Thursday, 13 January 2011

The vital document

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I swear that despite all my noble thoughts of great British gumption, I would have stayed in bed for one more day, because I am still feeling most peculiar, but I had to drag my weary bones downstairs because there is the small matter of the Vital Document.

I give the Organised People permission to leave the room now. This will only make you cross and sad.

My filing system is the most ill-named thing since Sarah Palin started talking about the Real America. (Begging the question: what is the Fake America? And how can you tell? Is there a test? Will there be maths?) It is composed, I am ashamed to tell you, of Piles. Sometimes these are arranged in attractive baskets, because I once read a copy of Country Living; sometimes they find themselves rather sadly ON THE FLOOR.

In the general run of things, I can find most pieces of paper, eventually. But every so often there is a document of vital import which must be retrieved - an MOT test, my car insurance, something for the poor benighted accountant, a contract for French language rights - and I have no memory of it. I know I have put it in a Safe Place. (You see that this kind of confession requires stupid amounts of gratuitous capitals, something, along with exclamation marks, that I sternly tell my writing students to avoid on pain of death.) This is one of those times.

So now there must be frantic scrabbling. I crouch on the floor, watched with concern by the dogs, rummaging madly through every single piece of paper that has accrued in the last three years. I find many other vital documents, which is quite gratifying in its way, but of course not THE one. I send off pathetic exculpatory emails to the poor person waiting vainly at the other end. I imagine the long-suffering sighs which must greet each lame request for more time. 'I know it is somewhere,' I say. 'I shall get there eventually'. Yeah, yeah, I imagine the person saying to herself, and I just saw a Gloucester Old Spot flapping past the window.

The idiotic thing is that my good mother brought me up to be organised and efficient. She is madly tidy, and knows where things live. Somewhere along the line, some time in my twenties, everything went badly wrong. I think it was that I fell in love with the notion of Being a Writer, rather than the thing itself. When I was younger, and first starting out, I thought that you had to live in a certain way if you were a creative. I saw all those pictures of the famous studies of famous novelists, with their tottering manuscripts and towers of books, and must have subconsciously seen it as a zero sum game. Either you knew where your insurance documents were, or you could write Tender is the Night. No middle ground, no sir.

Too late I discovered the great Flaubert quote: be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. By that stage I had imbibed the entire Creative notion. There should be a certain carelessness in your dress, the occasional transgression of bourgeois mores, a definite tendency to drink at lunchtime. Pieces of paper: pah.

Now I think: damn Flaubert, for being right. I am bored witless by the panic and rummaging and rifling that must go on each time another Vital Document is required. How hard can it be? I am almost forty-four, and I should know better. I used to think it was charming and flaky to live in a slight haze of mild chaos; now I start to think it wastes too much time. I could write a whole other book in the time it takes to do the rummaging.

Of course the good life lesson (because there must always be a Lesson) to come out of all this is not so much that I MUST HAVE A FILING SYSTEM, but that people are always kinder and less cross than I imagine in my fevered head. An email has just arrived saying not to worry; there is yet time. Apparently, the very patient person tells me, I am not the only client to have mislaid a document. The flagellating part of my mind tells me she is just being nice, but perhaps it is true. It is of course the most reassuring thing in the whole world: to be told that you are not the only one. Funnily enough, it is one of the things I like most about blogging: from reading the comments here, and the confessions in other people's blogs, I get living proof that one is never quite alone in all one's absurd flaws and quirks and moments of self-doubt. There is something profoundly lovely in that.

Now for the pictures of the day. I tottered out on my old lady legs and found amazing signs of life.

All kinds of buds:

14th Jan 4

14th Jan 5

14th Jan 2

14th Jan 3

It was a rotten old day, with lingering snow and sheet ice and a raw feeling in the air, yet there were still the colours:

14th Jan 6

14th Jan 7

14th Jan 8

14th Jan 9

There was lichen, and moss:

14th Jan 11

14th Jan 15-1

And old leaves:

14th Jan 15

The Duchess delicately contemplated a very, very small stick:

14th Jan 13

While the Pigeon, who has no delusions of grandeur, gamely attacked a really, really big one:

14th Jan 14

(For those of you who worry about these things, they are only allowed to dismember very soft old sticks, so there is no danger of splinters.)

