Suggested Audio Candy:
 Keith Sweat “I Want Her”
 Depeche Mode “New Life”
 Bronski Beat “Smalltown Boy”
 Heaven 17 “Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry”
 Roxy Music Love Is The Drug
Most of us collect something. Whether that be stamps, coins, antiques, ticket stubs, souvenirs from places we visit, or hacked-up human body parts, it’s a compulsion that affects almost all of us. The reason for this varies from person to person. Some do it just for the thrill of the chase, others out of insecurity or because they are desperate to preserve the past, and often we struggle to understand just why we do what we do in the first place. I’m a prime example of a rabid collector and, while this has not been so prevalent in recent years, I’ve certainly had my moments. It’s hard knowing exactly when this started or what triggered my obsession but I have my theories and hope today to shed a little light on it. This will require rooting about in my past some and, as you will already be aware, I’m only too happy to take a trip down memory lane. Indeed, I have my rose-tinted spectacles ready at all times.
As I already stated, I’m not altogether sure when or why this all began but I do recall a nickname my three sisters gave me at a decidedly young age. To others I was Richard but, to them, I Want seemed a far more fitting mantle. If there was something that I desired, then I would whine until which time as my parents were sufficiently worn down, and this culminated in success more often than not. If it sounds like I was a spoiled brat, then perhaps I was just a little. You see, my father had been absolutely desperate for a son after three girls on the bounce and I was the final throw of the dice as they bid to end this run. When I popped out and slid across the gurney into the midwife’s catcher mitt, dad was beside himself and mom always says that he was like a dog with two tails. He promptly got blind drunk and stumbled around the streets informing everyone he came into contact with that he now had a beautiful baby boy. It would be fair to assume that he was pretty made up.
My father was a truck driver by trade and spent the lion’s share of his day on the road. When he arrived home at the end of a shift, he invariably returned with a gift for his little man. Back then it was matchbox cars and I soon amassed a tidy collection of vintage automobiles, which I took humongous pride in. Before too long, I had moved on to dinosaurs, and again there wasn’t a shortage of these in my rapidly growing stockpile. That said, I was always taught to be appreciative, and never became obnoxious when I didn’t get what I wanted. Whining just seemed like a more effective approach and I knew precisely how to tug those heartstrings. Try no to hate the player Grueheads as I was barely five-years-old and my parents always upheld that I was no trouble whatsoever as a child. But I certainly liked to collect shit.
This continued into my adolescence and it’s hard knowing whether the trauma of my beloved father being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was eight had any bearing on my compulsion. I’m fairly sure it did and here is my reasoning. While my sisters were a good few years older than me and likely handled the devastating news in a completely different way, I felt like my personal hero was being taken away from me. We had plans pops and me, grand plans, and many of them dissolved the very moment his legs packed up on him. Within a year, he was wheelchair bound, and my whole life changed in a heartbeat. I was still a happy boy as my family unit only became closer when so severely tested. But there was an overwhelming fear that he was going to be taken from me and not a damn thing I could do to change that. Some things are simply out of our control and perhaps that is why collecting appeals so as it is us that calls the shots.
I started with trading cards as this tends to be a gateway compulsion and I loved the feeling of achievement that came with locating that rare. I couldn’t have given less of a shit for the ropy stick chewing gum that accompanied them, but the proposition of completing my collection was just too tantalizing to pass up. For the record, I never did. The thing about trading cards and sticker albums is that the companies responsible for hooking us in know exactly what they’re doing. Certain cards are commonplace, so much so, that every pile of swaps contains at least a dozen. Others aren’t mass-produced as this is their way of milking those parents for every last dime before the next craze takes off. Of course, there was always some little bastard with a wider array than you, and they soon became either openly despised by all or incredibly popular and loathed secretly instead.
This was all well and good until I made the transition to secondary education and this also coincided with the commencement of puberty. Now I’ve been confused many times in my life, but never quite as soundly as when my entire body appeared to be betraying me. I happened to be rather fond of where my testicles hung so why change the habit of a lifetime? Meanwhile, my randomly dropping voice was causing all kinds of problems as I started to sound increasingly like a stowaway from Jim Henson’s workshop. I’d begin a sentence in baritone, then hit falsetto at around the fifth syllable, before returning to a bassy growl for the duration. Hair started sprouting unannounced but not in any great quantity, which made phys ed a daunting proposition. There was always one kid in the showers with full foliage, indeed, we had one who grew a beard by thirteen. Fucking show off.
The rest of us felt well and truly passed over and there is nothing even vaguely cool about boasting a total of four pubic hairs. I’d already announced myself a movie lover by then but buying VHS films was far too costly a hobby for one of such tender purse strings. Thus I searched for the next best option and music appeared the most viable so I went out and purchased my very first 7″ vinyl record. That was Take on Me by A-Ha and, within a week, I had acquired myself an LP to keep it company. Tango in The Night by Fleetwood Mac was a pretty stellar opener by all accounts and it wasn’t long before I had myself something of a throng. Every weekend I would head to the local record store and hand over my hardly earned at all pocket-money in exchange for a shiny new sleeve and the widest smile conceivable that doesn’t say ribbit. Had a doctor been asked to provide a prognosis, then I’m fairly assured it would have involved the words vinyl junkie.
