I inherited all of my family’s furniture. Some of it is beautiful, and cherished and has love and beeswax lavished upon it on a regular basis. A lot of it, however, is purely utilitarian: cheap and sturdy flat-pack dating back to the days when MFI was king and IKEA hadn’t set foot outside Sweden – and when a family of six haseffectively been reduced to a family of one (plus two loud-mouthed dogs), six wardrobes is more than anybody realistically needs – especially in a three-bedroomed cottage.
In addition, I was also the proud owner of upwards of 2,000 books (approximately 80% of which hadn’t been opened in years), sufficient clothing to open a secondhand shop all of my own and enough china and crockery to keep a small tearoom supplied for a decade.
When I couldn’t persuade the regulars on the local online selling site to buy any more of my surplus belongings at ludicrous prices, I rang a national charity who advertised free partial and complete house clearance and said, ‘Come and Get It’.
Not unreasonably, they needed a list of what I had so that they knew what size van to send and fortunately I was able to reel a list off the top of my head: 5 wardrobes, 5 bookcases, 12 large zipped laundry bags of clothes and bedding, a double cupboard, 50 boxes of books …
‘Fifteen boxes of books …?’
‘Five -zero. Fifty. Really? Okay. Carry on …’
‘Numerous boxes of kitchenware – crockery, cutlery, saucepans, casseroles …’
‘How many boxes?’
‘I need a precise number.’
I chose a number at random. ‘Ten’
‘Ten. Got it. Carry on.’
‘Numerous – I mean TEN boxes of general china, ornaments and – uh – stuff.’
‘What sort of stuff?’
‘Bric-a brac, costume jewellery ….’ I improvised like crazy – covering all eventualities and leaving myself room for manoeuvre. ‘Carved wooden boxes, pictures in frames, old board games … that sort of thing.’
‘Okay. Anything else?’
‘I think that’s about it,’ I puffed out my cheeks. ‘Unless you want a couple of insane Jack Russells.’
‘We don’t accept animals.’
‘I was only … oh, never mind. When is it likely to be collected?’
She consulted something off-phone for a moment, then said, “Tuesday sometime. Is that acceptable?’
‘Fine. I’ll be here all day.’
The next few days were a blur of wardrobe-emptying, bookcase clearing, box stuffing, laundry bag ramming and ornament wrapping. I was still at it at 11.00pm on Monday and up at 5.00am on Tuesday to get as much cleared and packed as I could.
The morning wore on. Lunchtime came and went. The afternoon was rapidly running out of daylight and I was on the brink of getting on the ‘phone to ask where they were, when it rang. There was a unmistakably Polish accent on the other end.
‘We are in village. We cannot find you. You are not where your postcode is.’
This always happens. One postcode covers almost the entire village and a satnav takes you to the middle of the car park, which at least means you always know where people are, but some weekdays the car park is a milling morass of lost delivery drivers.
I explained carefully where I was then hung around outside the gate to flag them down and prevent them from overshooting. Expecting to see at least an 18 tonne truck, in view of what they were collecting, I was a mildly taken aback to see a 7.5 tonner trundling up the hill towards me, and wondered what part of ‘Five wardrobes and five bookcases’ had confused people.
Two men, one clutching a clipboard, climbed out and I sort of peered around hopefully for the rest of them. There was no ‘rest of them’. Two men in a box van. Fifty boxes of books. five wardrobes, etc, etc, etc.
‘Just the two of you? Oh. Fair enough. Shall we go in, then?.’
I led them upstairs and showed them the biggest wardrobe first – a beast of a thing, that had travelled with us for nigh on 40 years and was so huge we’d nicknamed it Godzilla.
‘We start with that …’
‘The doors do come off quite easily,’ I offered, but he shook his head.
‘We can manage, thank you.’
Standing back, I watched them manhandling the double wardrobe out of the corner, through the door and onto the landing. So far, so good. Then the gaffer sent his companion (who had, so far, uttered not one syllable) down the stairs to take the bottom end. A certain amount of grunting ensued as they carried it down the stairs to the half-landing, where the stairwell doglegs to the right – and where the wardrobe lodged firmly at an angle, taking a chunk out of the wall.
They jiggled it. They wiggled it. They came back up and went back down again. Still it stuck.
‘It came up in one piece,’ I said mildly. ‘ Perhaps you should try lying it on its back, that way it will end up the other way around on the half-landing and you can tip it to get it down the rest of the way.
The gaffer – who was getting a bit pink in the face by this time – shook his head.
‘This did not go upstairs in one piece. It was taken apart.’
‘No it wasn’t.’
‘Yes it was. Look I show you …’ He pointed at the cross-headed screws in the side.’These are usually glued. This is screwed. It takes apart.’
‘I know it takes apart, but it wasn’t taken apart when it came upstairs.
‘Please. It must have been.’
‘LOOK.’ I took a deep breath. ‘If it had been taken apart to come upstairs, it would have been ME who did the taking apart and the putting back together, and I think I’d remember. Believe me. It came up in one piece. Try taking the doors off.’
Grudgingly, they complied and it was almost enough to do the trick, but not quite. I repeated the suggestion that they try taking it down on its back instead of its side.
‘It will not work. It did not come up in one piece.’
‘Yes. It. Did. Try it on its back.’
‘It will not go that way. Please. It is too wide.’
By this time, I was beginning to feel slightly sorry for the poor bloke, being so doggedly courteous in the face of a bolshie Englishwoman.
‘It isn’t. It will just fit. Trust me. Just TRY IT.’
‘Okay. We try. But only to prove to you that it will not go down that way.’
Muttering instructions to his mate, he turned the wardrobe onto its back, lifted it up and then looked at me.
‘See? It WILL not go down that way …’
At that moment, a slightly muffled voice floated up from the bottom end of the wardrobe, part way down the stairs. It said just one word:
I did TRY not to smirk, but I’m not entirely certain that I succeeded.
After that. the remainder of the wardrobes and bookcases posed no problems at all, but when I went downstairs to supervise the loading of the boxes and bags, it became immediately obvious that the wheels were coming off the Grand Plan at a rate of knots.
They were standing looking in the back of the van, frowns creasing their foreheads.
‘Wazzup?’ I asked, cheerfully.
‘We run out of room.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. You can just about get the rest in … the boxes will stack and the bags can be stuffed in pretty much anywhere.’
‘We have three more collections.’
‘Ah. In that case, you run out of room.’
He looked at his watch.’We have to go back to shop, unload, then come out again.’ He added something succinct in Polish which I suspect was a reference to spherical objects, then said, ‘Where are books?’
I took them over to the summerhouse where I’d stored all the books as I packed them up, and I’m pretty certain they’d never seen so many boxes of books before in their entire lives, because for a few moments, they just stood there and sort of gawped.
About 25 boxes in, they were visibly wilting, so I decided I’d better lend a hand.
By the time we’d got all of the boxes and all the bags of clothes and bedding in the van, they could barely get the doors shut … and were personally looking distinctly frayed around the edges.
I signed the receipt for them and they reeled off into the gathering gloom in their little van, faced with a delivery and three more collections before they could retire to their local pub to tell everyone about the crazy woman with the wardrobes and All Those Books.
For my part, I retired to my newly emptied house to bask in the warm glow of a job well done and secure in the knowledge that I would never have to shepherd Godzilla either up or down another staircase in my entire life.