Flotsam and Jetsam

Programming note: I still have at least one more post to write about Italy. I also have my final gushy blogpost about Hall to write (It’s 53 days since I moved out!) I promise I will write both of these soon. In the mean time, this post is in bullet points, so it shouldn’t take me long. 

All thirty-three years of my life I’ve been collecting stuff. There have been piles of paper in every bedroom I’ve ever had. Every time I move house, move country, finish a course or change job, a new pile of papers ends up in my bedroom in my parents’ house. I’ve spent the last four years promising that I would sort them out when I finished my PhD. I’ve finished my PhD so I have no more excuses.

I’ve spent two days at it. I’ve filled two big wheelie bins full of paper to be recycled. But I’m keeping almost as much as I’m getting rid of. And it’s been an incredible journey down memory lane. Here are some of the things I found:

  • Copies of the Irish Times from 2001, 2002 and 2003, kept only because I hadn’t finished the crossword.
  • The Sunday Times 2004 Rich List
  • Lists and lists of Finnish vocabulary. After my Law Degree, I became obsessed with Finland, its reindeer, saunas, and its tall, silent blonde men. The reason I became an English teacher was so I could go to FInland. As it turns out, I only spent about five days in Helsinki, didn’t find a job and ended up going to Poland instead. I remember getting the Finnish Linguaphone out from Cork City Library and spending hours studying it instead of working for my final exams. I now only remember one sentence, “Where is grandfather sitting?” which I roll out every time I meet a Finn, much to their puzzlement.
  • I also found a letter I wrote to the Irish ambassador in Helsinki asking him how a young Irishman should set about getting a job in Finland. If the ambassador answered, I have no record or recollection of it.
  • I also found a copy of my CV from 2003, which is hilariously short. When I write a CV now, I have to leave lots and lots of information out of it. Back then I had very wide margins, double spacing and a large font and it still all fitted in one page. Both of my referees were priests.
  • There’s a test a student of mine did in Poland that she decorated with pictures of hamsters in various unlikely situations.
  • Instructions for a “Tibetan healing fungus” that a friend of my mother’s gave me.
  • Speaking of weird remedies, Oh My God, the SHEER amount of weightloss paraphernalia is terrifying. Books, programmes and leaflets from doctors, from Nutron, from Here’s Health, from WeightWatchers, and from Motivation Weight Control. CDs, tapes and measuring charts. Goal-setting programmes. Food lists. Food diaries. Calorie books. I’ve thrown away so, so much, and there’s still an awful lot left.
  • All of my school reports from secondary school, charting my sudden decline from top of the class. Early reports had phrases like “top of the class”, “best boy” and “an all-rounder” repeated again and again. There were exclamation marks and words of congratulation in Latin, Irish, English, Spanish and French. The principal put a special note on some of my reports noting how remarkable a student I was. And then I turned 16, started smoking, drinking, growing my hair long and stopped doing my homework, and the ninety-something percents became eighty-something percents and then seventy-something percents and the tone changed. “Not fulfilling his potential” “Could be excellent if he worked harder” “Isn’t applying himself””Lazy” Those are still the phrases I use to describe myself!
  • And it was around the same time that the obsessive self-help stuff started creeping in to my life. There are so many unfinished notebooks and journals, literally thirty or forty of them: “Success journals”, “Gratitude diaries”, “Countdown to quit smoking days”. So many lists that I made of reasons why I’m worth love: “Connor is worth it because…” “I am a good person because…” “I am grateful for…”. And so many lists of reasons why I have to change my life. There’s fifteen years’ worth of this stuff. I was taken aback by the volume of it all. How much can I possibly think is wrong with me that merits so much self flagellation?
  • There are old loan agreements, recording that the loan that eventually reached €30,000 (which I’ve now got down to less than €14,000) started out as a small loan for just £750 in 2000. And the original amount of interest was only intended to be £61. LOL at me.
  • I also found the receipt from the pawn shop on Thomas Street from when I pawned my TV and DVD player in 2009 for €50.
  • So many envelopes. Why did I keep so many empty used envelopes?
  • Literature from “Compassion in World Farming”, which I was a subscriber to at one stage. Surprised? So was I.
  • Oh so many letters from the Labour Party, of which I was a member for about five years on and off. Many of them were raffle tickets for me to sell to raise money for the party. I never sold any of them.
  • Letters about the interviews for the jobs I tried out for in 2003 when I first finished college. I was applying for jobs with social welfare and youth services and citizen’s information services. Where has my social conscience gone? I have to get it back.
  • A James Dean calendar from 2007, where I marked every seven pounds I lost that year with a glittery number seven. I lost eleven seven pounds that year.
  • A ticket, an actual plane ticket, not a printout, to Spain the summer before my Leaving Cert, to improve my Spanish.
  • All the cards I was given at my First Holy Communion.
  • The notes for the best man’s speech I delivered at my brother’s wedding to a crowd of uncomprehending Spaniards.
  • Lots of bits and pieces of writing: diaries, stories, an unfinished novel about a dissatisfied law lecturer which I’ve always promised myself I’d return to, the story of the first boy I kissed (I found three different versions of it. The story eventually got written into this blog when he was murdered last year.)
  • All my notes for my law degree, including a full set of Tort Law notes from a girl who was in the year ahead of me. I distinctly remember promising to return them. That was thirteen years ago. She’s a solicitor now. I dumped the notes.
