Magazine article The Spectator

Heaven Is a Day Spent Sorting a Cow-Box Full of Rubbish at a Derbyshire Recycling Centre

Magazine article The Spectator

Heaven Is a Day Spent Sorting a Cow-Box Full of Rubbish at a Derbyshire Recycling Centre

Article excerpt

Rubbish has always fired my imagination and set my pulse racing. I don't know why; it may be an inherited trait. My late father used to rifle through our bins lest anything useful had been thrown away, and in unhappier circumstances might in old age have extended his research into the streets, parks and railway stations. Perhaps one of our ancestors was a vulture in another life.

Little gives me greater satisfaction than my old flip-flops -- rescued (broken) from a crow-patrolled tip in Rurrenabaque in the remote Bolivian lowlands and lovingly repaired using some bailer twine and an old nail in place of a needle. The repair took most of an afternoon but I do not regret a minute of it: Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and nothing useful survives long on a tip; I simply got there first.

A sadness for me last year was when, in my absence abroad, my partner threw away and replaced my old washing machine, which was just short of its 30th birthday and worked perfectly well so long as you knew how to secure the door whose broken catch I had, with devilish ingenuity, replaced with a swivelling jam-jar lid bolted on to the pressed steel plate.

But fascination with the thrown-away extends beyond the pleasures of rescue and repair. Paradoxically, I also enjoy doing the throwing away. I positively look forward to bagging up the rubbish every Sunday evening, consolidating with fiendish energy -- climbing into the dustbin and jumping up and down on its contents -- until I can get two bags' worth into one. I'm always sorry when this part of the evening is over and it's time for bed, although the peeppeep-peep of the reversing garbage lorry at dawn in the morning affords me the special pleasure of turning over sleepily under the duvet and thinking of all that rubbish I remembered to pack into the minimum space, bag up, and carry down the drive.

So a highlight of 2007 came for me last Sunday afternoon. My first visit to the Derbyshire Dales District Council tip in Ashbourne. 'Tip', however, is hardly the word. This place is a state-of-the-art, precision-guided, cutting-edge, environmentally super-responsible recycling centre of the highest order.

I was horribly underdressed for the experience. Other householders arrived (in shiny 4x4s) wearing crisp work gloves, freshly ironed boiler suits or high-vis workman's jackets. I was wearing my frayed-collar 1970s Clydella shirt and old corduroys, horribly soiled by packing the rubbish; and towing my neighbour Jonathan's old cow-box with my Vauxhall pick-up truck.

Other householders would open polished tailgates to disclose (perhaps) three empty paint pots, a cardboard box and a length of unwanted timber, which they would gingerly extract. I brought two years' worth of cardboard packaging, a mountain of shredded expanded polystyrene, five boxes of crumbled plasterboard, an oven, a hob, a hood, a fridge, a forest of splintered timber studded with nails and screws, two television aerials, a kitchen fan extractor, a television, three chairs, about half a ton of 1980s fittedkitchen cupboards, several lengths of hose, a massive coil of ventilator pipe, six bags of garden waste, a big pine table, two doors, two crates of broken kitchen tiles, a cistern and a toilet. I was in paradise.

But I was unprepared for the scene which awaited me. Hopes were not high.

Experience over 30 years of trying to dump things at municipal sites is that whatever it is you want to dump is on their list of things you can't; and that anyway the question does not arise because they're only open on alternate Tuesdays from 13. …

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