A few weeks ago, my parents decided to clear out their loft, and, while he was up there, my dad discovered an old box with my name on it:
Er, my name isn’t ‘Gateway,’ obviously: that would just be plain weird. No, I mean there was also a note on top of it, declaring it to be mine:
(And also cautioning us to take care with its bottom, for reasons that were unclear at the time it was discovered, and which remain unclear to this day. Just putting that out there upfront, so no one reads this entire post and then writes in to complain that they didn’t understand what was up with the bottom of the box: I don’t either, I’m afraid…)
Now, I had absolutely no recollection of this box (Well, I mean, I DO: it’s the box my very first computer came in. Just looking at it takes me back to the days of dial-up internet, and feeling vaguely guilty about never using that Microsoft Encarta DVD that came with it…), and it seems that, at some point after I moved out, my parents basically just gathered up everything I’d left in my old room, and threw it into this box, which they then sealed and tossed into the attic, along with the approximately 2,000 books I’d also cheerfully left behind. This would most likely have happened about 2.5 seconds after I moved out, and probably while I was still reversing out of their driveway, tbh. You know how some parents keep their child’s bedroom the same way forever, like a kind of shrine to them? My mum had turned that sucker into a guest room within the week. It’s had about 5 different changes of decor since then and, since the arrival of Max, has now been turned into what I think of as “The Lego Room’. But I digress…
So, they’d thrown all my old junk into the box, but they’d obviously done it with the box in situ, because it was now, my dad informed me, much too heavy to be removed from the attic still fully loaded. It would have to be unpacked first, with the treasures it surely contained brought back to earth one at a time.
“I’ll go up and start unpacking it,” volunteered my dad, who was obviously just looking for an excuse to mention the 2,000 books again. “I could bring down some of the books while I’m at it!”
Now, I was a little bit dubious about this at first, because, like I say, I had no idea what was in that box, and, I mean, what if it contained, I don’t know, the severed heads of my teenage enemies, say? Or a deadly curse which, once released, would spread sickness and evil throughout the land, while I just stood there, going, “Oh, so THAT’S why we were supposed to be careful with the bottom of the box!”
“I bet it’s just tons of paper that you’ve written stuff on,” said Terry, who is clearly still harbouring some grievances about my notebook purchasing habits. And, of course, the note on the top DID seem to suggest that was all it was, ovbviously. There was, however, the small matter of the mysterious ‘Red Box’ (A box-within-a-box! What fun!), which, my parents informed me, had been found in my room when I left, locked tight, and with no handy note on top to tell them what was in it. With no key to open it, they did what anyone would do: they tossed it into the attic and left it there for many long years, before suddenly deciding they wanted rid of it, ASAP.
“And you can take those books, too!” my mum shouted as my dad got out the loft ladder and prepared to open Pandora’s Amber’s box.
Here’s what he found when he opened it:
Hello schoolbag, my old friend! I’ve come to talk with you again!
(Seriously, though: did you even live through the 90s in the UK if you didn’t have a Kookai shoulderbag? I think not…)
And under that…
THE RED BOX.
(And also the files mentioned on the note, which I’m 100% sure are filled with lecture notes etc from university. I remember feeling like I should keep them after spending so much time on them, but they’re totally going into the recycling as soon as my dad brings them down from their attic bolthole. Unless anyone wants to read my dissertation on the American Dream, as represented in the literature of Jack Kerouac, Arthur Miller, and someone else who I can’t remember now, but probably J.D. Salinger? No? Anyone at all? The recycling bin it is, then…)
I actually DO remember owning this box, and the fact that it was locked indicated that whatever was inside it had been placed there by me, rather than my parents, so I told my dad to forget the rest: it was time for The Red Box to give up its secrets… only not really, because did I mention it was locked? And that I had long-since lost the key?
I hadn’t come this far for nothing, though (Actually, I hadn’t come far at all: my dad had done all the work. Thanks, dad!), so we loaded the box into the car, and drove home to smash it open, with my parents’ cries of, “But what about those books, though?” ringing in our ears as we went.
“I bet this is ALSO just full of bits of paper that you’ve written stuff on,” muttered Terry as he attacked the box with a chisel and a hammer later that night. And, sure enough:
It turned out that the box’s contents spanned quite a long period of time, containing memorabilia from when I was about 13 years old, right up until about 22-ish. The photos on top, which I’m guessing are the only thing that stand even the slightest chance of piquing anyone’s interest here, were all from my friend’s wedding, so I can’t actually show you them, but, in no particular order, here are some other things I found inside The Box:
A letter from Susan Boyle
One of my slightly stranger claims to fame is that I was the first person to review Susan Boyle‘s (Of Britain’s Got Talent) singing: I got a mention on her Wiki page and everything – fancy! I was working as a reporter at the time, and our paper had put together a CD of local singers, which I was given to review in my weekly column, Amber’s Reviews. (Well, what would YOU have called it, huh?) I remember meeting Susan at the launch party a few weeks later: she was really lovely, and kept coming over to thank me for my glowing review of her singing, but I’d totally forgotten that she’d also sent me this letter, which happened to be the first thing I pulled out of the box. So that was a pretty nice discovery to start off my dive into the past, as was…
The lost Nirvana ticket
I’d been counting down the days until I got to see Nirvana (And, to be honest, I was quite looking forward to Sebadoh, too…), but the concert was postponed due to Kurt Cobain’s deteriorating mental health at the time. A few days later, I was sitting at the desk in my room, diligently memorising French verbs, when the phone rang. “Have you heard?” said my best friend, Dawn, without preamble. “Kurt’s dead.”
