Moving in the time of “the Big Society”

After eleven good years in Birmingham, we have moved house to Harpenden in the year of Cameron’s grand idea of “the big society”! The Divine must be having a good laugh with our move from chaotic and exciting “Ladywood” (Birmingham) to orderly and calm Hapenden! I wonder from what social location PM Cameron is speaking when he launched his “Big Society” Plan. Unlike many of the biblical stories of people moving – with only the need to un-pitch tents, gather their few belongings (including livestock) – our move included a whole sequence of planned arrangements and timings to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. I am sure those biblical folks also had their own planning to do (though this may not be the impression) but they may have had less accumulated clutter to deal with!

I once came across as Chinese saying that to make big changes in one’s life necessitate moving 27 things in the home. I can only imagine the change we have created having moved over a couple thousand of things, that is, counting the many volumes of books – even after disposing of many. Oxfam and a colleague from Kenya have got most of my eclectic collection of academic books! And do not get me started on the cartloads of paper and accrued notebooks (of our sons) that have ended up in the city’s recycling containers. Our personal papers, however, have served as good packaging materials, after passing through a newly acquired cross-cutting shredder.

One of the exciting and yet challenging experiences in moving is the fact of having to contend with perhaps a smaller and differently structured house. “Rethinking Space” has become our silent mantra – and having to rethink what to do with all the now unnecessary things we once found helpful. And believe me: we all have more stuff than we think we need and in reality do need. Vigilant as we have been about not accruing stuff, we were shocked to discover how much we have collected over years in Birmingham.

And even after disposing of so much, there is the feeling that we still managed to transport some unnecessary clutter to our new garage. Perhaps, this is a necessary and cathartic process – to help us cope with our imagined loss of things we may have become attached to and perhaps with our own displacement. It may be that before long, we will let go of those unopened boxes which we may not miss nor care to peek into! And, while we do not intend to fill up our new house with unnecessary things, we are also mindful of the ever present danger of collecting things to fill available spaces as we try to make “home” that familiar place!

Another good experience about our house-moving – has been the process of packing, marking and cautiously sifting through things to be given away or disposed of. Tiring as it has been, the process has provided us with a space to walk down memory lane. Emotions ran high as items served as significant markers, especially for us, whose lives for the last twenty-one years have been one of frequent move from place to place. When “home has always been elsewhere”, markers are quite significant and these do take a variety of shapes.

Yet, we have also experienced that another aspect of moving lies in celebrating all we are grateful for in what we have left behind and what we are taking with us. Besides, moving is also about homecoming! In the meantime, I am looking forward to enjoy the sun while it lasts with a good Caribbean rum punch under the cool shade of the mighty tall fir trees in the garden of my wife’s new manse. And if I am lucky, I sense an opportunity for me to get a hammock in place before the sun retreats and before I take a closer look at Mr Cameron’s “Big Society” dream!

© copyright July 20, 2010

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