Magazine article The Spectator

Spring Cleaning

Magazine article The Spectator

Spring Cleaning

Article excerpt

I was standing in line in front of the container truck-sized skip designated for waste metal. Each Sunday, the local council puts three of these huge skips - one for wood, one for metal and one for gardening refuse - on one of its old storage sites, calls it a civic amenity centre and invites householders to bring along recycling waste that is too bulky for the fortnightly collection. It also supplies a static dustcart for rubble and cardboard and three workers to supervise, assist and keep an eye out that nobody abuses the service by sneaking in old tyres, tins of paint or asbestos.

Ten years ago, we would have all been filling a trolley at the garden centre or DIY megastore on Sunday afternoon. In today's leaner times, here we all are queuing to get rid of all the tat we filled our houses with during the fat years, even volunteering to break it up ourselves into constituent parts for shipping back to China, where no doubt it will be remoulded into other consumables and sent back in time for the next economic upswing. I'd never seen the place so busy.

The spring sunshine had tripped all our switches at once and we'd all headed out to the shed and the garage for a clear-out. I had three ornate wrought-iron Victorian underfloor heating grills and a rusted-out garden wheelbarrow to chuck in. The woman standing in front was waiting to dispose of an old dustbin. She was standing sideways on and contemplating the ceaseless activity around the back of the dustcart. It occurred to me that I'd seen her somewhere before.

It took a while to remember that it was at a mad, sweaty ska night in an upstairs room of a pub. I'd gone with Trev. We were two clodhopping male dinosaurs in a crowd of supple, energetic 20-year-olds, dancing as if our lives depended on it. Perhaps out of concern for our health, people kept giving us screwed-up cigarette papers containing a bitter chemical to swallow. These were called 'bombs', Trev told me in confidence.

He advised me not to chew them but to drop them down my throat. He told me in confidence not because the chemical was probably illegal, but because by not knowing what they were, or what to do with them, I was showing my age, and the fact that I didn't get out much, and this might go against both of us later when we tried to pull. …

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