So I didn’t ever get to use this ticket – and I’d actually thought it was lost forever, until I found it inside The Box, along with a bunch of other random concert tickets. I was happy to see it again – but I’d much rather have seen Nirvana, needless to say.
Speaking of tickets, meanwhile, I found absolutely tons of the things: train tickets, movie tickets, tickets to my graduation ceremony…
All the tickets
It actually made me feel a bit sad, really, because I don’t tend to keep things like this any more: or, if I do, I normally re-discover them a few weeks later, and then throw them out in disgust, because where do you stop? How do you store them? How many big red boxes can one woman have? (No, really, how many?) I just don’t have the space to store every little bit of random memorablia any more, but I kind of feel like I should now, otherwise one day I’m going to look back on my life and feel like I only really existed from the age of 13 to 22, and then I just sat in the house all the time, doing nothing. Which is kind of true, actually. God, I really wish I hadn’t boarded this particular train of thought. Let’s go back to the box, shall we? The box, in which I also found…
My prefect badge, plus a millionty-one postcards
Because, yes, I was obviously a prefect in high school. And so was everyone else in my year, actually, because, look, my school was pretty rough, OK? It was the kind of place that, when someone applied to be a prefect, the head teacher just let them, because he was scared they’d rough him up or something if he refused. OK, I’m exaggerating just a bit: they DID just hand out badges to every single person who applied, though, and there were absolutely no duties attached to being a prefect, so feel free to see this badge as the token gesture it was, and not as any indication that I was the Percy Weasley of my high school or anything like that…
Also pictured: postcards. Well, ONE postcard. There were dozens of them in the box, though, and letters, too. (For younger readers, postcards were like Instagram posts that you had to send through the mail, because we didn’t have smartphones back then…) As with the ticket stubs, they made me feel a little bit sad, because I don’t get letters any more – or even emails, really, which eventually took over from them. In some ways, social media has made it easier to stay in touch with people, but in other ways, I think the opposite is true, and we end up having these strange, surface relationships, where we think we know someone because we follow them on Instagram, or whatever, but no one’s going to take your Instagram ‘like’ and keep it in a box for 20 years, so they can remember it, are they? Well, HARDLY EVER, anyway.
A bunch of invitations to other people’s 21st birthday parties, and a ton of cards from mine:
What’s weird about this, though, is that I have absolutely NO idea who any of the people named on these invitations are. Seriously, who are Paul, Mark and Paul, and why are they all celebrating their birthday on the same day? Likewise Kay, Nick and Yuki? Were they two sets of triplets? (I mean, I’m guessing not, or that would be a truly startling lack of imagination from the parents of the two Pauls…) Did Cafe Royal offer discounts for joint bookings? Was the drunken debauchery so insane that I’ve somehow blanked it from my memory? Most importantly: WHAT DID I WEAR? AND WHY DON’T I REMEMBER?
(Honestly, I suspect I don’t remember because I probably didn’t go. I worked weekends in a call centre all the way through university (And these invitations are obviously from university people: my home town is NOT the kind of place where people insist on black tie for their birthday parties, seriously. My university, on the other hand…): I couldn’t afford to give up the job, but I also couldn’t get to it very easily from Edinburgh, so I’d spend Monday to Friday living in student accommodation in the city, then come home at the weekend, so I could go to work. This had the fun effect of ensuring that I didn’t ever really feel part of the university scene, because I was always at work/home when all of the fun stuff happened on the weekends, and then I always – ALWAYS – seemed to have an essay to write when things happened during the week. Seriously, if there was ever a university reunion for my year group, they probably wouldn’t let me in, because no one would even remember me. I wish I was joking.)
(And I know, you’re thinking that Kay, Nick, Yuki, Mark and The Two Pauls would surely remember me, because they invited me to their parties, aren’t you? Alas, though, I basically came as a three-pack with two of the friends I DID have, so if you invited them, you had to invite me, too, to avoid causing offence. I was like a particularly crappy BOGOF offer, in other words.)
But anyway! Nestled innocently alongside all of the birthday cards and invitations to parties I didn’t actually attend, was this:
The Diary of Doom
My journal from 1991 – a year when I apparently had so much to say for myself (I know, so unlike me!) that I had to frequently tape extra pages into it, just so I could ramble on for even longer about how TOTALLY UNFAIR my life was, and how no one had ever known suffering quite like I had:
And it wasn’t just this diary, either: there were a couple of others, mostly from when I was at university, and just after. Until now, I’d actually thought all of these journals were lost, because I’d noticed they weren’t amongst all of the other old diaries I have gathering dust in a corner of my bedroom. Having quickly flicked through them all, though, I now just WISH they were lost, because WOW. They gave me AAAAALLL the feels. And not in a good way, either.
For years now, I’ve had this ongoing debate in the back of my head, about what I should do with all of my old diaries. I didn’t want to read them again, but, at the same time, it felt almost disloyal to my younger self to get rid of them, you know? Note the past tense in that sentence, though, because after leafing through the contents of The Box this weekend, I have absolutely no hesitation in telling you that those old diaries are GONE. Er, just as soon as I can figure out a way of disposing them without either burning the house down in the process or spending the rest of my life worrying that they might have fallen into the hands of my enemies, and one day re-surface.
For now, though, they’re back in The Box – and hey, I wonder what’s inside that Kookai bag in the attic?