It’s gone. It should be standing by the lamp-post on the corner of the street – and if I don’t get it back, I face a fixed penalty for not being in proper charge of council property.
In my area, we put out the rubbish the night before Collection Day. The kind of ritual that keeps a community together together and the local rats away. Our wheelies form an orderly queue in front of the houses, the handles all facing outwards. This week it’s the turn of the black bins.
The huge lorries come early in the morning, with their warning orange lights and backs wide open to receive the rubbish. Mechanical equipment lifts, tips and empties the bins, then men in uniform deposit them back on the pavement, more or less where they were put.
So where is it? The weather’s windy, so maybe it’s been blown away – but it can’t have gone far, unless it’s a victim of crime. Or an accessory. I never knew, but there’s a black market in bins! Every year, hundreds of them are stolen or set alight. Burglars store their ill-gotten goods in them. Once, when I lived in the North, the ‘waste operatives’ of Wigan refused to move a bin because it was too heavy. A week passed before the lid was lifted and a woman’s body found inside….
Some cutting-edge councils microchip their bins to keep track of them or to spy on our domestic disposal habits, but not here. Some people defend their bins by decorating them, like two of my neighbours. One’s spray-painted his wheelie with an abstract pattern; the other creative has stuck pictures of butterflies all over hers, which is faintly worrying.
My bin isn’t on trend. But it’s mine, with my house number on the front. Just a receptacle for rubbish – like the one found in the ruins of Pompeii, made of wood, with wheels on. Basic, but a big improvement on the metal cylindrical ones with clanging lids, so bad for the dustmen’s backs. They had to hoist them on their shoulders before tossing the contents into a wagon. The modern model is made of high-density plastic and like all the best designs – simple, with clean square lines. As tall as a short person, it’s quiet and comes in many colours. It wasn’t in common use till the 1980s, but there are thousands of them now, and multiplying…..
Fun fact: the wheelie bin was invented in Slough in 1968, by a man called Frank.
Pause on the pavement and look around. The other bins have been reclaimed, tidy behind walls or willow screens. Go round the corner and sure enough, there’s a stray black British bin close to the kerb and a double yellow line, but it isn’t mine.
My bin is further down the road, next to the bus stop, as if about to go on a Journey. There’s a dent on the back that wasn’t there before. Lift up the lid – just checking – but it’s unoccupied. Then grab it, turn it round and start to push it, pram-like, back to where it belongs.
It’s light and empty, but can feel a slight resistance. Like one of those pigeon-toed supermarket trolleys – another icon of our times – it’s hard to keep in a straight line. A man passes me and laughs. “You need a licence for that one, love!”
Ignore this. Grip the handles more firmly and keep going – taking back control, fighting crime! – till the bin’s secure behind the garden gate, next to the blue and the brown.