Beauty shots:

14th Jan 10

14th Jan 12

And, of course, the hill, rather impressionistic today:

14th Jan 1

(I realise suddenly that I have labelled these pictures 14th January. All day I was convinced it was the 14th and only now I discover it is the 13th. No wonder I cannot find the vital documents when I do not know what day of the week it is. The bonus to flakiness: now I feel as if someone has given me an extra day. It's a tiny silver lining.)


Finally, something should be said about President Obama's beautiful speech, but really I think my friend Miss Whistle got it right when she simply chose this one sentence from it, and posted it on her blog without comment:

'We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.'


  1. I have a filing system. Once a month I actullay hole punch my personal filing and put it in a level arch file. This is after I found unopened pay cheques from six years ago (too old to cash). I actually open envelopes now.

    However I haet doing it. It's jsut that

    1) My parents never open letters and they are all over thier house and it upsets me.

    2) I am an administrator and have to file things all day - I don't want to at home!

    However most people lose things. Most things take time. The patience is real - we tend to set flase deadlines to allow for missing documents (don't rely on that though - please!)

  2. Oh it's not just a creative thing. I don't class myself as particularly creative but I just can't keep my papers organised. I have a Big Box Of Crap and any call for bank/MOT/insurance details means at least a 2 hour stint of going through it to find the paperwork in question. I'm just resigned to it now. I'm not a tidy person.

  3. Oh Siobhan - I too have the shaming unpaid in cheques. So glad to know am not the only one who is not brilliant at admin. Strength in numbers.

    Alex - much relief to know am not alone in untidiness. :)

  4. What I don't actually understand is how my husband, who is the most organised, filing-loving being I have ever met, commandeering the WHOLE bookcase in the study with each shelf lovingly filled with labelled lever-arch files, can then condemn me to containing the few pathetic vital docs I do have to two box files kept in the sideboard cupboard of the dining room of all places. A place, in fact, so counter-intuitive, I frequently open the cupboard and am surprised at them being there.
    And when I claim outrage at not being allowed even a small space for my vital docs, he claims that were I to allow him a small shelf for his books (which he does not own) somewhere in the house, I might have a leg to stand on. As it does stand, we are both legless, I think.

  5. Hello. I find myself wanting to comment to your posts every day! That document - when you find it can you see if my vital document is there too?! My filing is appalling...and it always comes back to bite me. I once lost my MOT certificate completely and (confession) went for three months with no MOT without even knowing it. EEEK. Lou x

  6. I so understand your paper pile-ups. I am tidy and orderly about everything else but the piles of paper - bills (unpaid), junk mail, important forms etc - are the bain of my life. I tend to move them (tidily) around the place. Maybe you should write a book!

  7. Dear Tania

    I think you need to read this book. Immediately.

    If nothing else, it gets rid of the guilt :)

  8. Oh would it be frightfully wicked to ever so slightly smile at the sight of an inherent weakness when most of us mere mortals are left breathless at your usually abundantly visible talents and energy.

    I claim mid table mediocrity in terms of personal organisation.

    But I am just raising my head above the pillows after almost two weeks in the ggrip of some vicious virulent virus or other - and I do not 'do' ill at all. Perhaps it is because the offspring are away from home and recent contract has ended that I was able to succumb. No one writes sick notes for mothers or the self employed.

    However hard I tried, convinced that I simply MUST be capable of some basic activities, some lumbering limb walloped me straight back to the pit if I dared attempt anything as strenuous as boiling a kettle.

    I do hope the document has surfaced. Is St Christopher at home?

    Lovely pictures as ever.

