Jarvis Cocker is sold out, but his new book has made me think about my cellar - Gaby Soutar

I am an accumulator of stuff.

Returns only.

I tried to book a ticket for Jarvis Cocker’s Glory Days talk on August 18, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

As usual, I am too slow and it’s long sold out.


When it comes to this particular arm of festival activity, people are ridiculously organised. These are the types who write proper lists, and not just in Sharpie on their hand, because they couldn’t find a Biro.

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I won’t get to hear more about his new book, Good Pop, Bad Pop, which he will be discussing at the event, though I suppose there’s always the option of buying a copy and actually reading it. In the synopsis, it sounds like an inventory and examination of the miscellaneous tat that Cocker found in his loft. Those disposable items that create a portrait of someone.

That’s a subject of interest to me, as a professional accumulator of detritus.

Jarvis Cocker Pic: John Phillips/Getty Images for BFIJarvis Cocker Pic: John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI
Jarvis Cocker Pic: John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

I’ve been thinking about those things a lot recently. While I was attempting to book tickets for that talk, NASA shared images from the James Webb Space Telescope. There were twinkly pictures of distant galaxies, Jupiter and its moon, Europa, and my imagination was catapulted into space and infinity.

But what goes up, must come down. First there are the stars, then the gutter.

After boggling over the Southern Wheel Nebula and Cosmic Cliffs, I couldn’t stop wondering about my cellar. It feels like the opposite of what’s up there, light years away, but it’s exerting a gravitational pull like a black hole.

When we moved into our ground floor flat, there was nothing down there but an ancient sprung single bed and a standard lamp.

I’ve watched enough Netflix documentaries and horror films to know that this is a very bad sign. We probably should have sold up and left immediately.

However, that was nearly ten years ago, the nightmares have recently ceased and nobody has climbed up through the hole in the floor to slaughter us in our bed. I’m sure it’s fine. While Jamie Lee Curtis is still at large, Michael Myers has bigger fish to fry.

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Those original items of furniture are still there, but are now invisible, since there’s a ton of stuff heaped on top.

I work in the room above it, and can almost sense the jumble of objects, like an anchor for our entire tenement block. It has become a place for mice and spiders to practise their parkour.

The last time I went down, which involves lifting a few shoogly floorboards since we’ve never got a proper hatch installed, was to stash some winter coats. It was horribly revelatory, though the ceiling is about five foot high, so you can’t do much exploration with your head withdrawn like a tortoise.

While upstairs is my present, my past life is crammed down there. It’s a giant memento mori. No wonder my feng shui is shot.

On top of the rubbish, there are all the Christmas decorations, including lengths of tinsel coiled round each other like glamorous boa constrictors. Maybe we’ll have baby tinsels in time for next festive season.

There are 20 years of jaundiced newspapers from my time at Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman.

Then there’s my art school portfolio. I’d managed to get away with stashing this hefty item in my mum’s garage until relatively recently. She was excited to offload it, as the solo minimalist of the family. This black carrying case is topped with life drawings, all rolled into giant cylinders and sealed with masking tape. They consist of four years worth of charcoal smudged bottoms and biceps, all rubbing together, fading and disappearing into a blurry smoke. I never take them out and look at them properly. I’m too embarrassed. Was I ever good at drawing? They might just be crude potato figures, with dots for eyes. Who knows, I haven’t picked up a pencil in 23 years. I guess, when I die and they have to clear out the house, my nephew and nieces might get a laugh.

As well as floppy discs and CDs, the old hi-fi and record player are down there.

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They’re on top of a bag of cassettes, including compilations from ex-boyfriends and friends that I haven’t seen for decades.

I’m sure they include the Michael Jackson Bad album that I got when I was about 12. I bet Cocker didn’t have that in his attic. Not a fan, so I’ve heard. I should probably chuck them all out, but I can’t bring myself to rip the plaster off.

There are also stacks of vinyl. I spent so much of my youth scouring record shops. Then I’d play them in my bedroom, but was too lazy to slot them back in the sleeves. They were already scratched but now they’re warped by the weight that’s been stacked on top. Part of me thinks they might be worth something. Maybe there is a collector of butchered records. Someone who might want that copy of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers with its broken zip.

A few years ago, I did pull a few out to play them, but nostalgia makes me sad. It’s a bit like whisky’s effect on some people. I had a nip of music, then wanted to take a nap.

There isn’t much down there that I need, but I just can’t let anything go. Thus, it would be much nicer to hear about someone else’s lovely attic.

I must set a reminder to buy that book. I’ll write it on my hand with this Sharpie.

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