  • My property law notes show signs of the Great Stephen’s Day Flood in Connor’s bedroom when my room filled with two inches of water from a burst pipe the day after Christmas when I was in second year of college and my mother rushed in to save my college notes. There was a stony, unChristmassy silence from her when all that was in the Property Law folder was the start-of-year handout and the notes from the first lecture. She spread them by the fireplace and told me that I should take more notes, assuming that I was going to lectures but not taking notes, rather than the actual truth that I wasn’t going to lectures.
  • I’ve kept one set of lecture notes from “Introduction to the Legal System”, not because of their content, but because on that day I decided to draw giant dots on the i’s, use giant full stops, commas and quotation marks. The result is pleasing to the eye.
  • In my constitutional law folder there is an article I photocopied on homosexuality in Irish constitutional law. The article is by someone called Conor and I remember that it thrilled me to think that someone called Conor was writing about gay stuff, and might even be gay himself. Being gay was still something people were very secretive about then.
  • I spent a lot of time in college on student society work. When I was auditor (Chairperson) of the Philosoph (debating society) there was an awful lot of paperwork. I still have the society’s bank deposit book. I don’t know if such things even exist any more.
  • My self-helpy nature even extended into my work on the Philosoph committee. I found notes for a manifesto for change and for bettering the committee that I clearly planned to deliver at a committee meeting. I found the voting list for the night I was elected. I found countless accounting documents and lists of things we were planning. I found the list we brainstormed of possible speakers we were going to invite, including Jo Brand, Pierce Brosnan and Mo Mowlam, none of whom came. I had a fax number for John Hume.
  • I found a “Gobweb”, a flowchart showing which members of the Philosoph had kissed which other people and how many degrees of spit we were separated from each other. I remember there was also a document at one stage comparing the length of many of the male members’ penises. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of this document.
  • I’m so old. There are floppy disks. I found two actual paper address books that I filled in and used with people’s actual addresses and landline numbers. I am a dinosaur. Many of the school exams which I found had been handwritten by the teachers in indecipherable script like it was 1952 and some of the college posters, lecturers’ handouts and student society literature is also handwritten sheets that were then photocopied.
  • Research was tough before the internet. I found all of the many, many notes I had for my Irish language debates while in secondary school. I’m reminded of all the late nights I spent practising with An tAthair, which I describe here. There isn’t a single printout from the internet. Instead, there are actual photocopies from the Cork Examiner archives. There is also an envelope from my aunty in Dundalk. In 1996, you didn’t go online to find things out. We were doing a debate on looking after our national heritage, so my mother rang my aunt and asked her to find out how many national heritage centres there were in Co Louth. She did and she posted me her answer. The past is another country.
  • I have the programme for every concert I was ever at: Oasis, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Boyzone, McFly and of course One Direction.
  • Every birthday card, Christmas card, postcard or letter I ever got.
  • I found the letter that I never replied to from my 13-year-old penpal, Robyn in Omaha. He considered himself to be a good ice-skater and asked if I pronounced my name like Phil Donahue. I didn’t want an English-speaking penpal, so I wrote to the penpal organisation and demanded someone who I could practise my Spanish on. In due course, I got a Spanish girl penpal and wrote to her. She never wrote back. 13-year-old me was a bit of a dick.
  • I have a collection of crosses, rosary beads and prayers from when I was a holy teenager.
  • In my teenage years, I appear to have seen myself as some kind of archivist for the Examiner newspaper. I have both of their celebratory 150th anniversary specials, as well as the last ever “Cork Examiner”, the first ever “Examiner”, the last “Examiner” and the first “Irish Examiner”. I have no idea why this was all so special to me, but I’m keeping them.
  • I have my half-written proposal for the research masters I was going to do on the religious human rights of prisoners in 2005 and the four books I made my brother photocopy for the purpose of writing this proposal. It’s never going to happen now.
  • The only thing that brought a tear to my eye while I was sorting through this stuff was the pile of blank “Good luck in your exams” cards that I found. When I decided at the end of third year that I was going to temporarily drop out of college and ended up going to hospital and not taking my exams for another year, I bought cards to give all my friends to wish them luck in the exams they were going to do. I never managed to write them as I felt so disappointed in myself. I might fill them in sometime soon.
  • There was no data protection in the mid-90s. My dad was a teacher in my school, so I have found a class list of my fifth year class, with all their names, parents’ names, addresses and phone numbers.
  • I also found the original petition and poster I made with it demanding that I be given a ticket to the Law Ball. I had been too late to buy one and was determined not to miss the party. In the end, an extra ticket was made available for me. I was a cheeky first year.
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  • I also found a letter I had brought home after my first year living in Poland (2003). The flat where I was living had been home to many teachers from the English-speaking world and one of them, who happened to be from Ireland, but who I never met, had left this letter behind:

Saturday 2nd November, 10:30 am (on our clock)

Dear ________, enclosed €100. Spend it wisely – you have me robbed! I’m putting it in this size of envelope so hopefully no one will steal it. Let me know the minute you get it please. It’s a very wet day. I’m off to meet Mary for coffee soon. I phoned your dad after speaking to you to let him know you are OK. Didn’t say a word about the money don’t worry. Be good – shave and change pants every day. Miss you. Love Mam XX

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One Response to Flotsam and Jetsam

  1. Pingback: Moving time | Project Connor

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