Don’t throw that out! by Barbara Nadel

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Hoarding is apparently the ‘new black’ here in the UK. If you’ve still got all your old copies of ‘The Times’ since 1972 you are almost certain to get on TV. In the last few weeks we’ve been treated to a slew of hoarding stories ranging from pieces about people who ‘just collect stuff’ right up to people who have ‘lost’ their bathrooms, kitchens and beds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not making light of the hoarders themselves. Hoarding is an illness that can wreck lives and ruin relationships. Back when I used to work in mental health I once had a conversation that lasted a whole morning about one sheet of newspaper from the late 1970s with a hoarder whose house was almost uninhabitable. Only the kitchen table (which he slept under) was still clear. No, it’s the ‘fashion’ aspect that bothers me.

 

If I’m honest, all through history, fashion has dictated the way human beings respond to misfortune. Back in mediaeval times people with scrofula and leprosy were high on the agenda. The latter needed running out of town as soon as possible while the former lived with the vague hope of touching a king and being cured. It was a sort of fame and was far more popular than just simply dying of starvation which was so common it hardly merited comment. In Victorian times it was all about consumption and dying rather prettily with a little rose shaped splash of blood on your pillow. So called ‘lunatics’ and those with syphilis were very unpopular (unless the syphilitic was royal of course) and it was really better to just top yourself than be so utterly unfashionable.

In recent years having some sort of truly ghastly and embarrassing complaint has been a sure fire way of grabbing those all important 15 minutes of fame. This is all quite aside from the crazed shenanigans of ‘reality’ nonsense like ‘Big Brother’. Something called ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ is the worst offender. This is a programme about a small team of doctors who roam the countryside looking for people to show them their anal fistulas, vast skin flaps and deformed knees. There is no lack of takers, let me tell you. Switch on the TV at about 8pm and there is a chance that you may well find yourself looking up the sort of arse that you’ve probably only ever seen before in a nightmare.

I tend to hide behind the sofa until I can locate the remote control to switch the TV off. I regress to my childhood when I used to hide from the Daleks in exactly the same way. But I am a rare bird. ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ is enormously popular serving as it does, the triple function of providing freakish entertainment, giving the rest of us that wonderful ‘thank God I’m not like THAT moment’ and underlining what we all know about how intimidating most doctors are. Why HAS that man lived with a vast cyst on his penis for the last 35 years? Because he is too ashamed to show his doctor who makes him feel like crap anyway because he is diabetic. Again, I’m not blaming either the people who appear in this programme or even those who watch it. It’s why it exists and its ‘fashion’ element that rankle.

And of course, to finally get to the point, fashion applies in the world of crime fiction too. It can cover location – at the moment it’s all about Scandinavia – types of crime and offender, police investigators versus PIs, women as opposed to men. It goes in cycles which are unpredictable and often unintelligible. Trying to second guess what might be the ‘next big thing’ in crime fiction is of course the Holy Grail of most mainstream publishers. But I have an idea.

Years ago I worked with an agoraphobic rent boy. He never went out, clients came to him. So if that is possible, how about a crime solving hoarder of Swedish origin? Effectively locked into his house of newspaper towers and rat gnawed pot noodle cartons, people shout their problems at him across a vast sea of precarious plastic bags and clothes from the early 1980s. Armed only with a broken Ikea chair leg, he battles both crime and his demons in what was once his kitchen, bringing Britain’s most appalling murderers to book using his keen sense of justice and the psychic power of thought.

I’d love to write that, I think it would sell like hot cakes. Sadly I don’t have time to do it at the moment. Being just ‘the thing’ i.e. a crime fiction writer, takes up all my time right now. But maybe one day. It’s that or ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ and I know which I’d prefer.

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