All this can be yours
I was 17 and had been working at Bridgnorth District Council for three months before I got the dreaded call to 'go on the bins.' Somehow I'd had a pretty easy ride of it up until that point. 1995 was a hot summer, and I'd spent most of my days cutting grass, tending gardens and picking up fridges in a flatbed truck with a one-eyed 70-year-old called Pete the Eye.
The day the call came had started so well. I was on skip watch. Shropshire is incredibly rural and a lot of people live miles from the nearest council tip, so to avoid fly tipping the council send large skips to several villages once every two weeks. My job was to make sure that no one dumped fridges or car batteries, and also to stop 'tatters' coming in the skip and nicking any scrap metal. The first part of the job was easy and the second was quite lucrative. The local tatters were an inbred family whose surname was Flack. Brother and sister had married and the grown-up kids all resembled Chunk from The Goonies. But they paid me a tenner for entry and then a fiver per piece and the old man would leave me fags if I'd run out, so I made no comment on their sexual proclivities.
It was a lovely Wednesday. The skip was next to a small industrial estate in a place called Ditton Priors. Having done this route before, I knew there was a toilet I could use and had taken my rudimentary bong so I could pop off to the khazi every half-hour for a quick blast before coming back to read and sunbathe. When lunchtime came and Fat Dave turned up for me and the skip, I had my eye on an afternoon in the Shrewsbury Arms in Albrighton. The skip never got full there and I could easily have four pints of Stella and a plate of ham, egg and chips and be back at the skip with plenty of time to make sure all was well before Dave turned up.
Dave and I had been driving for about ten minutes when the CB crackled. "Dave, it's Bill." Bill was a nice bloke and driver of the big wagon that was used for the longest and hardest routes. I was boxed at this point and wasn't really listening. That was until I heard my name. "Have you got Owen with you? We need him on the bins in Broseley, Stan the Gip has turned his ankle over again."
Stan the Gip
Stan the Gip looked like Shane MacGowan, only minus the grace and intelligence. I'd only spoken to him couple of times and knew he was a lazy bastard. He had one proud pearly white tooth that his voice couldn’t seem to circumnavigate. He left two days after his latest injury. He burst through the door of the smoking room at 7.45am on the Friday with a crate of Kestrel Super lisping, "I've hit the fucking jackpot boys." The jackpot in question was that his missus was pregnant with his seventh kid, meaning he could now earn more on benefits than by working.
Broseley is a small town seven miles from Bridgnorth. It's actually closer to Telford, but it was serviced by BDC and was, along with Shifnal, the hardest bin round. I met Bill in the town centre, by the bakery from where he got free sausage rolls for taking a few extra bags away. "Right then O, do you wanna fetch out or chuck on?" Having heard too many stories of people being mauled by dogs when 'fetching out', I plumped for the latter option.
This was in the days before houses had wheelie bins, so my job was to run behind the wagon and, in one motion without breaking stride, swiftly pick up a pile in each hand and toss it into the jaws of the wagon. If it was just household rubbish, this was fine. I was playing football five times a week and could run all day. On occasion though I'd swoop at a stack of bags and, while one arm would complete the swinging motion, the other would be wrenched from its socket. Bricks, plasterboard, car batteries, you name it; people would put it in to the bags. To cover how stoned I was I ran so hard that day that I ended up as chief chucker-on for three months. I got used to the physical side pretty quickly, it was the filth I couldn't handle.
If you're lucky, you've never been caught behind a bin wagon as the jaws close and belch out a stinking blast of the fetid innards. Maybe you've had it once, caught unawares as you strolled to the shop or your car. I had it 200 times a day for three months. And it wasn't just the stench. Bin bags are flimsy, incredibly so, and as such they often split . At best you might have to pick up the detritus of a family of four; milk cartons, rotten fruit, the odd tampon and a used johnny or two. I've picked up a lot of horrible shit in my time, the worst being when a bag split on the driveway of a huge house that tipped well. As it broke, I watched in horror as twenty soiled nappies, crawling with maggots, tumbled onto the driveway. I puked all over them, wiped my mouth, sparked a fag and got on the shovel.
It is a common misconception that being a bin man pays well. It doesn't. The only way to earn extra cash is by taking another man's muck and making it your own personal gold. The things I've seen taken, usually broken beyond repair, and then disappearing in workers cars is unbelievable. TVs with cracked screens, rotten climbing frames, a pair of boots with no soles and, on one occasion, a guitar that was in four parts.
In the end, it was the filth that finished me. I'd been out on a Thursday night and bounced into work three hours after dropping my last E. I thought I could do it, but when I retched after swallowing the first waft of the day I gave up. I threw my gloves into the jaws, said goodbye to Bill and hitched the three miles home. It was time to get another job. It was time for the iron and steelworks.