Jonathan Dodd: Being ‘Away’

Jonathan Dodd is back! Returning with his Sunday column and reminding us of how much we missed his interesting observations on life.


Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed

Hello. I’m back. I was away for a while. Sorry about that. I hope you didn’t miss me too much. I wasn’t actually ‘away’, as in ‘gone for a cruise’, or ‘abducted by aliens’, or ‘detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ (a phrase that could have many connotations). I wasn’t even physically or corporeally or geographically ‘away’, I was actually here, and extremely busy, but I was so overloaded that I didn’t have any spare energy. Or space, or brainpower, or anything that felt like the ability to imagine. In other words, I moved house.

Someone once said to me that moving house is supposed to be as stressful as divorce, and I remember scoffing. I’ve been through a few things, I can tell you, and moving doesn’t really count, in the long run, except that it’s all so concentrated in such a short period of insanely concatenated activity, and it involves packing away everything you own in boxes and storage places and random garages, all of which you start out doing with fantastic and smug common-sense organisation, and end up as the moment approaches, just throwing anything in boxes and piling them up higgledy-piggledy.

It now looks like Ali Baba’s ransacked cave
Then there’s the horrendous actual moving, which has to take place in about half a day, and involves all that loading and carrying, this time up stairs rather than downstairs, and everything just has to get put inside by the end of the day, so you start being very organised – ”Oh! That box needs to go in Bedroom 2!”, and finally it’s just – “Stick it all in that corner. Doesn’t matter where!” And you shut the door of that strange new place that looked so clean, and large, and empty, and filled with light, and now looks like Ali Baba’s ransacked cave.

packed to move

The other thing about moving is that you lose things. We realised that we had no towels. They had all been put in storage, in a box. We had forgotten that making a cup of tea needed so many things to exist simultaneously in close proximity to each other. Kettle, mugs, teaspoons, teabags, coffee, sugar (we don’t do that, but maybe you do). You also need a flat surface that’ll act like a table, and coasters, if you’re middle-class, and chairs that aren’t covered in a tottering pile of mismatched cardboard boxes. I spent the first week bemoaning the temporary loss of one slipper. I couldn’t find any tools. The internet had to be connected, and then made to work, with magic. And the landline, and the mobile phones. One still doesn’t work at all. We have no idea why.

The total chronic underavailability of electric sockets
We discovered the central most undiscussed problem affecting every household in the land. The total chronic underavailability of electric sockets compared to the number of things that need to be plugged in. We have an armful of multi-socket extension leads, which all create rat’s nests of cables and wires, and none of those plugs match. Have you noticed that? Some are chunky, some are rounded, some have useful ledges so you can grip them to pull them out, and some are totally smooth.


Many have weird shapes, like phone chargers, Mainly, I suspect, so the clever-dick designers can prove they’re creative and manage to fit an enormous UK 3-pin plug into that small and beautifully-designed desirable box in which your new mobile phone arrives. They often come in two pieces, or bits pull out. I recently helped a neighbour, who had been unable to charge her phone on the mains since she got it, because the long pin was in the wrong place. I grasped it firmly for her, and slid it up so it was in the plug-in position rather than the fit-in-box position. The look she gave me was priceless.

To daisy-chain or not to daisy-chain?
So you have to find all these extension cables, and plug them in, and plug all the other plugs in, and sometimes you find you still haven’t got enough sockets, so you either buy more extension cables with very long wires or more sockets, or you bite the bullet and daisy-chain them. Now I have no opinion on this. I believe there’s a position that says you never should, and there are those that say it depends on what you’re plugging in. Several electric fires on full-blast obviously wouldn’t be advisable, but seven phone chargers don’t seem so frightening. Besides, every extension cable has its own fuse, and every plug has its own fuse, so what’s the problem?

manila telephone cables

I’ve visited houses in many countries where they have those thin slimline plugs with two prongs hanging out, and they daisy-chain like crazy, presumably without affecting their country’s mortality rate or life-expectancy. So go figure. Come to think of it, we’ve all seen those photos of third-world towns, where all the electricity arrives by a festoon of wires on poles, hundreds of them, all strung out and hanging just above everybody’s heads, and no doubt all diverted and split and added to and messed with in the night or even in daylight with impunity, because people need electricity to charge their phones, or to listen to the truth about world events from the BBC, and who are we to complain? But complain we do, because our super-cool designer living rooms are ruined by all hose cables snaking like bindweed roots round the skirting boards, and they all end in an explosion of wires. Just a couple of pull-outs and push-ins later, and they’re totally mixed up, never to be untangled, at least not until you have to move again, Heaven forbid!

