View from the Bridge: 44

by John Morrison


44: A Time of Waste

There's not a lot happening in Milltown. We're in that briefest of interludes between the end of the January sales and the arrival of the Easter bunny. The streets are almost empty. Maybe it's a flag-day. Maybe the neutron bomb's gone off. Maybe it's just half-day closing.

It seems like a good time for Milltown folk to tackle those tedious but essential little jobs. Beer Bore is rotating the tyres on his ageing Austin Princess. Town Drunk is videoing the weather forecast ("Well, you never know...", he says, enigmatically). Willow Woman was busy giving her back bedroom a much-needed coat of paint when she was suddenly overcome by emulsion. In preparation for stripping down his latest motorbike (a Gobshite 950... as new... what a find...). Biker Dave goes into town to buy a bucket of grease and a tub of Swarfega. Expecting a busy night, the landlord of the Grievous Bodily Arms is expertly watering his beer.

Our beleaguered Tourism Officer is sucking the end of his pencil. His brow is furrowed; his job is on the line. He's been told to dream up a slogan so bland and meaningless that it will attract visitors in droves. So today's newsflash - that there are to be performance league tables for abbatoirs - comes as a heaven-sent opportunity for him to make Milltown a tourist magnet.

He consigns his thoughts to paper in an excited scribble. He's thinking: interactive. He's thinking: multi-media attraction. He's thinking: lottery funding. Start with an urban farm where kids could pet the baby lambs... Then follow 'their' lamb through the whole fascinating slaughterhouse process... Finally (and our Tourist Officer's hand is shaking with the sheer brilliance of his ideas), lunch at the carvery next door: roast lamb, mint sauce, all the trimmings. An unforgettable day out for all the family.

By contrast, Wounded Man is staring morosely out of his kitchen window. The view is curtailed by the rotting pile of half-eaten kebabs in his front garden. It's not a pleasant sight, and even the hungriest of rats would think twice before having an exploratory nibble. Their diet - shit, mostly - precludes eating something with as little nutritional value as a kebab. Wounded Man, aware it's time for action, orders up a rubbish skip.

But there's a protocol attached to this simple act about which he is wholly ignorant. The hiring of a skip is, in fact, a tacit invitation for his neighbours to indulge in what has become a traditional, two-part ritual. Step one: wait until the attention of the skip-hirer is momentarily distracted. In the few seconds it takes to tie a shoe-lace, or redistribute the contents of a pair of overcrowded Y-fronts, there is just enough time for doors to open and for neighbours, laden down with unwanted possessions, to tip-toe purposefully towards Wounded Man's little house. When he looks again Wounded Man does a deadpan double-take of the kind that a white-faced Buster Keaton all but patented. The last door is closing, noiselessly, and the skip - his skip - is filled to overflowing with other peoples' detritus.

Stage two of the ritual is conducted at a more leisurely pace. Over the next couple of days, Wounded Man's neighbours give the contents of the skip a cursory examination as they walk past, followed, under cover of darkness, by furtive forays to liberate perfectly servicable stuff that others have so thoughtlessly thrown away. There's wood to burn. And a chair: a perfectly fine chair that only needs a bit of work to be as good as new. And that old radio: it probably only needs fresh batteries...

And so it continues. By day three the skip will be almost empty once again, allowing Wounded Man to load it with the maloderous contents of his front garden. It's been a novel experience; next time he hires a skip he'll know what to expect.

This quaint suburban ritual doesn't have much to do with rubbish disposal; it's actually a sophisticated recycling system proving that one man's rubbish is, indeed, another man's treasure.

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