To begin with, I was satisfied enough with the gradual increase in musical wares, but soon I began to thirst for more, like any hopeless addict. I now held down a weekend job and this afforded far greater funds but even this didn’t feel sufficient. Thus I considered my options short and hard, and said options consisted of just one – theft. I’d heard a little about this particular crime and it didn’t appear particularly mean-spirited. It wasn’t as though I was about to start robbing other kids blind or digging up graves in my local cemetery. Nationwide chain record stores could take the hit right? Inventory shrinkage is just a fact of life and the fats cats at the top wouldn’t mind me skimming a little milk from their bowl surely. It was decided then, I was to take up shoplifting post-haste, just until suitably satisfied that is. When that time came, I would simply jack it in and return to being a model citizen once again. Hopefully, I’d have eight pubes by that point and move onto the next phase. You see, I had it all figured out.
Did I fuck! Within weeks of getting away scot-free with my steadily increasing bounty, I began to grow a tad complacent. This was just too easy, I was now fleeing with batches to the value of £100 each time, and nobody appeared to be batting a solitary eyelid. This proved my theory that they weren’t about to miss a few wantaway 33’s and I decided to raise the stakes some more. Regrettably, the store had similar ideas, and recruited themselves a plain clothes security guard. I ventured inside that Saturday afternoon with my sights set on a £150 coup and set about my business in the customary shifty manner. We crooks like to think of ourselves as above the law and two steps ahead of the game at all times so, when we fall, we fall hard. I made a pathetic raider as speed is the key to a good poach, that and not looking like you’re not about to lift stock to the value of £150 and shuffle suspiciously to the exit.
I actually made it to the evac point untested and was all set to turn back and offer my salute when something truly terrifying occurred. I’ve felt many hands grip my shoulder over the years, but none felt quite as icy as the female store detective’s that day. Indeed, for a moment, I suspected I had been targeted by a grizzly. I dared not turn around as I could feel chilly breath on the back of my neck and was about three exhalations from soiling myself right where I stood. The words “you’re coming with me” sealed the deal and I still recall my bottom lip quivering. It’s funny how we plead not to be a criminal when we quite evidently are. However, this was my first time on the wrong side of the law, and it wasn’t as though I was doing it to feed a crack addiction. I was just a kid with six pubes for crying out loud. How could I have known any better? Not one of my very best histrionics won over my tough one strong crowd and the only thing left to do was to inform my parents of my villainous behavior and take it from there.
My fate was now in my mother’s hands as she became my designated savior. Should negotiations go well, then I would escape further punishment by the seat of my pants. However, if mom entered the interrogation room and cried “feed him to the wolves!”, then things could be about to turn decidedly frosty fast. Those fifteen minutes or so after the phone call felt like hours and, as the door swung wide open to reveal my mother’s horrified face, my heart dropped down to my calves. Had I not been wearing tight socks that day, then I’m sure one of my feet would have felt the beat. It wasn’t the rage that petrified me so although, let me make this abundantly clear, she wasn’t about to tickle my sides. However, the sting of disappointment was far more punishing as she wore her dismay quite openly. Mercifully, she had my back and I got away with a stern warning before being released back into her care. No harm, no foul mommy?
Harm son! Foul! This was to be my final excursion into petty crime, as no bloated collection was worth feeling so downright wretched. Pops knew that I would have received a roasting already, thus only discussed it days later, once he could put his own motivational spin on it. Whatever he said, alongside my mother’s shame, worked a treat as I operated within the letter of the law for the remainder of my teens. That said, I was still hopelessly hooked by compulsion and there is more than one way to slice a cucumber. Granted it’s a little less instantly rewarding, but I had already bred this beast into a 300-strong vinyl trojan, and overtime ain’t an issue when your work consists of viewing License To Drive and Can’t Buy Me Love on perpetual loop until the tape wears out. I was reasonably convinced that my collection was the finest in town but it wasn’t about the competition for me. I just had to have it.
It didn’t just stop at records though. One particular compulsion that still tickles me to this day was confectionary. We’re not talking a simple craving for candy either, I had a drawer in my bedroom dedicated to every solitary brand of sweets on the market. Noah packed the animals into his ark two by two, but I would imagine a fair few of them were stolen. Thus I only ever required one of each to satisfy my whim and they were strictly not there for consumption purposes. Should I fancy a Snickers, then I would first be required to purchase its replacement. Naturally I would swap them over prior to engagement as chocolate doesn’t remain brown forever as I found out on numerous occasions. Most of the contents of my stash were rock solid, borderline inedible, and that was of little consequence to me. This was all about the visual and I had the layout committed to memory.