The simple truth is that moving house hurts
Those experts who make a living from predicting what’s happening in the world often say that our housing market is in a fix. They often say that people just aren’t moving. They come up with all sorts of reasons for this, but the simple truth is that moving house hurts. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, it’s overcomplicated and risky. Yes, it’s an immense effort. Yes, it’s humungously expensive. Yes, there are so many things you have to do, from getting your mail redirected to telling the TV licencing people. And all those people and companies who send you letters. But above all it’s so much bother. Much more bother than it used to be. And we all have so much more stuff nowadays.

Public Storage doors

I don’t know about you, but I’m bothered about storage units. You see these great warehouse buildings, usually painted day-glow orange or yellow, and when you rent one, you get a metal cube, or rhomboid, or whatever, amongst an infinity of such units. Each has a door and a padlock, and each is presumably rented by someone, and filled with their stuff, for which they pay a significant amount of money every month. I’ve used them twice, for a specific amount of time, and I’ve emptied and left as soon as possible. But apart from people who rent houses and need to store bits of furniture temporarily, I’ve hardly ever seen anyone in those dark corridors, where the lights go on when you approach.

More interesting than sorting the paperwork
I have a theory, which can only ever remain a theory, that all those units are filled with stuff that’s been squashed in there and forgotten, or ignored, because it’s too much trouble to think about it. It’s like that paperwork, in a drawer or a bag, or shoe-boxes. You know you should sort it, and it keeps getting bigger, but there’s always something more interesting on TV, or at least more interesting than sorting the paperwork. And I wonder if you found the renter of any of those units and asked them what they were storing in there, they’d have trouble giving you a list. I also bet that they would struggle to remember the last time they unlocked the door and made a visit there. But I might be wrong.

piles of papers

Anyway, I’ve been moving, stuck in that strange place between universes, filed with the smells of cardboard and parcel tape and permanent marker, at least until you abandon trying to label those boxes. The very same boxes I tore round begging and borrowing are in an unruly pile in the garden, getting wet occasionally, waiting to be flattened and taking to the tip. Personally, I’ve felt myself being ‘away’, and I can feel myself cautiously re-approaching myself. For a while I couldn’t sit down or shut my eyes without lists of things to do and items to pack and people to notify going round and round in my mind, and waking up at 5:30am, worrying in my sleep about whether the settee would get through the front door. Either the old one or the new one.

I can put my hand on an Allen Key again
I’m beginning to be able to have conversations again, and I’m rediscovering my PC, after it was packed away and unpacked, and had to put together again, with its own multitude of wires and additional things that attach to it like pilot fish to a Manta Ray, and my fingers have started to unclench enough to be able to type again, although very inaccurately. And the new house is beginning to look less like a warehouse or a department store at the end of the first day of the sales. I can put my hand on an Allen Key again, and there are shelving units rebuilt, although the shelves aren’t back in them, and the books and DVDs are all still in storage.

book shelves

I’m glad to feel bits of me reappearing. They each look a little surprised, and give themselves a shake as they take their usual places again, and return to the familiar routines. I hope none get lost, but I’m still not able to tell, and there’ll be a lot of moments where I wonder whenever a particular book, or jug, or tool, might be. Things will turn up in their own time, and if they don’t and I don’t miss them, that’s just like the tree falling in the forest.

If you have been, thank you for reading this.

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Opinion Piece

Sunday, 27th May, 2018 9:37am



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I moved 17 years ago and am still sorting!