It seems the neighbours’ tool shed caught fire thanks to an undetected crack in their chimney, through which heat and/or flames must have escaped as they burnt wood to keep warm. The neighbours woke up when the flames reached up to their bedroom window. The Indie-Pop family had abandoned the neighbourhood in search of a warmer, electricity-driven house, so we were summoned by cell phone at 4am to come and enjoy the last stages of the drama. We suffered no internal damage, but became a local tourist attraction for 48 hours as people we’d never met before were flushed out of their houses to come and ask, “What happened?” Maybe we’ll see them again next Halloween.
Despite all my grumbling about suburban sterility, I’ve lived in this house longer than any other, and have become somewhat attached to it. Of course the main thing is, as all have sagely observed, no one was hurt. Once you move past that comforting homily, though, you start to consider what else you could have lost. Aside from the inconvenience of not having a house, an office, or any practical possessions, there would be the issue of Archives. For while the past few years of our lives are safely backed up on remote hard drives and laptops (yes folks, the Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop blog is, thank God, secure from the ravages of nature), the flames that began to lap at the side of our house were just feet away from irreplaceable letters, handwritten diaries, photographs, college essays, and old football and music magazines.
I rarely look at any of them, but that’s not the point – they’re always there in case I want to. There may be a time in 20 years when I’ve nothing better to do than check what my ex-girlfriend was feeling for me (or not) back in 1988. I may feel compelled to show my grandchildren what a long, well-composed composition in ink actually looked like. “Wow, indie-grandpop, that’s amazing!” they’ll say. “Can you untie us and turn that shite music down now, please?”
I could buy some fireproof metal cases and lock the most personally significant items inside for the delight and entertainment of future generations. What worries me, though, is what my kids will have to preserve of their own history. I fear that they’ll outlive their computerised storage devices, and that when they’re old, their FaceBook and Flickr pages will be an obsolete technological phenomenon that took their records down with them when they got wiped out by a bug or a bankruptcy. Future family historians may desperately unearth dead devices and present them to specialist firms, having to pay large amounts of money to see a snapshot of their school trip from 50 years earlier. Or to read a historic instant message exchange with their first boyfriend ("OMG, you are sooooo dumped!").
In the meantime, though, I keep gazing fondly at my storage cupboard and its piles of jaundiced documents. They’re combustible, but precious too, at least for as long as I’m around.