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The Art of Successful Skip-Diving

April 2, 2011

It’s a waiting game, patience and perseverance are key. I spot a skip, sidle up to it and peek inside. Empty, as I suspected. It’s only just arrived on the street. I clock its location and continue on. The next day I pass it again, this time more purposefully, slowing down and having a good look at the contents. Nothing so far; rubble and dust. An old bit of carpet. Some floorboards. I notice the big house on the corner has builders in. The house that used to belong to the elderly woman, before she moved away. I fantasize about what she left behind, treasures that the builders will discard into the skip and, thus, my waiting hands. Days pass, then weeks. It seems the entire interior of the building is being gutted. I keep a mental record of the changing contents of the skip, consider fishing out some of the old wooden window frames in there, only to be dragged away by the boy, tutting.

Then this morning, at 8:15, four weeks after its arrival, I look up as I near the skip and my heart skips a beat. I can’t see what’s in the skip yet but I can see that it’s not rubble or building material. It’s something altogether more exciting. I quicken my step. The boy picks up on my excitement and pulls on my hand, trotting faster. “Quickly mum” he says, as we cross the road. We pull up alongside the skip and peer in, just as a suited man on the other side of the skip does the same. Synchronised neck-craning. I hold my breath, not wanting to show my excitement incase the man, my rival, gets excited too and helps himself. I feign disinterest and the man walks off. Now I can properly process what I am looking at. Two old trunks and an equally old suitcase, badly worn, rusty hinged, dented, dusty and calling out to be saved. I think fast. The waiting game  is over, it is time to reap the rewards. I have to be quick, seize the moment. Following skip diving etiquette, I pop my head round the door and ask the builders if I can have the trunks. They nod, cheerfully, offering to help me pull them out. I survey all three and pick out the one in the best condition (trunks, that is, not builders), which also happens to be the biggest. I briefly (very briefly) contemplate how exactly I will get the trunk home or where it can possibly go in our flat, and then push those thoughts to one side and carry the trunk up the road to work, with the boy bringing up the rear. I stash the trunk in the boiler room at work and at the end of the day my lovely, wonderful, helpful mum arrives in her car to help  me get the trunk home.

 

 

This trunk is seeped in history, and memory. Spidery handwriting on the side reads: ‘Penny’s dresses etc. for Polly is she ever wants them (+ some older dresses at bottom) + furs’. Did Polly ever want them? Did she appreciate Penny’s old dresses and furs? Did they get passed down to younger family members? Stashed away in someone’s attic or the back of a wardrobe? Donated to charity?

Where was the owner (Penny?) going when she travelled by boat to New York? How long was she there? When did she come back? Where else did she and her trunk travel? How many seas did they cross? Was she happy? Did she fulfil her dreams? Did she lead a rich and varied life? So many questions that alas, I shall never have answers to, and yet I contain a chunk of someone’s past, their history, their memories, their smell, their handwriting.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2011 8:23 pm

    There is a story waiting invisibly in that trunk, waiting to be given a voice on paper! GREAT post. I am unfortunately turned off skip-diving these days because mostly in my town the market has been cornered by exceedingly grotty people with little dogs on string (judgmental, me?) who probably need the stuff more than me anyhow. Also because I have thrown away too many bags of nappies in those skips to be able to look into them without thinking of poo.

    One question – what (or who) was ‘not wanted on voyage’? Ideas on a postcard…?

    • April 3, 2011 8:54 pm

      Oh yes, I wouldn’t go skip diving in countries where everyone uses skips to dispose of all their rubbish, I remember in Saudi lobbing our bin bags into the skips and then taking a quick step back as all the stray cats jumped out🙂

      I’d imagine it was the trunk that was ‘not wanted on voyage’? As in, the trunk could go below deck for the duration of the trip, rather than in the cabin with the owner? I’m open to all other suggestions though…

  2. April 5, 2011 7:15 pm

    beautifully written, hope you find a good use for the trunk!

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