This Cutting Edge film by Hilary Clarke was without a doubt one of the funniest things I’ve seen on TV in a long time. It was – one assumed from the title – going to heavily feature bin men, but it didn’t; there was pretty much just the one – who I’ll come to later – but the other characters in the film were fascinating because their apparent insipidness belied their British Bull-dogged determination not to be bested by those in the upper echelons of rubbish management.
The likes of Harry Enfield would’ve had a field day with the real-life characters in this documentary, and one of my favourites was international man of mystery Keith Perkins…
Keith is now retired from whatever job he did, but in real James Bond-esque style, he refused to say what it was he used to do for a living, tantalisingly saying only this: “I can’t go into what that was. I’d get shot. Literally.
“You’d have to have very high security clearance to know what it was. Officially, it didn’t even exist.”
My vote goes for library stock taker or the shadowy library back-office person who sends out reminder notices and possibly notices of impending fines if the book doesn’t reappear at the library pronto. So no wonder he’d have to protect his identity… you know how vulnerable to public attack and unreasonable hatred those guys are.
Or maybe he was a traffic warden… actually, that seems infinitely more likely.
Keith is one of those men who looks like a trainspotter; I would imagine he always has a travel rug in his boot in case of sudden cold snaps and a thermos of tea for impromptu layby picnics. He wears a great deal of beige and grey polyester and sensible – yet lightweight – waterproof anoraks while on his mission to inform the people of his hometown of Farnborough about the dastardly attempts by their local council to halve the size of their wheelie bins. You can see a clip of Keith on his wheelie bin campaign here…
His arch enemy in this fight was – and I’m sure still is – the local Head of Rushmoor’s Environmental Health, David Quirk, a man who must dread going into work every day in case Keith’s there outside his office with a thermos and some sandwiches in a Tupperware box, flicking through a copy of Stamp Collector’s Weekly while he lays in wait for David.
And one of the best bits of the whole shebang was when Keith and David went head-to-head in a verbal bantam-weight fight over the whole half sized bin issue which consisted of our International Anorak Man of Mystery giving it with both barrels to David Quirk who just stuck to the clearly oft rehearsed council party line about promoting recycling.
Keith’s credibility in the face-off wasn’t helped by his having to cancel an appointment with his dentist halfway through a fairly sizeable rant. However, despite putting across his views with infuriatingly slow dialogue, Keith finally left empty handed vis-a-vis a satisfactory resolution.
I reckon he should just call in a few favours from his library/warden days and take revenge as best he can by having his mates issue non-negotiable fines on late books or hunting down David’s car wherever he goes in case he parks on a double yellow…
Mind you, David’s no stranger to oddness… he recounted how he’d once found a load of bondage equipment that had been blithely abandoned, or ‘fly-tipped’ as they say in the trade. It was apparently, “leather straps and the old ball-in-the-mouth-type thing”
Ah… maybe Keith’s shady past is interwoven into that particular tale? It’s always the quiet ones you know!
So onto my next favourite character, Daphne Forbes, resident of the Ribble Valley whose main objection to wheelie bins is that she’s very much aware they make perfect hiding places and she therefore gives her wheelie bin a wide berth when coming in at night. As she frantically said, “Someone could be hiding in those wheelie bins!”
Clearly the answer here is for Daphne to move to Farnborough – where Keith’s losing the battle against the half sized wheelie bins – then she need only fear wheelie bin hiders such as elves or midgets and let’s face it, without wishing to be sizeist, a strategically applied handbag or umberella would easily sort them out.
Then there was gleeful jobsworth Alan Price who is the man responsible for 80% of the penalty notices that are issued in Worcester when someone’s fly tipped… oh yeah, I know all the jargon now. Alan also pointed out that there are a number of problems inherent with the influx of Polish people to this country who he reckons don’t get what fly-tipping is or the concept of putting various materials into different coloured bags or bins. He pointed out that “there’s no actual word in Polish for ‘recycle'”. No wonder they don’t get it then eh? Best not give any Polish people a job where you require them to ride a bike more than once either…
No rubbish crime goes undetected by Alan and no stone is left unturned in his dogged determination to find the culprit of wrongly placed rubbish. If he finds a bag of rubbish somewhere it shouldn’t be, he tips it out – soggy tea bags and elderly beans notwithstanding – and goes through the detritus until he finds his Holy Grail… a carelessly abandoned letter with the address of the tipper on it. Once he has that address, he’s off like a whippet to dish out council backed justice in the form of fines, tellings off and an ethos of naming and shaming. Awesome.
A more serious note was when fed up Ian of Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, got so naffed off that his binmen wouldn’t take his rubbish away – because it contained some garden waste – that he ended up tipping it all over his local council’s reception area. This was the culmination of failed attempts at reasonable negotiations and getting nothing but the ‘I’m just doin’ me job mate’ response to his protests.
So, as I mentioned, he dragged his rubbish – complete with garden waste – down to the council offices and emptied it out all over their reception area. It was an admirably defiant but ultimately pointless gesture that cost him £475.20 in fines and he now has a criminal record, which could well ruin his ambition to become a teacher.
Just as a total aside, why the 20p on the fine? What could that 20p have covered I wonder? It may well keep me up nights trying to figure it out…
Now to an actual binman, Lee Miller; he’s a well read man who enjoys philosophy and can quote Aristotle in the same way many of us know the words to Dancing Queen. He also practises Reiki and is in general a calm, intelligent man who chooses to empty bins for a living, and why not?
It’s a job that gives him time to follow his real passions and still pay his way, and good on him I say. Plus it gives weight to the old adage about books, judging and covers. However, he’s not without a mischievous side and freely admitted that, “I do get a bit of a buzz irritating the public”. Bees and wasps feel the same way Lee. Sorry for the lameness of that but I couldn’t resist…
Less prominent but equally interesting characters were June Kelly – who lived through the war and therefore knows that the art of winning a battle is quiet perseverance – and Gloucestershire residents John and Diana Heywood who sadly pondered on where the whole thing was going to end and how it could be resolved so we can all just get along together again without all this unseemly bickering.
The real point of this documentary was rather lost in the highly enjoyable people watching fest that it turned out to be, but one thing’s for sure; no matter who you are, where you’re from and on what level of the social strata you exist, nothing gets Britain’s back up like the issue of rubbish disposal!