comments 32

In which I burn my school reports

Once upon a time I was a bit of a hoarder. It’s a habit I picked up from my mum, who was a refugee from 1950s China. One of my friends summed it up quite well, by pointing out that when you don’t have much, you find it difficult to let go of what you do have. Although it has to be said that my mum has been clearing out a lot recently, as she has had a few family members to stay recently and run out of space to put them.

These days, years of living in a small house later and I’m pretty much cured from hoarding, but it’s odd to see your old life with current eyes when you go back home, as I did this weekend, and your daughter says, “Why do all those books have weird covers on them?”

This is something my mum used to do with all books, cover them with stiff calendar paper from the last year – we always had several calendars around the house advertising various Chinese restaurants, given by enthusiastic proprietors to my grandma, who is still a much loved figure in the Cantonese community in London.

I explained that there was not so much “stuff” produced even back in the 1980s and therefore everything had a greater value. We still have shelves of my childhood books at my parents’ house, and I remembered how valuable books were, not so much in a monetary sense, but how I treasured all the stories and characters in them as a window onto a life which I didn’t have.

Also at the weekend, Lovely Daughter #2 espied something that had been unearthed from the most recent clear out and went, “What’s that?!”

"What is that?"

“What is that?”

“I made him when I was in Year 2!” I said.

“But what is it?”

“Do you mean you can’t tell it’s a dinosaur???”

LD looked at it doubtfully.

“Why’s it got holes all over it?”

“Look we were allowed to put textures on them… you’re going to ask me next why it’s purple, aren’t you?”

Apart from a bit of nostalgia over books, I am not attached to objects from my childhood. But I was pleased that we’d kept Diny, I think because I have very fond memories of my Year 2 teacher. She was the type of teacher I responded to best, the no-nonsense type who have us lots and lots of work to keep us busy and occupied, but also thought up brilliant ideas for our projects, like the time we transformed the whole classroom into a space station.

I spent a very relaxing weekend eating chocolate and being cooked for. I also read Marian Keyes’ This Charming Man.

The story itself is told from the points of view of four different women who have all been involved in various ways with the eponymous Charming Man, politician Paddy de Courcy.

Keyes does a great job of making the women sound very different from each other, but unfortunately there was great variation in how gripping each story was. Funnily enough, the most compelling and dramatic story to begin with, that of the troubled Marnie, ended up the weakest for me and I skipped most of it in the end, as nothing really seemed to happen in her life. While the weakest storyline at the beginning was that of Paddy’s ex, Lola, who spent a good 100+ pages moping around the west of Ireland. This story ended up as the strongest one, because she had the most distinctive voice.

I’m always up for a good bit of chick lit if it’s well done. Top things I look for are: humour (I particularly enjoyed the running joke about the Kildare bypass), feisty women’s voices and unapologetic celebration of women as sexual beings, something I had cause to think about yesterday when I read this post. But at the same time as enjoying that lightness of touch, I also need the book to be about something, which this book, in choosing the themes of domestic violence and transvestitism certainly is.

It’s a good book, but not without its flaws. The most obvious of which is that it is 820 pages long, which is an overindulgence when you add up the amount of action and laughs there are. There weren’t many surprises, which was fine, as to me that showed consistency in character portrayals, and after all I was not expecting a thriller when I picked this up. But then again, I hadn’t expected it to be so funny either. Much shorter would have meant a better ratio of pages to jokes and I would have been much more impressed.

When I got home from visiting my parents, it was cold, so I lit a fire using the old school reports my mum had found while clearing up as kindling. This, strangely enough, was not because they were bad. I used to love getting school reports and seeing how well I’d done. But these days I’m uncomfortable about how much I needed affirmation and approval I needed as a child and how long it took me to become someone who trusted in my own values. So off they went into the fire without a second look and I have no regrets at all.



  1. Hi Denise! What a lovely blog entry. I always like hearing from you, but this one had a lot going on. Your past, your family, a book review, how you feel about your old self. I loved it!

    • Almost made it into two posts, but it as it was about a 24h span in my life, it just sort of flowed on,

      How are you?

