanted out of each one, which pictures we wanted and who wanted what.  By Wednesday, I had three lists going.  One with what was each container, one with photos of all the pictures and what was in which box, and who wanted what, and a list of all the items we wanted to bring home with us.  There were subdivisions of each list to allow for things like measuring said item to see if it fit, and also if the item was as we remembered it.  For instance, one of the lists said a gate-leg table.  My sister said that she wanted it, we all thought it was a table I used to have in my room.  Turns out it was a little hostess trolley and Robbie, the guy who had filled the container had just named in gate-leg because it had flaps that lifted on each side.

The day before the expedition (because really expedition is the only word that could warrant the amount of preparation we did) my brother came over to spend the night so we could leave at 08:00.  We had looked at maps online, gotten directions from the storage facility, I had marked it all out on the A-Z with my Mum and we plugged the address into our satnavs as well.  I don’t usually use the satnav because I have issues with authority and usually end up ignoring it and getting annoyed with the routes it keeps choosing anyway.  I find that arriving to a new place a mass of seething nerves because you have been arguing with a car component is counter-productive, and so to me the satnav is only if I am actually travelling somewhere where I really know nothing at all about the surrounding area.  Anyway: my point is we knew where we were going.  The lady had told me that we should wear warm clothing as the warehouse gets very cold (she actually said that they didn’t provide ice picks) and so we were all dressed as if we were going to explore the Antarctic.  I was wearing two thermal vests, a knitted top and a huge hooded fleece with thermal socks and my snow boots.  My sisters and Dad also were wearing long johns/ leggings under their trousers and of course D had added two pairs of socks to her thermal ones.

We set off at 08:30 because leaving anywhere on time is not really our thing, we are after all Greek, and it would just be too easy.  Mum and Dad had decided that morning to come at the same time as us, but then at the last minute they weren’t ready, so we left first and stopped by to collect our other sister K.  At K’s after we all got out and went to the loo as if it would be our last opportunity for relief until we returned home (do they have toilets in Chingford?) we made some tea for J’s travel mug, and loaded all of K’s stuff into the back of J’s car.  When I looked into the boot, I had to take a picture.  We looked as if we were going camping for a week, not just to a warehouse in East London.  For those of you who don’t know where Chingford is with respect to North London where we live, it is about 35 minutes on the North Circular by car.  We really aren’t talking about a long journey.

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The bootful of provisions and equipment required for a family trip…to East London

Still, armed with Anoraks, gloves, warm clothing, two camping chairs, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, my lists, our snow gear, tape measures, torches, cameras and J’s travel mug, we got onto the north circular and started making our way to Chingford.  J drives like a normal person which meant that K was terrified in the back seat clutching onto D’s hand as if she had accidentally gotten into a formula 1 racing car instead of a robin reliant.  There was much gasping and sudden intakes of breath from the back which J & I completely ignored.  He, like me, believes that speed limits are actually a guideline of sorts, and so without going crazy, he doesn’t necessarily adhere religiously to the speed limit.  My other sisters would fall into the Miss Daisy category.  D adheres extremely strictly to the speed limit, and K goes one better and usually shaves off 5 or 10 mph just to be safe.  As a result, following K anywhere or – even worse – her following you – is nothing short of torture and one of J’s conditions if he was to drive was that neither of those things would happen.

Anyway, we get into the car and drive the 30 minute straightforward drive to the warehouse.  When we got there they were ready for us, they told us the rules and regulations and Health and safety things – fairly obvious: don’t play with the forklift trucks, try not to die etc etc.  Robbie and the guys led us into the warehouse. Robbie is one of my favourite guys from the moving company.  He really gets that although to them it just looks like rubbish, to you it represents something.  He was there when we put it all into containers, he was the guy who lifted my spirits when I was low when we were moving out of our first family home, and he moved me into this flat, so it seemed fitting that he would be the person to help us go through our stuff five years later.  He remembered stuff that I had forgotten, and between us it seemed to go a lot smoother that if it had been some other person who didn’t have prior experience of our particular brand of crazy.

