Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That's why they call me Second Hand Rose

Isn’t it lovely when the sun comes out? Instead of scurrying, head down under a plastic rain hat, oblivious to my surroundings, I can indulge in my favourite game: nosing in other people’s recycling.

Southover High Street is the best location for this sport. Every fortnight when the boxes come out, there’s a smile on my lips as I amble along, peering in all the gratifyingly open glass recycling bags. Ooh, that’s a really huge bottle of vodka: did it take them all year to finish or was it downed it in one wild blast of a night? And blimey, look at those cheeky little empty sauvignon blancs. Another party I wasn’t invited to.

Ah yes, Southover residents, you’ll think more carefully about making sure the jam jars are on top of the meths bottles in future, won’t you?

The paper and plastics boxes aren’t so intriguing, as they tend to be covered up and you’re not allowed to open them. That wouldn’t be a fun light-hearted amusement; that would be downright creepy, as the magistrate explained to me the other day. But it’s fair game when the weedy little lids get blown away by a breath of wind, as they so often do. Then you can have a good old squint at who’s been sneakily buying Hello! rather than reading it at the doctor’s like the rest of us.

You can even work out how they’ll react to you sniffing round their recycling boxes by the newspapers they’ve chucked out. Guardian: they’ll be cool about it, though they may blame society under their breath. Telegraph: they’ll tell me to clear orf, and threaten to let the dogs out. Daily Mail: they’ll cut off my hands.

Lewes is a cracking place to make sweeping statements about social demographics, purely on the basis of its recycling. Is it true, for instance, that Lewes disposes of more cardboard containers of Duchy Originals Sicilian Butter Shortbread per capita than anywhere else in the world? Can it be correct that Lewes is at the bottom of the league for recycling Special Brew cans? Or are these statistics I have just invented?

The clearest community indicators are on the wondrous Lewes Freecycle website, a snapshot of the hearts and minds of the town’s inhabitants. ‘Offered: Bugaboo pushchair, as used by Gwynneth! Good condition but rice-cake crumbs will need shaking out.’ Or ‘Wanted: Bonfire Society jumper. Any society! We’re not fussy! We just want to join in!’

When Aging Lad moved in with his on-off girlfriend last month, I told them about Freecycle and they furnished the entire flat with other people’s cast-offs. When he moved out again, three weeks later, citing irreconcilable levels of commitment, his girlfriend put him on Freecycle. ‘Offered: Antiquated gigolo, 43. Thinks he’s 25. Low expectations advised. From a non-smoking pet-free flat’. She was inundated and is still sifting through the replies, hoping to find him a bad home. If not, she says, he’ll have to go to landfill.

Beth Miller, 23rd April 2009. Photo by Alex Leith. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, March 2010.

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