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Pondering The Purposeless

I REMEMBER hearing someone say, apropos of something: it sounds like one of those useless occupations such as dusting the spokes of your umbrella or weighing the cat!"I was so enchanted at the thought of these occupations - the dedicated housewife in hair curlers and an apron dusting her umbrella, and the bored tabby, tail twitching, curled up on the kitchen scales, that I began to wonder how many useless things I do during the course of my own days. Collecting things because they might come in handy is fairly fatuous, simply because I have proved to myself, without a shadow of doubt, that they do not. It is true, I do occasionally want a shopping bag to put something into, but not 550 shopping bags, this being the number it looks as if there were in the chest in my hall. Yet, automatically, when I come in from shopping, I smooth and fold the bag that carried my purchase and push it into this chest. Which is absolutely bursting. I doubt, in the unlik ely event of my having to move house by hand, so to speak, I would ever need so many receptacles. I do not, I am proud to say, collect bits of string. To my way of thinking, one of the most useless occupations ever conceived by man is to sit for hours trying to undo knots in the string round a parcel. If I posted a great many parcels myself it might be worthwhile, but I figure I send about four a year, and for these I know I can afford new, strong, clean string rolled up in a neat ball. To many people, cutting string is nearly as reprehensible as cutting lace, and when I look back down the years, I can see a diminishing line of relations, my mother, aunts, grandmothers, plucking away at knots with relentless determination. I can see, too, those little lengths of saved string, tidily put away in drawers, though my family could never boast, as did somebody else's, of a hoarder sufficiently eccentric to mark one little box "String too short to use." I do not keep newspapers either, but I do waste an appreciable amount of time cutting bits out of them. If only I detached a review of a play and sent it to a theatrical friend, or a religious article to a metaphysician in Australia, I would not consider the occupation useless, but I do not do this. MY specialty is cutting out advertisements for cocker spaniels, villas in Corfu, exciting opportunities to buy Old Masters, and pleas for adventurous spirits willing to hitchhike to India. Half of me knows it does not want a dog, a villa, or an Old Master, and most certainly does not want to thumb a ride to India; but the other half thinks it might be amusing to keep such information handy, just in case. Along with these cuttings, now assuming vast proportions as well as being out-of-date, I keep a list of firms selling things I might like to buy one day, things like an armchair that turns into a bed, a home computer, and vegetarian sausages. I suppose keeping count of the number of beards you meet during the day, or measuring the hollyhocks in the herbaceous border, or counting how many Joneses there are in the telephone directory are not strictly useful occupations. One is forced to admit that there is no future in them and never has been. In fact, nothing could be more inane, profitless, unavailing, and to no purpose. But rather fun, all the same. Like weighing the cat.

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