Is it about time to recycle your life?

David Sherlock

I guess you will have had a real down-to-the-bone throw-out. I mean the kind where first you spend two or three years in dumb insolence and evasion. Then there's nothing for it but to consent to a minor editing of all those things that were bound to come in handy sometime. When you finally start, a kind of frenzy sets in. Eventually your nearest and dearest are left scrabbling in the reject heap, trying to rescue the odd gem that will prove indispensable to your obituarist.

My much lamented father-in-law managed to fend off any such incursion into his holy-of-holies, the garage. The happy result is that my workshop is now adorned with ranks of jam jars, each with a neat Dymo label announcing its contents. I have locknuts, castlenuts and split pins; washers plain, spring and fibre. I have bolts square-head, hex-head, dome-head and cheese-head. I have screws steel, brass, stainless, nock, Philips and Allen. They are deeply impressive in their precision and comprehensiveness, but for almost every contemporary purpose, they are absolutely useless. But I treasure them, as will my own son, I hope, in due course.

A week or two ago the elastic stretched to breaking point on a cupboard full of my old files. They had been pointedly withdrawn from decent obscurity to make a large pile on the study floor. Just half a dozen to start with and, if you're in the mood, there's the other three shelves.

Don't allow curiosity about content to set in or nothing will ever reach the recycling bin - just hurl.

So I did. There were 20 years of diaries. Not the stuff of Pepys or Crossman or Clark. More's the pity. These are just the daily record of meetings attended, people seen or seen by, places travelled to, talks given. The triumphs and the defeats, all in cryptic one-liners.

They go from the personal tragedies - "Mum died" - to new dawns: "2pm.

Start. Leofric Hotel", heralding a life-changing move from managing colleges to inspecting with the Further Education Funding Council. And on to the ploddingly workaday: "Book cars, tidy office". Anyone with a reasonable memory could write an account of the working, personal and social year, for half a professional lifetime. Impossible to throw away, these are my equivalents of my father-in-law's handy nuts and bolts.

Then there's every report my south-east England and art, design and media teams produced for the FEFC. There must be nigh on a hundred, every one of which I spent a couple of days going through, word by word, clarifying, editing and sharpening with the reporting inspector. The hope was that they would go off to Coventry to marvellous, classically educated former HMIs, such as David Short, marinated in the inspection tradition of Matthew Arnold, and return, unscathed.

Occasionally it happened. More often it was the phone call that began "Jolly good report. Just one or two things we might polish up", and ended an hour or so later. Years of loving hard graft and learning a new profession, into the bin. They're all on the net if I ever need them. Since I haven't done so for nearly a decade, I probably won't now.

Then there are the relics of what the United Nations rather grandly calls "missions" overseas. Field notebooks, including one proudly announcing its maker on the back cover - Bangladesh Paper Products, Chittagong - plus the worker's routine in a chart. This covers all seven days and seven hours each day, with only "Tiffin" after hour four to relieve the grind. There's correspondence with the only truly saintly man I have ever met, Father Aengus Finucane in Dhaka; a bottle of Justerini Brooks finest Scotch to hand and the moral courage of a lion. A bill carefully written out by Mr Tenduf La, of the Windamere Hotel Private Ltd (sic) in Darjeeling, clipped on to a "cash memo" for one Handmade Woollen Raw Coat from the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre. Dashed cold at 3,000 metres in snowy mid-winter after months on the plains, I can tell you Carruthers!

The equivalent of a jar of split pins, various, without a doubt.

And how can I throw away Dr AAY Kyerematen's invaluable memoir of the King of the Asante - the, Asantehene Daasebre Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II? Those who held their cultures together through the fag-end of Empire and beyond - traditional tribal rulers as well as knights of the (British) realm - are a neglected class. One day their story should be told. It would be folly to throw away even one small part of it.

Three box files of overhead projector acetates, powerfully illustrating points long-ago forgotten: bin. P60s ancient and modern: bin. Letters from the Department of Education Science vainly trying to dissuade me from exchanging eight years' of pensionable service for pound;1,200 - desperately needed at the time: bin. Bin, bin and more bin.

Eventually, after what feels like surgical removal, Test Valley recycling centre has two full wheelie bins and I occupy 75cm of shelf space. You know it makes sense. But you still don't care for it much. Not much at all.

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David Sherlock

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