Three ancient horseshoes with nails, two peeling window frames complete with glass, a heavy roll of chicken wire, a tired plastic bucket full of broken green glass, two tins of dried up paint, a roll of brittle black roofing felt, two pairs of skis and ski sticks anno 1950 with leather bindings, a broken wooden armchair, two uncomfortably heavy beach chairs with lime green canvas seats, two very rusty hand saws and pair of secateurs, an assorted pile of wood from wall fittings and dismembered wardrobes, two cupboard doors, a glass paraffin lamp with dodgy conversion for electricity, bulb included, a four feet long aluminium tube, function and origin unknown, a metal cage for poaching crayfish, probably illegal, one broken landing net for fish, camouflage net smelling strongly of rubber, army tank size, some odd glass bottles and jars plus a few rusty tins used to store cement and plaster and a wooden window-shelf painted a sickly-green shade.
This is more or less the stuff I loaded into the back of my truck early one Thursday morning. I felt the weak sun on my back as I opened the gates, hoping it would gradually dissolve the thin clouds which had protected us like a shroud from the night frost. The engine grumbled at the early start and heavy load. I drove slowly along the bumpy dirt road, shivering as I waited for the heater to loosen up my stiff fingers.
I had been putting off the visit to our local dump for years. It is one of those things blokes are supposed to enjoy, and now I had used up all my excuses. To get me in the right mood I played John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” on repeat for the half-hour drive.
The entrance to the dump was by an unmarked dirt track known only to locals. The track slowly snaked upwards until you got to a clearing in the woods, overlooking a deep old stone quarry. We used to drive up there with pickups full of rubbish and a six-pack to enjoy the scenery and see who was best at throwing stuff out over the edge. You backed-up as close as you dared and flung all your unwanted stuff over the edge. A dull thud as it hit the bottom was the only satisfaction needed. It was a relaxing, laid-back way of starting the weekend.
At night it was pitch black up there, frequented mainly by guys who wanted a quiet place to enjoy a beer and grilled steaks, the surrounding woods dampening the sound from their music systems. Setting fire to a stolen car and rolling it over the edge didn’t take place often, but attracted quite a crowd. Regular guys saw this as a trifle juvenile. Occasionally lovers also drove up there at night to be alone.
On the road approaching the entrance I noticed a slow sign. What now? At the turnoff I was confronted by tall metal-barred gates, and an official sign which said “Recycling Depot”. The dirt road leading up to the gate now had a hard top. Was this the old dump? And how do you get into the place? Not wanting to appear out –of –touch, I drove confidently up to the entrance like a regular visitor and waited for the gates to open. They didn’t. I waited some more. John Lennon was still howling, but even he couldn’t drown the persistent honking of the rusty red pickup which was almost climbing up my rear bumper. An old guy in heavy boots, worn jeans and greasy leather jacket knocked on my window, which I hesitantly lowered a few inches. “Forgotten your card have ya’?” he snarled. Sorry”, I said meekly, pretending to get what he meant. “You get a move on then when them gates opens, or yer’ll be in trouble.” He waved his hand in front of a box by the gates and strode back to his pickup. I got moving and drove through the gates but he revved up and overtook just inside the gates. I followed him along the road between high stands of trees, feeling the sweat trickling down my spine. Clearly this was a big mistake.
After a hundred yards or so the woods gave way to a flat ocean of concrete and tarmac. Our hill was no more. It was like a big road junction hidden in the woods, with confusing road signs and barriers with red and yellow stripes. To be on the safe side I tailed the rusty pickup, passing a depot for refuse collection trucks and mountains of green refuse bins before approaching a barrier which said “Private households”.
Now I was really lost about how to proceed. I drifted to the side and parked, to try and figure out things. I choked John Lennon so I could concentrate. The old dump was simple – just heave everything over the side into the quarry and that’s it. No big deal. Here I could see a long concrete loading bay with large skips arranged along each side, like a beetle with its legs sticking out at sixty-degrees. The top of the skips was level with the loading bay. Each one had a green wooden sign above, swinging in the morning breeze: Wood, Painted Wood, Plastic, Metal, Textiles, Electronics, Garden Waste, Paper, Cartons, Insulation, Chemicals, Tyres, Glass, Road Fill.
This was going to be one seriously challenging morning exercise. The loading bay was jam-packed with pickups, trucks, vans, cars and trailers, drivers scurrying back and forth carrying stuff and throwing it into the different skips, seemingly without hesitation. Their private collection of rubbish dumped, they navigated through the jam and turned back for the gate.
OK, now I get it. The never-ending stream of cars and vans into the bay showed no generosity to newcomers. At the risk of making myself very unpopular for a second time already that day, I speeded up and ran parallel to the queue, trying to force someone to give way and let me in. Challenging thick-necked men with shaven heads and shades in shiny new pickups was not a good idea. I finally swerved in front of a brown saloon, deliberately choosing one with an oldie behind the wheel.
I found a gap next to the skip for “Unpainted Wood”. Not that I had any unpainted wood, but it seemed a safe bet to avoid annoying people. I looked around discretely to check out the right procedure. Folks really were in a hurry, rushing back and forth between the skips with piles of stuff. They just threw the rubbish into a skip and rushed back to their truck for more, seemingly knowing what they were doing. Another thing, they had their stuff ready in piles. I had loaded everything into the back of my truck, first come. It took me a whole hour to empty – I probably visited each skip a couple of times.
Weren’t they a little curious about the stuff in the skips? Might be something useful, but I didn’t see anyone climbing down in a skip raid so it was apparently not the done thing.
There was some good stuff dumped there, but there was official-looking shed which also had a wooden sign: “Office”, but it seemed closed. For one short moment I thought I could get away with it, the kid’s bike in the skip for metal waste. It was just the right size for Noah, purple and silver. Come on, it’s all about recycling isn’t it! Maybe I could ask – or maybe that’s not such a good idea.
The last stuff in the truck was a giant army camouflage net made out of rope and pieces of green and brown rubber, large enough to hide a Centurian tank. Don’t ask!
The net was enormous, cumbersome. I gathered it up in a large ball and held it clasped in front of me with both arms like hugging a giant. Which skip should I choose? It was difficult to see where I was going and the office was about 50 yards away. Suddenly someone shouted “Wait, stop!!” with a deep roar. What was up? I peered over the top of the net and saw a man running towards me, waving his arms and shouting.
He was big, head shaven and sporting a long tangled reddish-brown beard. I thought at once of an egg with hairy legs. He was wearing a tight white t-shirt with SHOOT TO KILL in large letters above a large elk. It was stretched over his oversized pot-belly, which wobbled like a giant jelly as he ran towards me. With his neon-yellow working trousers and big boots I guessed that he was the supervisor, coming to tell me that I had put stuff in the wrong skip. But no, he just grabbed the net and held it tightly in his arms, taking a step backwards, all in one movement. A wides smile split his face like a jagged crack in a hard-boiled egg. OK, no problem, I thought, but before I could say “you’re welcome” he was striding towards the white van parked next to the office. He bundled the net inside and quickly shut the sliding doors. I must have looked surprised, until he explained: “I’m a hunter, camouflage is gold to us. Cheers!”.
On the drive home John Lennon sang “Imagine” to calm my nerves. Mary was waiting with fresh coffee. “You’ve been a long time”, she said. “Come and look”, I said, opening the back door of the truck. Inside the purple and silver metal shone brightly in the noonday sun.