I am a really poor shredder. And it is a task I take no pleasure from when, in the abstract, it looks like it should be good fun. The fact that I do not possess a mechanical shredder may be part of the problem, but I am put off by a friend’s experience, who always found them prone to jamming. And, after all, even Banksy, with all his cash and influence, couldn’t find a shredder to do a half-decent job. No, whenever I want to destroy some of my personal paperwork, I am obliged to fall back on shredding by hand.
It is slow, arduous work. I have never been someone blessed with the kind of rippling biceps that can tear telephone directories in half. In fact, my usual shred limit is a modest four sheets of A4 paper at one time. Four sheets may not sound like a challenge of Herculean proportions but, by the time the four sheets have been ripped in half and combined they become eight sheets; repeat the process and you have 16 sheets; repeat again and you have 32 sheets, which constitutes a wad of paper sufficiently thick to defeat my most destructive efforts.
It is not long before my delicate, office-worker’s hands are aching; my willpower to complete the job sapping.
There is a secondary problem, too. It has to do with the positioning of sensitive, personal information on a page. Let me explain. I will tear my paperwork, one, two, three, perhaps four times, reducing it to a neat confetti, and yet when I look at the pieces I am left with, invariably I have not obliterated my personal data as I intended; in fact, I have highlighted it. Instead of ripping my name and address details into a myriad separate pieces to be scattered to the far corners of the world, what I have succeeded in doing is closely cropping the salient information, such that it provides a handy, pocket-sized crib-sheet for any would-be identity thief. The same situation occurs for my credit card number; my bank account details; my national insurance number. In the course of my shredding, I have an unfailing ability to obliterate the information that is not confidential and preserve the information that most needs to be destroyed. It is a phenomenon so prevalent, it could be turned into a stage act, like Terri Carol of yesteryear variety fame.
During the latest assault on my paperwork, I had a brainwave. I would collect up all my shredded pieces and soak them in a bowl of water; reduce them to an unintelligible pulp, which would defeat the best efforts of any bin-dipping, low-life scammer. The result? A realisation that most commercially printed documentation is substantially waterproof. Instead of erasing my data, I only succeeded in creating a papier-mâché artwork, which manages to preserve every confidential fact about me for all eternity.
What is the answer to my shredding woes?
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree lives outside of London’s smoke control zone.