I’ve had to take a break from book culling.
Having spent yesterday being ruthless in my decisions to keep some books and not others, I started unculling them today.
What if I woke up one morning desperate for Seamus Heaney and I’d already chucked him? Hmmm. But then I met him once in a Soho pub and he wasn’t very pleasant (he actually slapped my face – not hard, but it was a shock), so he can stay culled. And, having decided to dispense with all poetry (apart from my mate Tony Curtis) on the grounds that I can Google it anytime, suddenly I find myself slowly adding poets back to the “Keep” pile.
Even though I’m the only person in the house, I’m doing it very furtively, like an alcoholic smuggling a bottle of gin under the sofa in the hope that nobody will notice. I’ve had to uncull Tony Harrison, because I met him once, too, and he was lovely . . . oh, dear – after all that, I’ve just unculled Heaney, on the grounds that the books might be worth something. So I have to stop before I decide that I can’t live without Proust.
I’ve now moved on to the Apple Cemetery that is my attic. Almost every Apple computer since the company started is there. Black, turquoise, purple; desktops the size of houses, laptops like handbags, laptops heavier than suitcases – Steve Jobs must be smiling in his grave.
It’s made me think how much technology has changed my life. When I began my career as TV Critic on the London Evening Standard in the late Eighties, I had to watch TV live, write my copy longhand and then phone it in to a copytaker at the paper at 7am. Today, I spend most of my time in the States, where I am able to watch TV on anything with a screen just like anyone in the UK, and I’m able to e-mail it straight to the editor.
I remember the first time somebody asked me “What’s your e-mail address?” and I berated them for being ridiculous, insisting that such a silly idea would never catch on. Today, when I get on a plane, at 30,000 feet, I am the voice screaming “Whadderyermean, yer don’t have WiFi?”
The uphill task that awaits me in the Apple cemetery is taking the information off the hard drive before I sell the computers. Some of the hard drives are broken (you know who you are, Big Purple Mac), but others store some of my earliest writing. Maybe it’s time to let go of that (like so much else), too.
It’s not only the computers in the cemetery. Every piece of software known to Apple mankind seems to there, too. And then are the Dummies guides to those software programmes. Did I ever open one of them? Of course not. Mac OS X Leopard was dead almost as soon as it could run.
My electronic life has shrunk in the technical wash. These days, I download more books than I buy, and when I’m travelling (which is a lot), I watch TV and movies on my iPad. Paramedics have to be called when I go into panic mode if I can’t find my iPhone (it’s invariably right next to me, as the bartenders keep pointing out. Thank you, Justin Sigda at Mr Biggs in New York, for being my full-time Apple minder).
Bizarrely, while the products have shrunk, the packaging has grown. I could build a church alongside the cemetery with the empty boxes for iPhones, iPads and laptops that still lurk like Mrs Rochester in my attic, ever a fire risk even though their presence has been forgotten long ago. Why did I hold on to them all?
Easy. Because they, like Apple products themselves, are works of art: the stiffness of the cardboard, the exquisite print, the slightly bitten Apple logo – every box a tiny eco coffin, a new sculpture to keep safe the perfection within. Alas, my bank manager doesn’t quite see it that way.
I’ve been putting the boxes into green recycling bags, from where they look back at me through the transparency with a silent cry of “Why? Why me?” begging for release. When I sealed their fate with a double knot and took them outside ready for refuse collection, it was like saying goodbye to my family, emigrating to the other side of the world.
If I’m like that with the boxes, what am I going to be like when it comes to the computers? Maybe I could re-cull Heaney and keep just one small iPhone box? Would that be so very indulgent?
No, no, they have to go. But I can’t pretend that this is easy. Everything I touch is a slice of life, good or bad, and already I’m emotionally exhausted. Still, at least I have a computer on which I can play in order to avoid the real business of packing.
By the day of completion, I suspect I will have a book. Which I can then download to my new iPhone. Oh, come on. You didn’t really think I wouldn’t start making plans for another cemetery, did you?
Steve Jobs may be dead, but my Apple body count lives on.