  9. Thank you for the Flaubert quote. It is the missing piece, and my ignorance of it explains well my inefficiency and inconsistency.

    Thank you, too, for unwittingly renewing my blogging aspirations. I have thrown off the outmoded Zambesigirl mantle in favour of the pared down truth.

    It was my cloak of anonymity during those early days of experimental blogging, when I feared possible ramifications on my real/work life. Oh that I should have been so outrageous and in need of such discretion!

    Glad you are feeling a little better.

  10. You've described my life. And I should know better; in my former life I was that accountant demanding Important Documents (and they were definitely in capital letters).

    And you made me laugh - in Paris awake far too late after a very tiring day being dragged around art galleries by daughter (not that I didn't want to be or didn't enjoy it - but one's legs are not as young as they once were.)

    I'm glad to see you are feeling better.


  11. I do hope you feel better soon.

    My memory is also full of holes worse than a sieve actually and though I try so hard to file stuff away, it never seems to get finished. Even important stuff sometimes gets chucked into the respective file so when you eventually open the file it all pours forth.

    Btw that excerpt from Obama's speech is wonderful. Thanks. I seem to be so far away from American politics that my knowledge of it is sketchy to say the least.

    Right now we are trying to just cope with floods and 800,000 people displaced.

  12. Tania,

    You are so funny and what you say rings so very true and no you are not ALONE!!!(see despite your dire warnings about capitals and EXCLAMATION marks I am not afraid to use them in your presence!)I must admit though ever since I read one of your workshop posts, warning lights go on every time I want to throw in an unecessary exlamation mark, which is often, because I do love them very much(oops nearly threw one in there too).
    Your post made me laugh out loud as I am in the middle of (procrastinating) umm I mean searching through important papers which are vital pieces of evidence for my vital correspondance with various administrative authorities. Don't know about you but the "to do" piles are arranged by "urgent to do" which totters above the "to do soon" which in turn balances precariously over the "to do sometime" and the "to do if ever you have some time on your hands" pile. Sometimes they all slide over and get rearranged into some preordained cosmic order. And while I am writing this, the damn admin letter is getting nowhere. Oh yes, and don't you find that when you are in a frenzy of searching and praying that the consequences of your considerably delayed cowardly acts will be not be abominably punished, suddenly there is a calm respite from the only understanding and patient internal revenue person you have had the wildly improbable good luck to land up speaking to on the phone and who has agreed to postpone yet again your deadline. At this point I usually thank some other cosmic powers for their incredibly forgiving capacities and promise them fervently that if things turn out alright, it will never ever happen again....
    liz from Paris
    ps. hope you are recovering well from your bug.

  13. Dears, all

    Truly, it is possible to be 'a bit organised' without being 'madly anally retentive'. A colleague of mine has just recently described the ideal state as 'Be realistic and don't micro-organise'. This is vital: there is no need for absolutely perfect alpha or numerical order; just an approximate system that lowers your blood pressure.

    When I moved in with my (minister) husband, his filing system was F for Floor and W for Windowsill. Now that it's a fairly tidy but not obsessive filing cabinet, he's able to concentrate on the important parts of his job, such as services, the bereaved, the wedding couples, the local community, and the rest of his life.

    Don't throw things at me. I do this stuff for a living (being a professional declutterer, administrator and general solution-finder). If you'd like a bit of help, virtually or in reality, do let me know; and this truly isn't shameless and opportunistic promotion of self (on the internet, I will happily cast advice to the four winds gratis if I feel I've helped somebody).

    Take comfort from the knowledge that 'a bit better' is often 'good enough'.

    And Tania: thank you once more for a smile from the writing and awesomeness from the photos.

  14. Ah, the joys of solidarity. Magnificent comments; thank you.

    And Cassie - quite tempted to fly you to Scotland. But then you would SEE the piles and I would feel shy.

    Love the idea of 'a bit' though.

  15. Shyness absolutely not required... am very non-scary! Truly.


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