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Binners Bizarre

April 1st 2003. Battinson Road Council Depot. 6.45am. Its April Fool's Day as well as the end of the financial year, and the combination of these two factors ensures that the Council gets into the spirit of the thing big time! Any cash left over from last year has to be spent to prevent it from being removed from the next years budget. Consequently they squander it on any crazy thing they can come up with and thus bizarre changes are afoot, changes that affect us street sweepers.

Under the guise of 'Health and safety at Work' electronic barriers are being erected at the depot entrances with a wealth of new signs, one way systems and pettifogging restrictions The whole place is starting to have the ambience of a North Korean Border Post. Arrows are being painted everywhere in an attempt to make us go in where we used to come out and go out where we used to come in! Al Q'aeda might get into the depot but they certainly wouldn't get out! They'd be flummoxed by all the signs! I have yet to work out what any of this has got to do with Health and Safety. The big main doors on the 'Batty Road' side of the shed are now permanently closed and consequently binmen are now choking on the diesel fumes inside. Ironically there are 'No Smoking signs' everywhere! If they really wanted to make the place healthier their surplus budget money might be better spent on a fume extraction system, either that or go the whole hog and erect a 'Jews this Way' sign above the side wicket door. Of course when it comes to planning they are too busy justifying their jobs to consult with the likes of the Street Cleansing Department

I start up my van and, beacons flashing, head out onto my round. It's like taxi-ing round Manchester Airport! The back's full of rubbish from the weekend, and outside its lashing down with horizontal rain, but anything's better than breathing that diesel smoke! So here I am still sweeping the streets of Calderdale as usual, for contrary to the expectations of my article reading public I was not offered a plum journalists job as they all predicted! Here I am-fifty three and greying at the edges and still picking up the doodies, trudging through puddles with wet legs and soggy gloves.

Rain. People commiserate with me in the street. "You must hate it when its like this!" Hate it? Not at all! rain makes people stay indoors and consequently their litter stays in with them! Rain makes a street cleaner's life easier! But sometimes you don't see it coming. On a dark morning it can be like someone emptied a bucket over your head!

Queen's Road/Gibbet Street. Once upon a time a green bench was sited on this corner, but repeated vandalism ensured its eventual removal and so the spot remained empty for many years until, about a year ago, quite mysteriously, a new litter bin and two seats appeared out of nowhere! No-one seemed to know where they had come from - and for many months the bin remained unemptied simply because no-one had made any arrangement with the council to have it serviced! Eventually, after a preliminary festering period it was decided to empty it, but no-one had a key! So it remained unopened for a further period until it was finally adopted by the council. The bin and benches seem to have a charmed life - arson, dumping, drugs dealing, car theft and ram raiding are grist to the mill in this ghetto area of St. Johns - yet for some strange reason the bin and benches remain inviolate and unvandalised. We can only assume that the local mullah has imposed a fatwa on anyone who presumes to mess with them! Certainly no-one has yet come up with a better explanation!

At King Cross it's a square world! All the old round litter bins have been replaced by these eenormous square ones which have to be locked and unlocked by this giant 'spike-of-a-key' known affectionately in the department as 'the anal intruder'! The bins at King Cross are an excellent example of how planners who put in street furniture never consider that there might be some value in consulting with the poor beggars whose job it is to empty them. Bins are sited with doors opening up against lampposts, making it difficult to remove the steel liner, and the sheer size of them makes them a mecca for every trade waste dumping shopkeeper in the area! Leave a space and folk fill it! Since they were installed the volume of rubbish coming out of King Cross has doubled! Obviously the planners who ordered them had never tried emptying the contents of a square bin into a round one, if they had they would have quickly found that half the litter goes onto the street and you have to clear up your own mess! That's the council for you!

At Sowerby Bridge its torrential, so I take a short break to take a quick look at the letter the boss gave me this morning. Turns out it's a letter about Council 'Core Values' couched in language and jargon that would have a lexicographer scratching his head! The only 'core' values streetsweepers understand are tucked away behind passenger seats with titles like 'Mature Wives Annual' and 'Hot Scandinavian Sluts Weekly'. It annoys me that while I trudge through the murk at Christmas Week the people that dream up these 'initiatives' sit at home with their feet up ruminating about what they're going to cobble up next year to justify their existence!

The rain didn't ease up, so I had to grasp the nettle and get back to work! I am now at the West End of the town, soaked to the skin and busting for a wee. When I started doing this round there were five public toilets on my route, now there's only one - and its locked up! But all is not lost - by the entrance to the 'Ladies' screened from the road, there is a small gully by the barred door. I've used it before - A streetsweeper these days has to become a master of high speed clandestine urination! Good…. There's no-one about, I'll just sneak round the back and pretend I'm picking litter. So I clatter my way round the back of the toilets to find, to my intense embarrassment, that I'm standing at the back of a queue!

The phone rings. "Jim…. Can you go up to Pye Nest Rise for me and remove a pike from the footway."

"A what?"

"A pike. You know. A big fish."

"You're joking!"

"No. It was rung in about half an hour ago. Also two dead cats on the Oldham Road above Rishworth."

"Two cats? - You're having me on aren't you. I know its ruddy April Ist!"

"No honest. That's what's been rung in."

"OK. I'll get on it."

