6.45 AM Battinson Road Depot, and green uniformed binmen are are milling around like chickens without heads. Looking like Robin Hood's merry men, a large crowd of them hang aimlessly around the depot entrance. Its like one of those pubs where everyone congregates round the bar while the seats remain empty, and you have to push your way through the crush to get a drink, or in this case to get to work. Outside the office a hastily penned notice brings unwelcome news. The Halifax TLS (Transfer Loading Station to off comed 'uns) will be closed for three weeks. Charming! This means I will have to brave the squelching horrors of the Cromwell Bottom Landfill once more! It has been over a year since I last went there, accompanied by a dead alsatian, and I have not been since, this largely being due to the buckled trackrod which was discovered not long afterwards on the underside of my 'streetwise' van. Subsequently I was banned from using the landfill. Surely they won't send me there again? Exhausts and suspension parts are expensive these days.
Entering the office I make these not inconsequential matters known to my boss. "Yes, I know Jim, But things are better now. They've got a new man in charge and the tip access is greatly improved. Don't worry about it, you'll be OK!" Unbelieving, I force a cynical smile and pick up my weeks supply of litter bags. "Don't worry about it, it'll be OK." Thats what they say to men about to be sent into battle! I plod out to my van, check nothings been nicked, and then chug out then out into the cold morning. Ah me! Another day sweeping the streets of Calderdale.
1994 is proving an anxious year, and the bogeyman answers to the name of Compulsory Competitive Tendering. The current street cleansing contract for Calderdale runs out at the end of December and tenders for it have just been submitted. We should soon know, for better or for worse, whether or not we are going to have jobs to go to in 1995, and if we have, what the cutbacks and extra work are going to mean. The morale of street sweeping and ancillary workers is at the moment at an all time low. All compulsory competitive tendering does for cleansing workers is to make an unpleasant job even harder to bear. Our compatriots, the binmen, recently lost the refuse collection contract to a Spanish based firm, which has reduced the already skeletal workforce, and forced harsher working conditions onto everyone. In four years the bins will go out to tender yet again, and men and services will be cut back further in the cause of 'on the cheap'. There is no job security and consequently no confidence in the future. Itseems that at the present rate of shrinkage the whole of Calderdales bins will be emptied next century by a JTS trainee pushing a handcart!.
This possibility of redundancy is a daunting prospect for a workforce that is largely middle-aged. Many who work here have been with the council for upwards of twenty years, and often fondly imagine that if they are made redundant they will be able to go out into the world and simply find another job without too much difficulty. Having spent most of the eighties on the dole, I know better. If you are over 40 and unskilled your chances of landing a job that isn't a 'JTS scheme' are zilch! The government wants to increase the retiring age for women to sixty five. I dont know why - de facto they've already lowered the mens' to thirty nine!
Out on the streets the wasps are back! As I pull the cover off a particularly feculent litter bin a whole swarm of the drunken little beggars hover erratically about my face! I lash out wildly with my litterpickers, feeling a gentle 'click' as the hard metal tip of productivity flicks yet another small insect into oblivion. (Bit like the binmen really!) .Then I target another - playing knurr and spell! In the end however, outnumbered and intimidated I back off. They can have their ruddy litter bin!
I've been having fun with bus timetables. The street furniture arm of 'Metro' the public transport authority, have been putting new timetable frames on bus stops in the area. Of course, when they bolt these red metal objects onto your average bus stop they don't give a moments thought to their proximity to the post mounted litterbin underneath, or to the poor council 'erk' who has the unenviable job of emptying it. Consequently I have already had to bend and scuff two of these metal monstrosities in order to pull out and empty the steel litter bin liners blocked in by their lack of forethought. It amazes me! They must think that litter bins empty themselves!
I plod on my usual, daily, predictable and hopeless way. A yellow coated somnambulist. Sowerby Bridge, Elland, West Vale, boring boring, BORING!. A young man grins at me. 'you've missed a bit!' I grin back. 'Stupid pratt' I think. He's the 20th this month! If it isn't that its the one about chopsticks! Round the next corner two six year olds regard me with awe! "What you doin' mister?" For some reason demoralised men picking up rubbish seem an endless source of fascination to them. I hold back the sarcastic reply. It would be wasted.
And now its late afternoon. With a dry mouth and a clutching feeling of apprehension I edge my van down the lane to Cromwell Bottom Tip. I say 'down'- actually its something of a misnomer, as these days you go 'up' to it. The land is no longer being 'filled', rather it is being raised up into a ruddy great mountain of alternately layered earth and refuse. Even the name is unsuitable, perhaps they should alter it to 'Mount Cromwell'. Landfills are running out fast and incinerator emissions are being targetted by Greenpeace. God knows whats going to happen to rubbish in the future. The volume of packaging needs to be reduced at source. There should be vision and forward planning, but