      • Thank you for asking. We had a lot of ice last week. The preoccupation was eating a lot in case the power went out at ANY MINUTE!

        And just looking out our windows at the snow covered branches of the trees. We rarely get snow and ice. Needless to say, my blog/work was postponed a week. But my husband and I used the time to rearrange and get our renovated basement back together. Since we could not go anywhere, we managed to get his10,000 jazz records put away. Liked your comment about how people who do not have a lot tend to be hoarders. We are organized hoarders, I am afraid! Especially my husband, whose Mother threw out his Batman comics when he was little. 🙂

      • But your records are a collection, not a hoard! Especially when arranged. My mum hasn’t quite got the hang of her display cabinet and sees it as storage 🙂 One of these cases where she has seen what English people do and taken on board the shape of it but not the function.

  2. amediablogger

    Denise, this is a very insightful post. I enjoyed it. Hoarding can also be a result of loss and an attempt to control. Sometimes Hoarding is a way of avoiding grief. I don’t know if any of this makes sense to you but it’s just a thought.
    I enjoyed the book review although I’m a bore when it comes to literature. I need something exciting and not so long otherwise I’m happy with critical theory.
    Dino is so cute and hearing a little about your childhood was fascinating. Glad you enjoyed your weekend.

    • Yes I’ve hoarded to avoid grief and the strange thing about that is that after a period of time, the right period of time, the things start to feel dead as well, rather than alive…

      Nothing wrong with exciting – I think any literary author can learn from the masters of suspense.

      • amediablogger

        Human behaviour is so fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

  3. That was a real statement you made when you burned your school reports – very cleansing, in a way, and actually quite brave.
    Diny is great, he should have pride of place somewhere and I love the sound of your teacher who turned your classroom into a space station.
    Great post. Can’t comment on the Marian Keyes – not my kinda book 🙂

    • No far. Jenny wrote what I was going to say.

      No kidding.

      And that’s got me wondering…

      I did enjoy your post! But now I can’t think of what to say because my head is full of wondering how Jenny managed to get into my head, even before I got here.

    • Wouldn’t have been my kind of book either until very recently but have been learning to read with a mind to what I can get out of it. Until very recently I would have been positively ashamed to say that I was reading chick lit but now I have learned to relish it, even if it comes with a rider. Let’s just say I have also read and quickly put down again some terrible stuff in that genre!

  4. I LOVE Marian Keyes. I agree that This Charming Man was a bit long but I do appreciate her take on Chick Lit – always with a more serious issue underneath it all.

    I have a really hard time letting go of things too – I think it stems from having to sell/give away ALL of my belongings when I was 5/6 to move to Canada. Quite traumatic. I’m getting better but I’m a work in progress. I’m impressed that you burned those reports and I love the insight about approval. Good move.

    • Whoah, that’s just immense. I can see that giving away your belongings at that age would be terrible – I would guess that at that age possessions actually take on a far greater significance as they *are* your life and they *are* your security.

      Yeah, it was a good book! I am trying to help my daughter with her creative writing assignment and have just given that book to her to help her think about different voices. Not sure it will work though – she finds creative work hard going, but I think it’s bound to be at that age, as you don’t have so much to draw on…

  5. I feel like I’m surrounded by too much stuff. I really need to have a clean-out. When we were in the UK, we rented an unfurnished house which we sparsely filled and I really loved that. It was minimalist and refreshing. Now that I’m back in our own home I feel surrounded by clutter. I plan to offload stuff over the coming months.

    • I admit that in the past I have found it difficult to get rid of stuff for environmental reasons and even took on too much stuff for those reasons. Now I try not to take everyone else’s problems on board and to keep a sense of doing what I can but not at a detriment to my own life. Because the clearer I think and the happier I feel (in a clearer house!) actually the better I will be to society (although that is not my sole goal in life.)

      Good luck with the clear out!

      • I read a neuro-psych explanation somewhere recently, suggesting that when you throw your own stuff away, you activate the same areas of the brain that light up when you’re in pain. Whereas if you’re throwing away somebody else’s stuff, this doesn’t occur.

