A windy bin-day in Oxford this week, with bins and escaped refuse strewn across the street by gale-force winds, reminded me: it’s a while now since I first described my personal discovery that, with increasing age, comes a male obsession with rubbish bins. One reason was our living at the time in a small Newcastle apartment block. Why, I wondered, did I appear to be the only inhabitant to ensure that the large shared skips for general refuse, let alone the individual ones for recyclables, were put out ready for emptying on the appropriate day?
As I quipped back then, I could say I’d bin there, done that. So, when Mrs Trafford points out pieces in The Times by the hilarious Robert Crampton, cataloguing his various compulsions to keep elements of the household tidy as he gets older, I admire his writing (much better than mine), but comment airily that he’s younger than we are, and still has a long way to go. I’m now convinced of this because my own obsession with bins has deepened to an almost sinister degree.
In the intervening years since I first tackled the subject, the whole process has become more complex.
For nearly two decades now we’ve lived in two places, the second being our cottage in North Northumberland. As a result, we’ve had to take account of different refuse and recycling regimes. In Northumberland, for example, we still are not permitted to put glass (i.e. the empties) in the blue recycling bin, leading (after a houseful) to the shaming experience of emptying a few dozen beer and wine bottles into a skip either in Wooler or at the Red Lion in Milfield. Whichever I choose, I invariably meet someone I know and suffer that uneasy feeling that they’re counting.
No such problem now we live in Oxford: the blue bin takes all manner of recyclables – including glass – though, even in the city, one tends to avoid too much clinking, muffling the sound with newspaper. Another refinement enjoyed by a city-dwellers is that of the food bin, a small container emptied every week, in which we place all manner of food waste, even including cut flowers. This can cause some confusion between our two domiciles. In the country, naturally, food waste goes on the compost heap: but not everything, as we don’t want to encourage rats so still greater awareness and decision-making are called for.
So how do I know my bin obsession is getting out of hand? First, I’ve even laid a couple of slabs at the front of our city house, to give the bins their own home. Ours is the only house in the street so equipped. My daughters shake their heads in disbelief, murmuring “OCD”, just as when they deliberately put the mugs in the wrong places in the kitchen cupboard in order to upset me.
Talking of daughters, this week’s excitement involved the flat newly purchased by one of them, necessitating some swapping around of sofas and (here’s the point) taking a load of items to the tip. To my delight, I was obliged to hire a van for two hours. Frankly, turning up in my van at Oxford’s southern recycling centre, and being required to show my two-hour hire agreement (to prove that I was private, not trade) was the highlight of the week.
And what does my long-suffering wife think of all this? Fortunately, she’s pretty relaxed about it all, her only comment so far being, “Well, if you’re finally so tidy-minded, perhaps next you could learn how to use the washing machine.” Then she spoilt it: “Robert Crampton knows: he said so in The Times.”
In my view that was unnecessary, and hurtful. I now hate Robert Crampton.