This Is The Life: Can't stand losing you

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I am a grand master in the art of losing things. If it were an Olympic sport, I could be Britain's best hope for gold. Since my childhood I have moved in a miasma of acquisition and involuntary dispersal. Jumpers, watches, books, sunglasses, earrings and pens dissolve into the ether as I walk down the street. I've lost two Russian hamsters, a guinea pig and a Labrador puppy called Polka. My driving licence, birth certificate and Woolwich account book were all last spotted in the previous century. I often leave new purchases on the shop counter, which spares me the prolonged agony of becoming attached to something that will only disappear later. Every day is punctuated by the frantic scrabble for my purse, keys and mobile phone, which regularly teleport themselves from handbag to bin or laundry basket. I left a bag on the platform at Cambridge station that contained 20 copies of a sex manual ("Can you describe the contents, madam?") and my treasured christening brooch slipped away on the Victoria line,

I am a grand master in the art of losing things. If it were an Olympic sport, I could be Britain's best hope for gold. Since my childhood I have moved in a miasma of acquisition and involuntary dispersal. Jumpers, watches, books, sunglasses, earrings and pens dissolve into the ether as I walk down the street. I've lost two Russian hamsters, a guinea pig and a Labrador puppy called Polka. My driving licence, birth certificate and Woolwich account book were all last spotted in the previous century. I often leave new purchases on the shop counter, which spares me the prolonged agony of becoming attached to something that will only disappear later. Every day is punctuated by the frantic scrabble for my purse, keys and mobile phone, which regularly teleport themselves from handbag to bin or laundry basket. I left a bag on the platform at Cambridge station that contained 20 copies of a sex manual ("Can you describe the contents, madam?") and my treasured christening brooch slipped away on the Victoria line, pinned to a vintage, feathered hat.

Elizabeth Bishop's poem One Art is an anthem for the chaotic brigade: "The art of losing isn't hard to master/so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster." Bishop articulates with piercing accuracy the fact that, for many of us, life is a ceaseless battle between your desire to retain things and their apparently innate desire to be divested from you. You cope by throwing yourself with ever increasing energy into the process of loss, "Then practice losing farther, losing faster."

This makes perfect sense to me - the idea that regular loss-training will bolster your emotional stamina, just as weight-training increases your physical endurance. How are you to deal with the grievous voids ahead, "the joking voice, a gesture I love," if you cannot withstand the loss of a bracelet or your wallet? But I also lose things in the hope that it will supplicate the gods, prevent them from exerting a greater price for clinging to inanimate objects with misplaced fervour.

Of all possessions, nothing is more "filled with the intent to be lost" than a ring. Designed to slip on, they slip off equally readily, and the opportunities for removal are legion: you can't grub for potatoes, spin a pot, or caress your best beloved with a fistful of metal. And the pain of losing a ring is especially heart-rending. Rings are totems of your best people, passed down through family or given as a symbol of a life-long bond. You rarely buy a ring for yourself - not one of any value. As the years pass, my fingers have become weighted down with those I love. But, inevitably, there have been casualties. Granny's cairngorm ring flew sparkling through the slats of Brighton pier and the diamond in my engagement ring fell from worn claws one hot summer's day.

But further and faster than these disasters is this sorry tale: last Thursday, after a long night's merriment, cheap white wine and whisky chasers, I returned to my office in the small hours for my overnight bag. At some point in this hazy progress I retreated to the communual loos to freshen up - and removed all my rings. All of them. And didn't realise that I had done so until 7.30pm the next day, by which time I was in Scotland with relations, chatting gaily away until I looked down; and turned from flesh to ghost in a second, hands raised in horror and remorse to my husband like Lady Macbeth. Shamefully naked of my wedding and engagement rings, which had belonged to my husband's mother, who died when he was young. Missing the Russian wedding ring that my uncle gave his partner, Ross, only months before he died, and my great-great-aunt's sapphire and diamond ring that my mother, who is gravely ill, had only just given me.

This loss was a disaster. It punched me in the gut, stole my appetite, and stopped me sleeping. I took the train to London on Sunday evening, so I could speak to the office cleaner at 6.30am. She told me that she had seen the rings, but left them in the toilets. I put notices all round the building offering a "big reward", but there were no other sightings.

The other side of losing, of course, is finding. There's a psychiatric theory that people who suffer traumatic loss when they are young, the death of a parent, for example, can keep losing things in order to experience the yearned-for relief of recovery. Whatever. Sometimes you lose things because you're plastered. All I can tell you is that there are few blisses equal to the reunion of a girl and her rocks. The night porter at the Berkeley Hotel found my diamond on the bar carpet three years ago almost to the day. And the office cleaner discovered my rings, mysteriously returned to the fourth floor loos, on Tuesday morning. Some things, it seems, are filled with the intent to return.

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