        That works well in some contexts – my wife is much better than I am at getting rid of old paperwork of mine that’s cluttering up the place – but less so in others (I doubt it holds true when you’re dealing with a loved one’s personal effects, for example)

        Which seems to indicate for day-to-day tidiness, delegation is the way forward, but the researchers didn’t cover common edge-cases like somebody else throwing away everything that you treasured, and that doesn’t solve the problem of who you delegate the tidying to…

      • It’s true, I am sure I could get rid of more. My problem with stuff accumulating is usually more to do with tasks I am letting pile up, though. I need someone I can delegate those to!

  6. I think Diny is a work of art, Denise, at least for a child in Year 2. Did you bring him home along with your school reports?
    Nicely done…burning those reports, a benefit to aging…wisdom.
    I used to devour Marian Keyes during my college years. Some of her books were quite amusing.

  7. Loved the post! Reminded me of when I threw out most of my medals and trophies from my school days last year. There’s a part of me that regrets it just a tiny little bit because I did that on the spur of the moment, but I honestly believe it was something that just had to be done and I am proud of it!

  8. Gwen Stephens

    Enjoyed the book review, Denise, and your paragraphs about hoarding made me think of our basement, where we store decades worth of “stuff” we really don’t need to keep. One of these days I will go through it all.

  9. Hi Denise, you packed a lot into this book. I haven’t read any of M. Keyes latest works but found your review interesting. My working days have dwindled to two per week so clearing out clutter is the first big task on my list and your remarks made me smile. Especially when I found old school reports in my dad’s house lately.
    I like Diny, thought he was colourful.

  10. I loved that post Denise, just to echo what everyone else has said!
    Burning your school reports seems like it was almost a cathartic thing to do. I have tons of stuff like that stashed but I don’t know whether I could be so brave about it and burn it. I would LOVE to, don’t get me wrong. Just say, hey I don’t need these anymore and move on. However I think, knowing me I’d find a silly sentimental reason not to! I’m glad you kept hold of Diny though, I think it’s ace.

  11. Powerful statement that Denise about burning your old school reports. My mum has one or two of my old ones which are funny to look at. I never really had much affirmation from teachers, well, sort of, but I learnt early on that nobody was going to motivate me other than myself. Strangely though, even though I passed my 11 plus I had to travel 25 miles away to Stowmarket comprehensive by 2 buses for 5 years instead of going to Ipswich Grammar school for girls (9 miles away) which I would have loved. My mum still doesn’t know why but didn’t think to question it at the time. I was streamed of course, which I don’t think they do now? Anyway, I’m rambling, sorry! I think it’s great that you are comfortable with trusting in your own values now, wonderful in fact. And you should be 🙂
    As for Diny, he is great. I still have so much from the kids’ early days despite numerous moves and getting rid of so much, our garage is still full of the kids’ stuff. Hubby and I have given up 🙂

  12. I don’t mind getting rid of old stuff, but I know I’m going to be a hoarder as a little old lady. I have a thing about running out of important resources, and seen in the right light, all resources can look important! Hurray for burning your school reports – that’s an excellent life laundry event. All that grasping for grades we were expected to do – it’s kind of demeaning when you look back at it (or at least it was for me). I have tried to read Marion Keyes in the past but not got on too well – like you, I found the length to be indulgent, and whilst I enjoyed the use of serious issues to move the plot along, I was never comfortable with their glib resolution. If only it were that simple!

  13. I’ve always found that the things you would normally hoard are easier to let go of when there’s a ‘narrative’ to their demise. Using the reports to light a fire after returning from a visit to your folks’ home is a brilliant finale. GReat post. Really enjoyed this one.

    • That’s a very good way of looking at things. It makes us feel more in control and gives a positive end to things that are no longer part of us. The beginnings of a future rather than just an ending.

      • We still have him!  There’s plenty I’d still like to get rid of around my parents’ house (so we could perhaps move around the room a bit better??) but he is not one of them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s