ONE LAST THING

Leav­ing things be­hind, lost or not, is part of life’s cy­cle

Financial Mail - Investors Monthly - - Contents - NICKY SMITH

Nicky Smith col­umn

The pe­riod of de­cay which pre­cedes death, which impish, glass-three-quar­ters­full types like to call life, is a se­ri­ous business. But after years of think­ing about it I have come to the con­clu­sion that it seems that is also a business about noth­ing, re­ally at all.

Th­ese mus­ings have plagued me since be­fore I can re­mem­ber, which could be a longer time than even I sus­pect, since I hardly re­mem­ber things.

Hav­ing a por­ous mem­ory means that I lose things and for­get things all the time. Strate­gies to deal with my poor grasp on specifics of the events tak­ing place around me have been de­vel­oped over the years.

I lose stuff all day; some­times per­ma­nently. This means I have du­pli­cate ID doc­u­ments, three ac­cess cards for the build­ing I work in, two or three ran­dom code­gen­er­at­ing de­vices I had to use when I worked for an Amer­i­can news agency, two or three mag­netic tape mea­sures and maybe three ham­mers.

It has al­ways been this way. Once, when I was about 10, I came home from school with­out my school shirt on. I had to wear my blazer on the bus home and it was very, very hot. Hon­estly, I have no idea what hap­pened to it, maybe some­one nicked it after PT? I dunno.

But per­haps the big­gest mys­tery of things I have lost hap­pened when I was 12.

My dad was fix­ing up a bike for me. It was ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing. It was a “big” bike, a grad­u­a­tion from my lit­tle beast of a BMX.

The fix­ing-up of the bike seemed to take for­ever. I longed for it. It was an old-style Raleigh bike with a very un­cool tri­an­gle seat with springs, and a mid­dle bar that was an­gled at about 30 de­grees. Which def­i­nitely meant it was a “Ladies” bike. This was a great dis­ap­point­ment.

One I kept to my­self, of course, since the idea of be­ing on a big per­son’s bike was in­tox­i­cat­ing. I was get­ting big­ger! And older. The bike was proof I was shuf­fling off child­hood at last.

My other great, pri­vate reser­va­tion over this bike project was the weird turquoise colour it had been sprayed. It was def­i­nitely, maybe, a girl colour. But what was it? Pas­tel green? Pow­der blue?

Adding to the in­ter­minable ten­sion over when this sym­bol of grown-up­ness and won­der (if not beauty) would be un­der­neath me to dis­play to my neigh­bour­hood was the fact that my fa­ther has never been known to fin­ish a project quickly. A gift he has given me. Thanks, Ken.

So for ages the dis­as­sem­bled bits of the bike were stacked against each other in the garage. The mute col­lec­tion of parts had an ir­re­sistible pull on me. I could def­i­nitely start us­ing it. Se­cretly.

I ran around the gar­den with the un­gainly fork and han­dle bars, imag­in­ing a wheel spin­ning in front of me. I was rid­ing my bike!

The last I re­mem­ber was plac­ing it on the top of the com­post

Hav­ing a por­ous mem­ory means that I lose things all the time

heap in re­sponse to an ur­gent call to my fort. The heap, at the back of the gar­den, served as a very handy help-me-up to get across the back wall and straight into my fort — a ne­glected bed of over­grown gera­ni­ums I had bur­rowed out into a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected pits.

Months later, or weeks, or days or years (re­ally, I don’t know) my fa­ther’s in­ter­est in the bike project stirred. But there was a prob­lem. The fork of the bike was miss­ing.

Where was it? I knew I didn’t know, ’cos se­ri­ously, I didn’t. I knew noth­ing and said so.

There was much Je­sus Christ­ing How On Earth Could You Lose Some­thing Like a Bi­cy­cle Fork, which was be­wil­der­ing and heart­break­ing.

Be­cause now the bike would never be mine, and I was the rea­son. For many years I be­lieved that the fork lay in the warm depths of the heap’s grass cut­tings.

A thou­sand life­times later my mother told me they had moved the com­post heap. And guess what? No bi­cy­cle fork. Did you look prop­erly? I asked. Yes, she said, noth­ing. I am still not sure I be­lieve her. And the mys­tery lingers.

Learn­ing to let go of things is one of the hard-wired truths of this se­ri­ous business of life.

Hav­ing spent most of my life los­ing stuff I now like to think that it may well be a gift. I have learned that there is noth­ing to be done about it, you have to move on and un­der­stand you have not lost any­thing, re­ally.

Ul­ti­mately we are all forced to let go of ev­ery­thing, that is the na­ture of this se­ri­ous business.

But it won’t mat­ter, be­cause it changes noth­ing and you still have the plea­sure of drift­ing in the mem­o­ries and mys­ter­ies of things lost.

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