Monday, 7 January 2013

Out with the old; in with the new...

…or so the New Year saying goes. But such a sentiment surely runs counter to today’s preoccupation with recycling.


When Tramp and I set off on our walk this morning, we reached no further than my front gate (not far; a few steps) before spotting my elderly neighbour, Lawrence, dragging his recycling bin behind him down their long gravel drive. In fact I heard him before I saw him as he was still some way off, and was expending all the effort of pulling a ship single-handedly across a pebbly beach. The bin was dutifully brimming over with Christmas wrapping paper and cardboard packaging, and I could hear the chink of empty New Year’s Eve bottles.

With 12th Night just gone, of course, recycling comes into its own, and ecological gurus at the council urge us to recycle Christmas cards and packaging, while skips at the tip are empty and waiting for the seasonal surge in real Christmas trees –cut down in their prime little more than a month ago.

“You do realise you’re slightly early for collection? It’s only Monday!” I couldn’t help mocking a little. It wasn’t that he didn’t know what day of the week it was, but Lawrence was renowned at our end of the village for putting out their bins so early, people sometimes doubted if he’d taken them in at all (which was, of course, unthinkable).

Recycling activity is now so pervasive, it cuts across all socio-economic strata, or at least across strata that put out their own bins. I would go so far as to say that as a topic of conversation, household recycling ranks as highly as even the motorway conversation (“The M25 was a car park!”); the contact lens conversation (“Daily disposables or still on monthlies?”); and the giving-up smoking conversation (“Patches or cold turkey?”).

And so, with outsiders we compare bin colours (ours are blue – or “cobalt” in official correspondence), determine whether (like us) they have an all inclusive wheelie bin or still self-segregate plastics from papers and tins into the too-small baskets; and we discuss collection frequencies (ours are fortnightly, on a Thursday).

“Oh, it’s so heavy from Christmas rubbish I have to bring it down the drive in stages – otherwise Gerry would only try to do it,” Lawrence explained.

“I wish you’d say! I can come round and bring out your bins for you anytime.”

“No need. No need. Thank you. We can manage.” I found myself up against Lawrence’s fierce independence.

Lawrence’s independence stems, I believe, from being a self-made man. Or maybe it's the other way around. His modest wealth was acquired from working his way up through the management structure of a city firm, following a distinguished career as a pilot in the RAF. He married his childhood sweetheart, Geraldine, and they moved to the village when Lawrence retired some 12 years ago. In so doing they downsized to a chocolate box cottage (with a long drive) that dates back in places to the 16th Century.

I actually fear for Lawrence’s and Geraldine’s health – not because of the bins or the drive, but because rather than slip into a life of relaxation interspersed by rounds of golf, they have found themselves recycled as parents to young children. Over the last five or six years, first one then another grandchild has taken up semi-permanent residence, allowing their parents to work full-time to pay of the largely uninhabited family home. At last count, they were cramming three children under ten into their quaint two-bedroom cottage.

“It’s the only way young married couples can afford to buy a house large enough to bring up a family these days,’ Geraldine often says, with no apparent trace of irony. She is resigned to a renewed life of plaiting hair and changing nappies, of dashing from pre-school to primary, then on to dance classes and swimming lessons, still giving the children their tea and a story before bedtime.

          “It’s a shame they don’t come around the house anymore to collect the bins,” I called out to Lawrence. I didn’t really mean it, but harking back to the past usually worked as a way of getting him back onside.

“Hmmm. Don’t know about that. They’d only spill everything down the drive like they used to.” Lawrence had taken to the new, recycled order of things like a somewhat miserable duck to water.

“Must get on! Tramp wants his walk!”

We made our escape up the lane and into the woods. And as I sloshed and slithered through wet, decaying leaves underfoot, hoping already for signs of Spring, I couldn’t help but smile to think how there really was nothing new under the sun.

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