Every other week, on a Thursday evening, I spend six minutes and twenty-four seconds carrying out the world’s most mind-melting task: schlepping the council’s black recycling bins from the little alleyway in front of our block of flats up to the road for the morning’s collection.
Part of me hates doing it because it unleashes in me a special kind of German prissiness, modelled after that of my great-grandmother, who always wore an apron and despite her relatively genial demeanour, spent a lot of time saying ‘Fiddle!’ and ‘Bah!’ at people exhibiting their ineptitudes. If there was a ‘Bah!’ in the vicinity, someone had said or done something extremely dumb, and the resulting shame that welled up inside was of a sort that has yet to rival any of my adult emotions. But part of me loves doing it because it gives me the opportunity to tap into this hand-me-down affectation and use it to sniff, loudly, in embarrassment at my neighbours for the ridiculousness of the objects they toss in the recycling. In our aversion to throwing things away, they end up, perversely, in these black bins.
Right now, for example, I’m hauling a box full of magazines, Kleenex boxes, Dolmio and soy sauce jars (glass box, I mentally note), discarded maths homework, an empty diaper box and 6,472 half-empty cans of Tyskie lager. On top, juxtaposed just for my amusement, are a Boohoo and a Boden catalogue, both sporting a moody teenager on their front covers, but with one wearing a vertical strip of sequins, the other in khakis and tasteful Breton stripes. I put down the box and start digging. There’s gotta be something to look at in here between sequins and khaki, because I think that’s the stage of life I’m at now. And honestly, I snort loudly, no one in our building is at the Boohoo stage of life anymore. It dawns on me that this also includes myself; this is its own mini-tragedy.
But then my hand settles on something clunky and, I deduce with my recycling radar, unrecyclable. “LEGOS? Bah!”
Then, a fingertip later: “Ribbons?” I shout, incredulous. “Seriously, who the fu...oh, hi, David.” One elderly neighbour is making his hourly perambulation down the steps and over the road to Sainsbury’s. I make sure he’s ok and on his way before scrabbling further into the creaking box.
At the time, volunteering to be recycling monitor seemed conscientious, virtuous. I puffed up with misplaced pride when I was asked to take on the responsibility. Of course, when you’re the person who naturally springs to mind to haul masses of tuna tins - reeking with the intensity of a cadaver left in the sun - or the sad, trampled heap of cardboard shoe boxes that will never be called upon to hold someone’s love notes or the fossils that you found with your dad when you were nine, it’s probably time to readdress your public-facing persona.
‘Oooh, yay, Vogue.’ It’s from March, 2016, but this too, is probably the stage I’m at - at least a year and a bit behind. Chucking it in the garden for safekeeping, I lug the last box onto the sidewalk (yes, sidewalk).
Job grudgingly - yet satisfyingly - done.