The Art of Successful Skip-Diving
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.