It’s hard to imagine how something as dull as a cardboard box could feature so heavily in somebody’s life but it certainly has in mine. I was looking at a pile of them sitting in the corner of our living room and I started to think about the significance of this humble container.
It started, as it does for so many children, when I got access to a large empty box for the first time and a whole new world opened up to me. Suddenly I had a space ship, a car, a house and a castle to play in. If I could only persuade my sister to crawl inside I could make it into a prison! Later, once old enough to handle such things as scissors and glue I found I could construct pretty much anything from an old cardboard box. Admittedly none of the aircraft flew very well and the boats didn’t fair too well but the fun was in the making.
At the age of sixteen I became political for the first time in my life and joined Shelter. Inspired as I was by the thought of homeless people having to sleep in cardboard boxes in shop doorways. I got myself a badge and set about changing the world. That particular revolution didn’t last too long because none of the girls I fancied at the time were interested in protest marches or shaking charity tins on rainy street corners.
It was also around this time that I started my job. For four years I worked Saturdays and holidays in a local supermarket. I spent half my time taking things out of cardboard boxes and stacking them on shelves and the rest of it working at the checkout putting the stuff back into boxes for customers. I became aware that I had a bit of a skill in the form of spacial awareness. I would scan the pile of shopping on the checkout then carefully select a suitable box from the pile in the window. My day was made when the customer looked at the box as they often did and said, “you’re going to need a bit bigger box than that young man”. I would smile politely and then perform 3D Tetris wizardry as I placed the last packet of biscuits smugly into the final space in the jig-saw. Touche posh shopping woman.
Declining the supermarket manager’s invitation to make a career in retailing I left home and moved to the first of many homes of my own. Cardboard boxes were involved. In my adult life I have lost count of the number of boxes I have packed and unpacked with my modest belongings in the process of moving house. I doubt I’m alone in putting some of them unopened into the loft of the new house, only to take them out again several years later to move them to another roof top spidery lair.
The twist this time of course is that we won’t be unpacking any of them until at least next autumn. We’re hoping there won’t be too many boxes to pack as we are paring down our belongings to the bare minimum. It’s all part of the plan to ensure that should we stumble blindly into another rut when we return it will, at least, be a different sort of rut. A rut less cluttered, and therefore easier to get out of again.
I do wonder where this association with cardboard boxes might end. Which gives me an idea.