I’m having my house insulated this week and part of the work involves laying polythene down beneath the floor to prevent rising damp, so my job for this weekend was to crawl around underneath the house and clear out all the junk that successive owners had dumped down there.
This turned out to be a bigger job than I anticipated: roughly ten hours and counting to haul out the detritus accumulated over ninety years. I’ve spent a lot of that time trying to figure out if I’ve ever had to do a shittier, more horrible job and I don’t think I have. This has been the worst job of my life. Which put me in mind of a famous quote by Paul Bowles:
Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.
I think Bowles was a great writer but I don’t think he ever had to spend forty minutes on his belly dragging a huge, waterlogged roll of cobweb-shrouded carpet through a dark, dusty, damp confined space. It is true that I’ll only see the full moon rise a limited number of times and this is a shame, but it’s also true that the number of large sheets of jagged aluminium steel I have to force between narrow concrete piles while thousands of tiny insects crawl beneath my clothes is similarly limited, which is a great comfort to me.