This soundtrack to life isn’t just any old rubbish
The Joy of Essex with Martin Newell
Nowadays, even as a music lover, I find that there is rather too much of the stuff everywhere.
I sit in the dentist’s waiting room, for instance, and they’ve got Radio 2’s Ken Bruce blasting out the Popmaster Quiz during the morning.
This wouldn’t be too bad, but it’s all I can do to stop myself from jumping up in front of the other patients and blurting out: “It was Brian Protheroe, with Pinball – October 1974!”
And when I’m standing in the bank trying to work out how to operate the paying-in machine, I really don’t want to be seen pumping my shoulders and mouthing That’s The Way I Like It, in front of everyone. I’ve seen other people doing it and it looks terrible.
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In one Colchester building society branch, they went a step further. I discovered that they’d got orange and blue flashing lights, as well as music. It was like walking into a disco.
Someone up at head office must have thought:“ I bet we could make an interest rate of 2.75% pa on a one-year, fixed-rate equity bond seem pretty damned sexy, if we played a bit of Kylie with some flashing lights.”
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Music has become cheapened by its own ubiquity and besides, the last thing you’ll want to hear before your mortgage foreclosure, or some tricky root canal work, is Abba singing Waterloo.
I mean, can’t we just go back to the old system of three battered copies of Country Life, a fishtank and a bit of peace and quiet?
One place where the music does work, however, is the Household Recycling Centre near St Osyth.
As council dumps go, the St Osyth one is small and fairly ritzy.
I had a free morning so I just went along for the ride. These days, it’s the kind of devil-may-care old rooster that I am and,‒ apart from my last tour, I hadn’t been to a real dump for ages.
As we coasted in, Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine was playing through a speaker mounted on a pole.
You know, I still had this idea in my head of a council tip as a grey-skied mountain range of rubbish, with squadrons of dirty seagulls trailing bulldozers while men scavenged its lower slopes for treasure. The St Osyth dump couldn’t be further from this image.
All around the car-parking area, giant skips with steps leading up to the platforms beside them are arrayed in orderly fashion.
These skips are clearly labelled so that the rubbish is separated into categories – timber, electronic, glass bottles and jars, wood, compost, used engine oil, car batteries and non- recyclable.
You’re not allowed to dump building rubbish, asbestos, gas bottles or plasterboard. Apart from that, they’ll take most things. It’s highly organised. Someone really has thought about this business.
The chaps who work at the dump are nice, helpful and unexpectedly funny. I suppose you’d have to have a bit of a sense of humour to work here.
Malcolm, who I talk to, does anyway. I ask him if he ever gets anything really strange coming in.
“Quite a lot of disability stuff,” he says.
“What? False legs?” I ask.
“Oh yes,” he replies. “Loads. Well, not loads, but a few. You’ll sometimes see them sticking out of the bin.”
Once, he tells me, they thought they’d got a dead body, because there was an amount of blood too. It turned out that someone had hit a deer in their car and had then just dumped it in the bin.
“I get lots of blokes asking if they can bring their mother-in-law in,” he grins.
And do people still come to forage or pick things up from here, I asked.
“No,” he says. “They’re not allowed to, these days.”
Malcolm’s colleague likes the music too. They mostly have Radio 2 on but sometimes his colleague might turn over to a commercial station and nudge the volume up discreetly. This is usually followed by Malcolm asking him to tweak it down a bit.
Apparently, though, a county councillor came round once and gave it approval. He even said that it would be worth considering having music in the other recycling centres.
As if on cue, David Bowie’s China Girl comes echoing out over the site. It does actually work. It’s cheerful. Just the job in fact, if you’re jettisoning, say, some buddleia prunings, an old carpet and some chairs.
“It chills you out a bit,” adds Malcolm. I get the overall impression, too, that not much gets past him – especially not any builders attempting to disguise their debris as household stuff.
“It is an interesting job,” says Malcolm. “ You have to have a degree in rubbish.”
All of this while the cars come in, the cars go out and the unwanted past is recycled seamlessly into the present –‒ with a soundtrack of David Bowie. Why risk fly-tipping when you could have this?
There’s a postscript to this story and its theme of ‘music-as-backing-track-to-ordinary-life’.
We ended up in Frinton for lunch. There, I paid a visit to the famous Frinton luxury loo on the Greensward at the top of Connaught Avenue.
It cost twenty pence to get in, but the place was immaculate. It, too, had a soundtrack.
As I passed through its gleaming turnstile, the music of Tchaikovsky resonated around the neccessarium.
“Tchaikovsky?” a friend asked me later, when I told him.
“It was George Michael, the last time I went there,” he said. How we laughed.