Isolation diary: Shredding my life

We have been working through boxes and filing cabinets full of old documents – some going back 50 years or more – and shredding them. Do we really need life insurance reminders from 1988, or pay slips from 1971?

Years ago we bought the cheapest shredder we could find, but we spent more time detangling it than actually shredding paper. We replaced it by a larger one, until that caught fire. Finally we purchased our current more robust shredder, which works for about 10 minutes before the red light comes on. During lockdown it has taken up permanent residence in the living room, with a bin bag underneath, and we feed it as often as we remember.

Of course, what I am shredding are memories.

This morning I was feeding in insurance papers that related to when our Cortina was stolen from our front garden in 1993. The car was recovered about a week later near Littlehampton, because – bless it – the engine had seized up and it was stuck on a hard shoulder. Two men were desperately trying to hitch a lift, and pretending the car was nothing to do with them, when the police appeared. The police couldn’t believe their luck because attached to the back of the car was a brand new stolen caravan that they had been looking out for.

The police arrested the men for the theft of the caravan, then noticed one small detail about the car – we had engraved the original registration on the headlight. When the thieves fitted a new number plate they replaced the window glass, which also had the registration engraved on it, but had missed the headlight.

So we got a phone call from Littlehampton Police asking us to retrieve our car. They forgot to tell us that it was undrivable and a write off. It took ages to get it home with the help of the AA and it then stood outside our house, ugly and unloved, for weeks before the insurance company finally decided what to do with it.

We submitted a claim for some things that we had left in the car when it was stolen – a golf umbrella, a toolbox and a Bible. Yes, the Bible was rather significant because it was presented to my husband by the Bishop in Southwark Cathedral when he was admitted as a Reader (now known as a Lay Minister). The story about the car theft made the local press and radio station, partly because my husband was a councillor at the time, and the media made much of the fact that he was more bothered about losing the Bible than the car. But the latter was replaceable and the former wasn’t.


Please note

We have been in full self-isolation since 16th March to protect my husband whose immune system is compromised.

If you are in self-isolation then join the Lib Dems in self-isolation Facebook group.

You can find my previous Isolation diaries here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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  • My father once got his car pinched. It was later found in a pub car park. It was too old to sell. The thieves took all his equipment that was inside though.

  • Because I have been able to carry on working during this period I have had less time that I thought I would to sort out the accumulation of a lifetime’s papers, but I have made a start, taking out boxfiles full of old election leaflets from the 70s and 80s, and then putting them back because I can’t bring myself to believe that they might not be of historical interest to someone.

  • Yes, I too am shredding madly, both my own and my father-in-law’s old papers, brought home previously to do “when i had the time”.
    I find it really hard to watch our lives going into the top and disppearing for ever, but I accept that not even I will be interested in the future in insurance papers from 1995! Because, yes I am a hoarder. This crisis will do much to clear a lot of junk from both my house and my mind.

  • Martin Land 19th May '20 - 9:35pm

    As a child in Central London, I remember seeing a bike chained to the railings of the little park in the centre of our square. Bit by bit, thieves stole bits of it, until only the frame was left. Even as a child, I wondered if the thieves knew they were doing so in front of an eight storey block of police flats.

  • Phil Beesley 20th May '20 - 12:08pm

    I deploy a cooking timer in conjunction with my second shredder: 10 minutes of activity followed by 15 minutes off. The device which is supposed to chew up credit cards takes significantly longer than a pair of kitchen scissors and generates a lot of heat (cf first shredder). Light weight paper (e.g. till receipts) can be tossed into a bucket of water and forgotten about, give it a swirl and chuck it on the garden behind some bushes to rot.

  • I have every payslip and bank statement since October 1968 and every credit card statement since 1971. I thought this was perfectly normal until my partner told me it was definitely not and that they would not be lovingly cherished after my death. Eventually I relented and agreed to shred them all…….. Once I had scanned them all into my laptop. At which point I was told I was definitely strange. I’ve hidden the paper ones instead. Lol. All true.

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