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Tim Dowling: we’re off to the dump – but what if the man is there?

recycling tip

The first half of January doesn’t feel like the beginning of anything. It’s more a drizzly, twilit interruption; a chance to fix broken things before moving on. Some of the broken things are emotional, some infrastructural. One of them is the oven.

“It’s not the fuse,” I say, peering into the blackness beyond the glass. “The clock comes on.”

“I’m buying a new oven,” my wife says.

“This is a new oven,” I say. “It’s new to us.”

“I’ve already found one,” she says. “Same size. And they’ll install it and take this one away.”

“I think it might be just the dial,” I say.

“I don’t care,” my wife says.

Another problem is a staggering backlog of rubbish: bags of bottles and tins and paper; Styrofoam exoskeletons from unboxed appliances; Christmas detritus. It’s all out there in the dark, getting rained on. In the January interregnum, the bin men come on different days, as if to surprise us.

“We’ll have to go to the dump,” my wife says.

“Why are you making a face?” I say. “You love the dump.”

“I do love the dump,” she says. “But I don’t like the man.”

“You love the man, and the man loves you,” I say.

“Tomorrow,” my wife says. “Early.” On the day of the dump I find myself with an early deadline, so I head to my shed first thing. Anyone looking into our garden on this freezing morning would see a woman dragging wet rubbish to a car, while a man in a cardigan sits in a warm glass box and types.

“Right, I’ve done everything,” my wife says, sticking her head through my office door. “Let’s go.”

“You’re letting the cold in,” I say. “Five minutes.”

We drive to the dump, which is busy. We have to wait for a bay.

“There he is,” my wife says, nodding toward the man who runs the dump. He sits in a lawn chair in a high visibility vest, barking orders.

We pull into a bay. I climb out and open the back.

“Not in there!” the man shouts at someone else. “That’s the wrong sort of plastic!”

Our rubbish has been bagged for collection rather than dumping and now, I realise, will have to be re-sorted by hand. I pull open a bag of mixed glass, and grab the greens.

“We don’t accept paint here!” the man shouts, generally. My wife holds up a mirror in a busted frame, tilts her head and raises an eyebrow.

“General waste, madam,” the man says. I grab a stack of flattened boxes and head for the cardboard container, getting about halfway.

“Cardboard goes in general waste!” the man shouts. I stop and turn, boxes held high for an overhead throw.

“But it’s cardboard,” I say.

“Cardboard is full!” he shouts. Back at the car, my wife is displaying a torn lampshade.

“You can leave it just over here, madam,” the man says, pointing. I hold up a sack of tins.

“Metal?” I say.

“Metal is metal!” the man shouts, with righteous fury.

Eventually the car is emptied of everything, including some stuff that has lain under the seats for a year, and we drive off unburdened.

“That was quite satisfying,” I say. “We should bring some motor oil next time.”

“It’s better when the man isn’t there,” my wife says.

“What are you talking about?” I say. “You’re his favourite.”

“I’m there a lot,” my wife says.

“It’s like going to the dump with Princess Margaret,” I say.

“Shut up,” she says. “We can go to the supermarket, now I’ve got you.”

An hour later I’m home, staring at a chicken.

“I completely forgot about the oven,” I say.

“What’s wrong with the oven?” the oldest one says.

“I’m buying a new one,” my wife says. “Tomorrow.”

“I guess I could spatchcock it and cook it on the hob,” I say.

“Spatchcock,” the oldest one says.

“New year, new oven,” my wife says.

“This oven is fixable,” I say. “Make do, or do without.” My wife looks out into the darkening back garden.

“And then,” she says, “I’m getting a pony.”

This article titled "Tim Dowling: we’re off to the dump – but what if the man is there?" was written by Tim Dowling, for The Guardian on Saturday 13 January 2018 06.00am

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