My fledgling weekly routine was interrupted last week when my parents moved house. They’ve done this numerous times in their adult lives, and have always managed it with something approaching aplomb. Indeed, we moved house twice when I was a teenager and I have not one single memory of packing so much as a pair of socks, or of the transition from one house to another, so they clearly approached moving with the stealth of a cat burglar. Either that or I had a particularly long lie both days. Their last flit was seven years ago and they managed, fairly casually, to move most of a house, over about six weeks, one carrier bag at a time in the back of their car.
I suppose it’s a tribute to their ongoing independence but everyone, myself included, was surprised at how different it was this time round. They just didn’t have the same vim for it, and there was no escaping their now obvious physical limitations, or the sheer amount of stuff it’s possible to accumulate in seven decades. In the end, the bulk of it fell to me and my brother to do. No bad thing, as it happens: I now know I probably shouldn’t set up a removal firm this year. I truly loathe everything about moving, from the weeks of stress in the run up, to the years of teetering junk, which you know, in truth, has lain unexplored and salty with your dried sweat and tears from the last move. And moving someone else’s stuff is conceivably even worse. You know you’ve lost your sense of perspective when you stand in a cupboard shouting at a pair of curling tongs and a feather duster you’ve just found in yet another poly bag within a poly bag.
Frustration aside, there was a poignancy to it I didn’t expect. My mother took to saying things like, “I’ll no’ be buying another carpet” – an allusion, basically, to the probability of her soft furnishings outliving her. I suppose there’s an admirable matter-of-factness about this, but it’s upsetting too. No-one should have to look at a cushion and imagine the bright future it’s going to have, long after they’ve gone. Although, I found myself doing this too. When she was fed up with how long the decorating was taking, I attempted comfort with, “Well, at least you won’t have to paint again.’ You don’t need me to translate the unfortunate baldness of the message underlying this careless euphemism which had tripped off my tongue so casually. I hated myself for it.
As we went through their cupboards and wardrobes, pre-move, looking for things to get rid of, my dad gave me two pairs of seemingly new, good-quality shoes to take to the charity shop. Apparently he can no longer manage to tie the laces, and these days needs velcro fasteners. It was a brutal illustration of shrinking possibilities, and I could have cried, all over again.
However, it’s done and they’re installed and happy, I think. Their new flat overlooks the ancient graveyard my dad used to play in as a boy (we’re talking about Greenock, remember). This could be macabre, but actually I find it neatly poetic. Symmetry in the cemetery, if you will. He’s been looking out the window and reminiscing a lot about being wee, when gravestones were for leapfrog and shoelaces were no problem. Spending time with them was always going to be a priority this year, and this week has made me realise that over the next wee while it’s all about them. I’m in no hurry to go anywhere.