Pye Nest Rise and there's no sign of any fish. Someone's having us on. I ring back and report my failure to find it. Half an hour later at Rishworth, I'm having similar problems with the cathunt…. But no…. round the corner is a flat mat of black fur on the tarmac, with a bit of intestine trailing from it. It seems to have contracted a bad dose of Large Articulated Vehicle Syndrome. Its sinus problems appear to have been cured permanently! Then, amazingly, a mere six feet away a second pneumatically challenged mat of fur - ginger this time. They must have both been nobbled by the same vehicle! I need the shovel to scrape them up!

Beyond Ripponden the moors. The rain has stopped and the sun is peeping out. Lapwings are soaring above the high intakes and dumped tyres line the roadside. By the side of the road is a wooden cross bedecked with flowers on a moorland knoll, marking, I guess, the scene of a fatal accident. Two years ago a fire consumed the whole moor, but it went round the little cross, leaving it unscathed. The same has happened this week. The moor has been consumed again, but there is the little cross, still standing in a tiny oasis of green in a blackened wasteland! Very strange! At Sowerby Village two of the bin covers have been nicked. They usually throw them down the adjacent field and I have to go retrieve them, but this time they're nowhere to be found! So I make out a defect report and then trudge round with my litter pick. Bev the Sub Postmaster and his wife Sheila give me a brew each morning. Sterling local folk, as are his helpers, Helena and Theresa. After my break I head back to my van. Sowerby now looks clean and everything is as it should be. As it should be? What about the missing….? I look across the road. My bin covers are all neatly in place! Very, very strange The phone goes again - (I have a personal ring tone - it's a song called 'Squashed Hedgehogs in the Road') What now?

"Sorry Jim. We've got another cat."

"Where this time?"

"Montague Street - just off Sowerby New Road."

"That's OK. I'm in Sowerby village. Be there in a tick."

"Cheers Jim."

Montague Street and there's no sign of a cat. I am just about to pick up the phone when I hear a voice.

"Excuse me! Are you looking for a cat?"

"Yes. Have you seen it?"

"Its ours. It got run over this morning, the kids are desolate."

A tearful little girl comes forward holding a shoe box. Inside, girded with daffodils is the cat - lying in state. A sudden, unpleasant thought crosses my mind. Tact is going to be called for. I take the lady aside.

"You do know what happens to dead animals when we pick them up? I wouldn't want you to be unduly upset?"

"Don't you take them to the crematorium?"

"Er… no. Not exactly. (an image appears in my mind of the Park Wood Crematorium with separate entrances marked 'Cats' 'Dogs' and 'Humans'.)

"You bury them then?"

"Well sort of. Look, we collect mangled animals from the side of the road and well… they go in with the rubbish and then down to the landfill. I will gladly take your cat, but that's the established procedure I'm afraid."

"You don't bury them up on the moors then?"

"No. But you could if you wanted. Then you would know where she was. Or you could a ring up a pet cemetery and have her properly cremated or buried… but that would cost you."

"I think we might do that."

"You're sure you don't want me to take her then?"

"Quite sure."

I trudge back to my van. A bit of black, bloodied fur peeks out from beneath the rubbish. Well at least she hasn't got a new doormat!

1.30 pm. Its raining again. I changed all my clothes at lunchtime, and now I'm soaked once more. I clear all the mess on Albert Road, gasping as I trudge up the half mile long incline, then head off into Halifax to get the town bags. Then it's the tip, the Depot and home! The phone rings. Oh no. Not again!

"Jim there's a dead deer by the Oldham Road near Rishworth School. Can you pick it up please?"

"A deer? You're sure its not a red bellied marmoset? Or even a salmon?"

"No need for sarcasm. I only pass onto you what people whisper in my ear."

"Trouble is they're often Chinese!"

"I know!"

Jim's not happy. I am in Halifax and the deer's in Rishworth. No-one takes into account that it will take me fifteen minutes to get out of Halifax through all the traffic lights, and then another fifteen to get through bottleneck Sowerby Bridge. Then I will have to come back through it all! At Rishworth it's raining horizontally again. And there's no sign of any deer. Another wild goose chase! (that's the next creature on the list no doubt!)

At the waste transfer station cars are queueing outside the gates. Neighbouring Bradford has apparently introduced a permit system on their waste sites so everyone's coming over to Halifax to tip! Not that there are any landfills in Halifax. All the rubbish is trucked out and buried somewhere in Greater Manchester! The last Calderdale Tip was filled some years ago. God knows where it'll be going ten years from now, Iraq probably! So at last I taxi back into 'Hangar 18'. In the canteen the lads are discussing the days events. Critical banter flies freely - most of it directed at the council. They reckon the chap who designed this new one way system drove into the depot this morning - through the wrong entrance! All the depot staff have been issued with walkie talkies. This is so they can be easily located. Sounds reasonable enough, but there is nowhere in the depot more than a minute away from the office. It would be easier to shout!

Someone keeps nicking Barry's work gloves. 'Tell them you've got Athletes Hand' I venture! Eammon and the dayworks gang have been flytip clearing on the moors. He found a large plastic pot with a name on it, and when he opened it he found it was someones' ashes! Consequently jokes about 'Little Ern' have been flying thick and fast. Apparently he took it to the police and they suggested he put it back where he'd found it. Pity! It would have made a good trophy for the annual interdepartmental cricket match.

So now at last I'm heading home. Been an odd sort of a day really. Strange, unfathomable and insane matters have dogged me everywhere I've been. When I get home my wife is standing at the door. She looks worried. I clamber out of the car.

"What's up love?"

"I tried to ring your boss. It seemed to be the right place to deal with it"

"Deal with what?"

"Its our Laura … I think she might have been abducted by aliens………!!

Jim Jarratt


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