On occasion, I would have to deal with my own inventory shrinkage and guess I had it coming, all things considered. Three older sisters equates to ninety-six sweet teeth and they became aware of my cache in no time. I would head out with my friends for an evening of inane banter and return in the wee hours to the one place under my sole jurisdiction. My bedroom was my fallout shelter and, once dug in for the night, nothing could affect my mood. That is, as long as your candy hasn’t gone AWOL. Row seven, article thirty-two, dual wafer fingers, laced with caramel, cased in milk chocolate. Dagnabbit, some infidel has snatched my Twix. Worse still, it’s a quarter to twelve, the guilty party is now asleep, and I shall remain here in my tiny room seething from my nostrils until daybreak. Why I oughta! You guessed it, I was one helluva detective.
Eventually I got over my candy crush and dedicated my time to boosting my record collection but a spanner was thrown into the works with the introduction of the compact disc. Suddenly vinyl was no longer deemed relevent and this is the news dedicated hoarders fear above any other as it involves starting again from scratch. In truth, it didn’t take a great deal of time for my CD collection to reach what I regarded as an acceptable size and I refused to cast the vinyl aside as I had a sneaking suspicion that its fall from grace was temporary. However, technology was moving on relentlessly and, in 1995, DVD entered the fray, rendering my beloved VHS utterly obsolete. By this point, I had a good few hundred films propping up my shelves and was starting to feel like somebody had it in for me. Nevertheless, I begrudgingly made the transition and, by the turn of the millennium, virtually every red cent I earned went towards bolstering my DVD collection.
Dozens soon became hundreds and eventually thousands as I converted the attic into my very own movie library. As time went on, DVDs dropped in price, until which point as I could pick them up second-hand twenty at a time. Needless to say, the overall quality began to dip, as I ended up buying films pretty much for the sheer hell of it, regardless of whether or not they were ever likely to be watched. I would regularly cast my eye over them, soaking in the satisfaction of having all bases covered, but still didn’t feel like I’d done enough to rest easy at night. If I was waiting for an upcoming release, then the interim would be excruciating, and the worst thing was that it simply never ended. Just as I suspected I had it cracked, a two-disc special edition would be announced and I’d be on tenterhooks once more. There had to be some way of making this madness stop but, if there was, then I sure as shit didn’t know it. By the summer of 2013, I had acquired almost 3500 DVDs and was still nowhere near done yet.
As Autumn arrived, my whole life was thrown into disarray, as my marriage came to an abrupt end and I retreated back to my childhood home empty-handed. By that time my tenure as Keeper of The Crimson Quill was already underway so I requested that my extensive horror collection be relinquished. This, in itself, accounted for over half my bloated total and it appeared that business was again to resume. However, something had changed, and suddenly material items weren’t anything like as appealing. Writing became my compulsion and I spent every waking hour doing it. With no cashflow coming in, any hopes of retail therapy were dashed, but it wasn’t anywhere as devastating as I had been expecting. Indeed, I sold over half of my horror wares for a menial sum last summer to do something I had my heart set on and didn’t lie awake crying each night as I watched them shipped off in boxes.
Granted, when funds finally became available, I replaced a fair number of them. But I barely so much as supply them a second look any more and they spend their days gathering dust. So I’m cured then right? I wouldn’t say that as it’s all ultimately about transference and I’d offer you a tidy sum if you could locate a scribe as compulsive as I. The difference now is that, when I take my ultimate bow, something will still remain. We all know you can’t take material goods with you when you die and this is the most soul-destroying factor of considering yourself a collector. However, where my DVDs are destined to disband once any final dust has settled, my words will still bear relevance, likely even more so. Moreover, no fads have been forecast on the horizon to render writing obsolete so I now rest far easier at night.
Ultimately I think this whole obsession stems from a need to feel like someone. Bragging rights disinterest me entirely and it has never been about one-upmanship or claiming myself numero uno. Over the past six months, in particular, I’ve realized I already am and don’t require swollen wares to prove my point. However, just yesterday, I scribed almost 10,000 words, and there’s no quick fire remedy for that one. On the plus side, my fixation now costs me nothing, and prose is released at such a time that I see fit, which means no more arduous waits. Being a self-confessed hoarder, I know just how introverted an obsession this can be, but if one person reads my work and gleans something positive from it, then the method to my madness is crystallized. The next six months are critical to me as my body is currently flagging up some pretty severe warnings and it may already be too late to reverse my fortunes. I’m as comfortable as I could possibly be with such a cold, harsh reality but that doesn’t mean for a second that I’ll be throwing in the towel.
As already mentioned, transference is key here. The one compulsion that means something now is life and will never change for as long as it’s still in my hands. No more hoarding culpability, ill-feeling, desolation – just stocking up on the feeling that I get when I interact with all of you and those in my close proximity. My six-year-old son assists no end with this process as I see more of myself in him than I did in myself for over twenty years. He looks at me with vast big ocean blues and sees his personal hero and there’s no DVD collection in the world that can replicate that. Thus I leave you with a one-strong inventory of my greatest compulsion. Jacob Nathaniel Stevens – the only one in existence. Now that I am smug about.