Reading · Word of the week

Word of the week: clutter

The word “clutter” is never far from my mind. It was the subject of the second piece published on this Blog, on the day it was born. That piece links to this November 2007 “Writers Rooms” article in the Guardian. It shows the late Russell Hoban’s working environment. I am surprised to find that this is only the fourth time that the word has featured on these pages (which now stretch to 380,000 words in 581 posts), but every time I mention clutter I also post a link to Russell Hoban’s room.

Over the weekend BBC4 screened a documentary about Tom Waits (subtitled “Tales from a Cracked Jukebox”) which featured moving images of a similarly cluttered location. According to the BBC iPlayer it was first shown in February 2017. It passed me by back then but I have now, happily, caught up with it. It’s available for another 27 days here, well worth an hour of your time. If you can’t manage the whole programme, forward to 18:20 to get a glimpse of the mess. The captions tell us: “In the late 1970s Tom lived in the Tropicana Motel … a notorious hangout for writers and musicians.” There’s a voiceover just before an interview conducted at the Tropicana: “Waits and all his worldly goods have been crammed into two rooms in a fairly seedy motel in Hollywood’s red-light district. It’s ankle deep in clutter. Waits says if they clean up around him they just might clean out his head as well.”

The Tropicana Motel also gets a mention in James Young’s book about Nico, “Songs they never play on the radio”. An old school-friend read it recently and recommended it. I dug out my copy before we went on holiday, the same way I found my copy of David Lodge’s “Changing Places”. As described in this piece (the second time I mentioned “clutter” on this Blog), it was in a box of books that I didn’t expect to read or refer to anytime soon. I began reading it while we were away, and might even finish it this time round. It has been in my possession for nearly 20 years, dipped into every now and then. The receipt is in the back of the book and shows that I bought it on 21 January 1999 at our local Waterstone’s, along with “The New York Dolls: Too much too soon” by Nina Antonia. I thought that both books had been purchased from Helter Skelter, a much-missed shop in Denmark Street, but the receipt reveals otherwise.

Our recent trip to Ireland taught me something that I should have realized long ago, something that contributes to making holidays so welcome: hotels and holiday homes are so much less cluttered than our actual home. How did I not make that connection, consciously, before? It seems so obvious. Of course, you might be much less familiar than we are with both the concept of clutter and the word itself, in which case I refer you to the Oxford Dictionaries definition: “a collection of things lying about in an untidy state”, derived from Late Middle English, a “variant of dialect clotter ‘to clot’, influenced by cluster and clatter”. Or, more usefully, you could take a good look at the working environments of Russell Hoban and Tom Waits in the links above.




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