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Bin there, done that...

I've been an avid collector of antiques for a number of years, and one of the things you learn when you collect antiques is that one man's rubbish is another man's treasure. I'd never, however, taken this entirely literally until the first time I saw Mr N, my delightful neighbour, up to his elbows in the garbage bags that my husband had taken out to be picked up by the refuse collectors the following morning. With bare hands, and with shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows, he sifted through strings of leftover spaghetti and delved deep into the collection of empty bottles and tins. He paused every so often to watch as a half-eaten bread roll tumbled out of the black refuse sack and began to roll towards the gutter, or to fling a handful of stale chips unceremoniously into the nearby hedge when they impeded his progress. And every now and then he would stand bolt upright, a crumpled letter or ketchup-smeared envelope clenched in his hot little fist as he waved it above his head in triumph, and chuckle devilishly to himself. He took great pride in his work, remaining out there in the street in the wee small hours to go through every sack... twice. He went above and beyond the call of duty, continuing on from our garbage to a thorough examination of next door's before finally returning indoors. The headlights of passing cars sent him scampering into the shadows until the street was clear once again, but he lost none of his enthusiasm for the task at hand once he returned to the street. The bitter cold and heavy rain did not deter him. And a copious amount of growling saw off his only real rival... a passing badger who had stopped by in hope of finding a tasty morsel or two before turning in. Eventually, pockets stuffed with discarded papers, he made his way indoors with the sort of look of satisfaction that I imagine only comes from finding a discarded, but whole and entirely edible, porkpie after spending half an hour sifting through a bag of used kitty litter. A return to his previous activity only five minutes later saw him making off with a five-foot broken wall mirror, a lady's chiffon dress, and a single carpet slipper before calling it a night. 

Sitting here within my home, looking around the living room, at the shelves of Oriental porcelain and the walls adorned with Japanese woodblock prints, I wonder if he gains a similar sort of pleasure when he observes the curves of the rusty clothes airer he swiped as it stood idly alongside his neighbour's gate. Does the word Satsuma bring a rosy glow to his cheek as it does to mine... does he recall bags of shrivelled little oranges rescued after dark as I contemplate the ornate decoration of the fine Japanese vase purchased for my birthday last year? Whilst I have an appreciation for things cast in a mould, he has one for things covered in it. Perhaps we are kindred spirits after all?

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kindred spirits?

Well, I hope you take this in the spirit in which it's given, Gina, but being a (retired) clinical hypnotherapist with many years of experience in treating those with both acute and chronic psychological disorders-  I'm sorry to have to inform you that the blatantly obsessive/compulsive behavior you exhibit by lurking behind your curtains for hours on end in horrified fascination at the insane antics of your garbage-delving neighbor is, if anything, even...sicker...than is his aberration!  I respectfully suggest that you book an appointment with a qualified mental-heath professional a.s.a.p., for the next phase of your particular "fetish" frequently involves what is technically known as the "Peeping-Tomism Syndrome"-  whereby people cursed with your bizarre inclinations spend all their waking hours "peeping" (e.g., "spying") on people named "Tom".  Although this condition is not (usually) life-threatening, it can lead to even worse syndromes-  with the "final" phase almost always consisting of an irrational and all-consuming desire to collect and admire antique Japanese ceramics and prints.

Please don't even think of thanking me for this gratis advice-  that's what friends are for!

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I do greatly appreciate your

I do greatly appreciate your advice... unfortunately it has come too late. I have been an avid Tom peeper for the past twenty five years. I started young, but I can't help wondering if that is due to genetics. You see, my mother was always following men named Herbert, and my great great grandfather was none other than 'Wally the Walter-Watcher.' I didn't really stand a chance, not with that family history. Isn't it a good thing I don't have children!

My favourite food is Tom-ato soup, my favouite day is Tom-orrow, my favourite stall at any small church fete is the Tom-bola. I am doomed!