Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Found and Lost
I never find it easy revisiting old workplaces. Even when I've left under amicable circumstances, there is always an underlying awkwardness; almost like a meeting between former lovers. Behind the broad smiles, there is a subtle game of one-upmanship, with each party trying to demonstrate how much they've thrived since the split.
A few weeks ago I returned to my last workplace to collect some stock. The department I'd created had now moved to a separate building and apart from one familiar face, the staff were all new. I felt as if I'd been erased from history.
I wondered why the managing director had offered me my old job back a few months ago. The new building appeared to be well-organised and the staff seemed more industrious than ever. I felt slightly disappointed to see how well they were doing without me.
People looked up with expressions that said "Who on earth is he?" and I couldn't wait to leave, but decided to make some polite conversation first.
Before leaving the job, I'd told my successor about some unique items that we'd found: a 1591 Bible, a box of 17th century books and a collection of Victorian photo albums. I'd been tempted to take one of the albums with me, but it wasn't my property. I'd often wondered how much money the Bible had sold for.
"How did you get on with the Elizabethan Bible?" I asked.
There was an awkward silence for a few moments. "Er...we lost quite a lot of stuff during the move."
It now seems that the 1591 Bible, the Derek diaries and the Victorian photo albums weren't saved from oblivion after all. They merely enjoyed a brief reprieve.
I'm sure you can imagine how I felt.
I'm relieved that I made some high quality scans of the best of the photos. Many of the images have been shared on a number of websites, so the album survives, in a way. You can see the original blog post here and the full album is on this Flickr page.
Sadly, poor old Derek hasn't been so lucky. His countless foolscap binders of carefully typed A4 diaries have been largely consigned to oblivion.
I say largely, because I do have a little of Derek in my attic. I felt able to keep some of his diaries because they had no financial value, so there is probably one more Derek post in the pipeline. I owe him that.
I feel haunted by the loss of the Bible and although I'm glad that I scanned the Victorian photographs, they feel anchorless without their original album. As for Derek, I'm sure that his complete diaries could have been turned into a good book by an experienced editor (however, I should add that finding the extracts I published was rather like panning for gold).
Ironically, I now have enough storage space for thousands of Dereks, but hardly ever come across gems like these any more. Perhaps that will change when I find new suppliers.
There are dozens of recycling companies all over Britain, largely staffed by people on minimum wage, working at great speed. They don't have the luxury of stopping to look properly at the tonnes of sacks and crates that arrive daily. If it's a book, save it. If it isn't, chuck it.
I try not to think about the things that are thrown away. One day, when my business is on a more secure footing, I hope that I can devote more time to saving some of this ephemera, making the best of it available online.
People's lives shouldn't be casually thrown into a skip.