Some people are neat and tidy. So when my wife asks if I could bring her a blouse or some socks or whatever from her wardrobe, I know that I am about to be shamed. Everything on the shelves or in the drawers is laid out carefully, folded neatly and arranged logically.  And the same approach holds for her desk. Moreover, things are so carefully arranged that if I happen to hunt for something there, say some sellotape or a stapler, and if everything is not put back as it was, my rummaging will soon be detected, possibly even commented on!

Rohan is not obsessional, and as far as I know her neatness and tidiness have been part of her forever. Indeed it mirrors her ordered and uncluttered mind. My parents were also tidy, at least as far as their clothes were concerned, so until I left my family home they saw to it that my clothes too were carefully arranged

Somehow neither Rohan’s example, nor any possible inherited trait, has influenced my behaviour. This means that my clothes are jumbled up, my wardrobe higgledy-piggledy, and a large part of my working arrangements a muddle. So, like much of my organised life it is, in fact, disorganised. Accordingly, finding clothes has been difficult, and correspondence a nightmare. But sometimes it can be fun. Stumbling across a long-lost watch when searching for an envelope gives me unexpected pleasure. In keeping with all this, I would rarely have any idea if someone had touched my belongings, although I have occasionally got suspicious about my disappearing socks – I have three sons!

That was the picture until recently when for reasons unknown, things began to alter, with some of the changes driven by me and others engendered by the objects themselves. It was me, for instance, who took the lead with my shirts which, for the first time are pressed and arranged in rows in one of my drawers. Similarly my tools, my DIY paraphernalia and the household electricals are now laid out neatly on purpose-built shelves [see Line of Most Resistance, 18th March 2012]. For the first time I can find a ready-to-wear shirt or a pair of pliers in seconds.

But probably the most unexpected change has emanated from the far end of a shelf above my desk. There, from 2005, I have stored my completed French notebooks. And as the number in the row has grown, there are now twenty one of them, so my desire to keep them neat has become an obsession. I should add that these are more than objects, in many ways they are my companions. They contain notes on new French words and grammar and I carry each in turn with me everywhere, so elevating them to a rank equal to my wallet, my keys and my asthma puffer. With a book close at hand, I can take a peep on a bus or train, or when waiting for a doctor’s appointment.

From the start I have been buying the books from the same shop, and they are identical – the same size and shape, same colour, and the same coiled metal spine. Accordingly, on the shelf they give a real air of order. In addition to their looks they also happen to be water resistant and simple to dry – essential qualities as when I read them in the bath, they sometimes need scooping out of the water.

I am now on book 22, and in preparation for its imminent completion, I went to the stationers to get its replacement. The expedition was a nightmare and ultimately failed. When I went to the usual shelf ‘my’ notebook was not there, nor was it on any shelves nearby, and as it so happened they were nowhere in the store either. Shrugging his shoulders the manager told me that the company no longer stocked them. He reminded me that change was a necessary part of successful commerce, adding that anyway the new version had a map of the world on the inside front cover, and that the newly arranged lines would help people with poor eyesight. Without warning, my particular companion of seven years had been withdrawn. I felt sad and cheated.

I bought the new model, so book number 23 will have a different spine, more widely spaced lines, and a cover that is matt rather than shiny (will it survive submersion?). Moreover, the print size on the map is too small to read. These changes may seem trivial, but to me, with my new desire for orderliness, they were so unfair. My row of books on the shelf will never now be uniform, and this will jar.

But to the future, where next will my tidiness focus?  A change in how my mind works would be handy, and there are signs this has already started. The logic of French grammar has certainly made me tidy up my thinking in that part of my grey matter responsible for language, and I feel that perhaps the change is spreading further afield. That would certainly be nice. I am certainly keen to neaten up, but ever reaching the heady heights of my wife seems most unlikely.

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