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The Independent Culture
MY HUSBAND is a hoarder. He keeps strange lumps of pottery that he bought in Crete at the age of 14 and hundreds of dusty cassettes that he never listens to and bits of old amplifiers and worn-out batteries and a plastic snooker trophy that he won in 1986. In fact, he keeps so many things that he forgets all about most of them - especially the things that gather dust at the bottom of a large number of decomposing cardboard boxes in the attic.

Anyway, last week I launched into one of my periodic complaints about how there was no room for me to live in the house, what with Jamie's bits of Lego and small rusty cars and Neill's huge collection of useless objects, and I threatened to go and live in a very neat flat by myself. So by way of a conciliatory gesture Neill decided to excavate some of his cardboard boxes, and lo and behold, an ancient trove of love letters was uncovered.

This is a terrible thing for me to confess, but yes, I read them. Not all of them, but some, from a teenage girlfriend in the

Seventies. I started by feeling guilty about being so nosy and a bit jealous (he loved her all those years ago, not me). Then I got absorbed in the blow-by-blow account of their relationship and I ended up with a strange sense of kinship with this girl whom I have never met. I remembered what it felt like being 16 (a curious mixture of boredom and elation) and I also recognised the 17-year-old boy she was writing to. I wanted to tell her that I miss him just as much as she did when he goes away and that it was all right, sometimes he forgets to ring me too. And he still has an unfathomable enthusiasm for the Grateful Dead and Manchester United.

But what was different - which I envied - was the freedom they had together: no mortgage, no children, just young love in flared trousers. I know I had that too, but it was with other boys, the wrong ones, probably. When I was 16, I was in love with a tall blond Swiss boy whose name I've forgotten. We met on a family holiday in West Wales, and afterwards he sent me lots of love letters; unfortunately they were almost entirely incomprehensible (mainly because he filled them with quotes from Frank Zappa). I was also in love with Tom Nichols, who was older than me. (He had his own flat] He had his own parties in his own flat]) He sent me a couple of letters, but not love ones sadly. And I was in love with Ian Convery, but then everyone was in love with him.

I haven't kept any of my old love letters: I threw them away last year in a fit of tidiness. This was a foolish thing to do - I really should have been throwing away the curious pottery lumps and assorted cardboard boxes if I'd wanted to make inroads on the clutter in this house. More importantly, on days like today, when I have baby sick down my back and tomato ketchup down my front, it might have been cheering to dig the old letters out and be reminded of that distant time when I was a mere slip of a girl, child-free, unmortgaged, no Lego in sight and (every once in a while, if I was wearing my most attractive cheesecloth top) snogging with boys at parties.-

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