Probably influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson, I have always loved the idea of hoards. Glittering piles of jewels and golden jugs waiting to be discovered in secret underground caves or, better still, in oaken chests hidden behind sliding panels in ancient panelled walls. Definitely yo ho ho and cause for celebration. Which is why a dose of reality last week was a real downer.
In the 21st century, hoarding is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a clinical disorder and, sadly, it has affected a 95-year-old relative. During a visit, it was necessary to change a lightbulb. Off her hallway is a storeroom normally full of books, videos and boxes of lightbulbs. They were still there – but engulfed in a knee-deep sea of paper, magazines, cardboard and plastic bags.
I remembered that room in different days. At one time, it had been my bedroom. During the War, it had been the gathering point for all our tenement neighbours during air raids. Their haven, as the Luftwaffe droned over to bomb Clydeside. Now it had become a hoard.
Apparently, old people build such hoards as a coping mechanism to alleviate anxiety and give them a sense of control. Up to 5% of the British population hoard and nearly half of them are over 60 years old. Plastic bags, papers and cardboard are the most common constituents. If you delve into the internet, you will find helpful tools including the Clutter Index
which offers numbered pictures of key rooms with varying levels of clutter. Above level four, you need help. My old bedroom was in that category.
Ruthlessly, I grabbed a roll of rubbish bags and over most of a day filled them with the junk. Then down to the big black bins that beautify so many of Edinburgh's streets. It was tiring and, according to the myriad of online advice centres, not the best thing to have done. Instead, to achieve long-lasting effect, it should have been a gentle and engaging process, ideally involving cognitive behavioural therapy. According to a dementia ambassador (there are such people), I should have used this technique to empower my relative to 'achieve spatial and personal change'.
While carrying out the necessary Open University studies required, I suspect my temporary weak-kneed solution will be more frequent visits – and plenty of rubbish bags. Yo ho ho...
It is 35 years since Dead Dad Dog
by John McKay was last staged in London. The play began life at the Traverse in 1988, was a huge hit, transferred to the Royal Court and launched McKay's career as a writer, director and film maker. It has been performed several times in Scotland in the intervening years – it is a two-hander with two meaty roles for the actors – but not in London. However, it is now at the Finborough in West Kensington for a short run as part of the theatre's series of forgotten plays – forgotten in London of course.
Liam Brennan, who appeared in the original production, as Willie, a ghost, appears to his son Eck played by Angus Miller some 12 years after his death and both bring it splendidly to life. Eck, a young man of the 1980s, is intent on making his working-class origins clear as he goes for a job interview with the BBC much to Willie's disgust. He points out he was not working class – he sold Hoovers and voted Tory. Eck's problem is that he and Willie are trapped inside some sort of force field so wherever he goes, Willie goes too, a problem increased by the fact that everyone can see Willie whose presence has to be explained away. While Eck faces up to a BBC panel chaired by Julian Critchley – it is not at all clear why – Willie pretends to be there to check up on the central heating.
At the end, when Eck finally gets the gorgeous unattainable girl to come back for coffee – if Willie sits near the bedroom door they are both still inside the force field – mayhem follows the question he demands an answer to. 'Is your mither still alive?'
The play should have had an accompanying piece called Sunny Boy
, a fresh look at a father-son relationship by McKay but that had to be cancelled because of illness. McKay had decided that he was now older than Willie in the play, had sons of his own and was no wiser, so it was time to write another one.
Dead Dad Dog
does conjure up a lost world, one which today's Ecks know very little about: the poll tax battles, the miners' strike, the freeing of Nelson Mandela or the heady mix of the time which included Chic Murray, the Clydeside sit ins and Glen Michael's Cartoon Cavalcade
. They are, he says, like 'unreadable scratching on a cave wall'. I would reckon they are things that get googled, goggled at – and forgotten.
McKay's hope is that the two plays together will make 'one good night out, as we used to say in the leftie theatre of the 1980s'. Standing alone, however, the Stories Untold production directed by Liz Carruthers makes a pretty good night out.
If you would like to contribute to the Cafe, please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org