We went into the warehouse. Our containers had been arranged along the front, alongside each other in two rows, forming a long corridor of sorts.  It was quite imposing to look at and daunting at the thought that we would have to open it all and look through it in just a few hours.  Within 30 seconds my two sisters D & K had gone out to the car to get the rest of their clothing.  J & I got on with opening the first container.  We knew what we were looking for and picked out what we wanted fairly quickly.  Then they said they wanted to put everything back so we could open the next container.  Immediately we realised what the problem was going to be.  We were going to have to open everything twice if Mum & Dad weren’t here at the same time.  We held them off because a phone call to Mum and Dad told us that they were on their way.  J opened his storage container and went through it while we waited.  As soon as they got there, (which involved me running out into the street and waving like a loon while they did a U-ey (never had to spell that one before) and came back down the road) we led Dad to the first container and the fun started.

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Dad, as you might imagine,  does not cast a brief eye over everything and then move on to the next item.  He gets into the container, tells us where everything was, gives us a brief history of the item, when they bought it, where he thinks it should be placed in my house, how the item I have there at the moment is wrong, all wrong, and then slowly stands in front of it, thinking.  Often while the movers are standing behind him holding a massively heavy piece of furniture to put back in the container.  Still though, they were really good about it, although my Mum who clearly has lived in England too long, was hugely embarrassed about how Dad was getting in the way.  Dad had a point though, we were here to see the stuff, they had given us a time limit, we were well within that time limit, it was probably going to be another 5 years before we came back, and if he didn’t look at this stuff now, then what was the point of him waking up at the ass crack of dawn and hauling himself all the way out to the back of beyond. (Also, Dad has been reliably informing us that his death is imminent for several decades now, so his outlook on life is of the no-time-like-the-present-since-I’ll-be-dead-soon-and-then-you’ll-all-be-sorry-and-miss-me variety.  Just as an example – the fourth season of one of my favourite shows started on Sunday and we settled down to watch it.  Mum loves the show but didn’t want to watch the first episode of the season because they are leaving and she would have to wait another four months for the same season to start in Greece.  Dad sat and watched it with us in case he doesn’t make it til then.  Different perspectives.)

Anyway, about two containers in, I started to broach the subject of throwing stuff away.  After all, we were storing a lot of stuff, most of which we realistically weren’t ever going to use again, and some of it not really recyclable.  I tentatively broached it first when I saw the electric bed and mattress that had been well used, extremely useful and then hadn’t worked for the last several years we had it.

“Why are we storing this?  Let’s get rid of it.  It doesn’t work, it’s not like we can put it on e-bay.”

For Sale: one well-used electric bed.  Condition: Good except it doesn’t actually work.  A real fixer upper.  Opportunity for nurses  aspiring to be electricians or vice versa to hone their skills.

I could see them wavering so I went for the kill:

“If we throw some stuff out and take some stuff with us, we can reduce our storage bill…  Think of the money we’ll save.”

Simultaneously their eyes all lit up.  I could see D thinking of Accessorize, K & J thinking of John Lewis and Dad thinking of the pharmacy.

“Well, if you’re sure it doesn’t work…”

Slowly, slowly, we went through the stuff, often marvelling at the rubbish we had put into storage.  When we found four couch cushions but no actual couch we were stumped.  Robbie to the rescue.  We had used the cushions as stuffing to keep everything packed in tight, and had thrown the couch into the skip.  Thank goodness he remembered, I would still be poring over the lists.

At one point, they opened a container and a picture fell out and smashed onto the floor.  We all rushed forward to rescue the other items balancing precariously as the door opened.  As far as I could tell, that was the only damage we sustained.  I was impressed.  Although you feel like your stuff is safe is storage, it’s still good to know that it is ok, dry (maybe a little cold) but generally safe and sound.

As far as family excursions go, it went ok.  I mean, I was really dreading it, but it wasn’t as terrible as I thought.  I have drawn the line at having Mum and Dad here when the stuff is delivered though.  Disregarding the fact that it takes about 2 weeks to obtain permission from Transport for London to park outside our building, I arranged to have it all delivered next month.  Dad was crestfallen.

“What a shame, we won’t be here to help you.”

“Yes, it is a shame, but we can move it all around when you next come…”

“You’re right,” he said, without a hint of irony. “Something to look forward to.”

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some of the stuff we did get rid of…

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…and one of the things we didn’t.

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