The handbag, the dumpster and the Good Samaritan
I visit the Rougham Hill Waste and Recycling Centre as regularly as I visit my barber (well maybe slightly more regularly than that).
Each visit’s satisfying because of the well-organised way local people may deposit their castoffs – from flat batteries to bottles, and everything in between.
Believe me, I relish chucking out old household effects, stuff unused since Tony Blair was Prime Minister. It’s as rewarding as shedding half a stone, especially knowing most of the clobber’s recycled and put to new uses.
When I’m at the local waste centre, I’m alert. Like a blackbird in a newly turned turnip patch, I watch the people solemnly peering at labels and queuing up to ensure their timber waste, electronic jetsam, or hard-core wreckage is correctly deposited in the appropriate dumpster through all weather, bringing to mind Churchill’s quip about the English propensity to line up and “pay their taxes with a grunt.”
But this sorting-and-queuing is very much a two-way street. See, I notice how the Waste-centre staff show us customers every professional courtesy, even the star-crossed punters like me. For instance, a while back when my youngest daughter was at that age when, no matter what Dad does, it’s an egregious humiliation to her, I asked her to help me unload a van-load of unwanted newspapers, textiles, pots and pans, bottles and the like.
While she was busy sorting and crushing boxes at the cardboard bin, in my stockpile, I found an old synthetic handbag full of yarn, tin foil, an old wallet, and a grotty hat. Hastily, I flung the bag pell-mell into the Non-recyclable container and rattled over to the scrap metal.
Later on the way home, she began searching the van, squawking like a furious seagull. “My handbag’s gone! My bank card, my money, my telephone and all kinds of important stuff’s in it!” Guardedly, I glanced at her reproachful eyes, recalling the old saying, A clever man makes no small mistakes. Clever me.
Actually, we’d taught the kids to “say a little prayer” in circumstances like this, but fearful to invite her to pray, I muttered a bootless cry to the Almighty while turning the van around.
Minutes later, a bemused member of the waste-management staff found me hip deep in the non-recyclable bin where frantically I pawed at crushed suitcases, damp mattresses, worn carpets and tied-up bin bags. “My daughter’s handbag’s in here someplace,” I wailed.
For a young man, he displayed the wisdom of Solomon. The fellow could see she was on the verge of a thermonuclear meltdown. Quick as a cat, he ordered me out of the dumpster and fetched two grappling poles, and we began pulling and poking through tonnes of junk.
Nothing turned up in this smelly tombola, and finally, when he was called away, I broke it to my distressed daughter that we may as well go home and start cancelling cards. As we drove from the centre for the second time, it hit me like a low beam in a cottage; we’d been rooting-around in the wrong bin. Sure as shooting, the attentive young man was keeping an eye out for the missing bag with a grappling hook ready, and within seconds of digging in the other dumpster, I snagged the offending item.
The point here? My foolishness? Not really. The power of prayer? Perhaps. But really it’s to thank that kind employee at Rougham Road Waste Centre for helping us. Whenever I meet him now, eyes laughing, he asks what stuff belonging to my kids I’m pitching out today.
Oh, well. I deserve it. As I say, clever me.
-- Speaker and lecturer Michael Apichella is an award-winning writer and an artist who’s made the UK his home for well over 30 years. Visit his website at www.michaelapichella.com or follow him on Twitter, @MApichellaPhD