Summer may be peak season at the dump, but there is no really quiet time. Even in the bleak days after New Year, the mound bristles with moribund Christmas trees, like a mini-version of the Tunguska blast of 1908. An acrid whiff, compounded of ashes and decaying vegetable matter, hangs over the heap. Having at last reached the front of the queue, you are directed to a parking spot, where you can gingerly step out - it is rarely dry underfoot and you are likely to be accompanied by a particle of this noisome slurry on the way home - and perform the distinctive and oddly satisfying action which is reserved solely for throwing away objects of no further value.
As with the contents of supermarket baskets, one is inclined to take a nosy interest in the disgorgements of others. Were it not for the likelihood of disapproval back at Weasel Villas, I could have accumulated a quilted cocktail bar last Sunday. My own contribution to the pile was rapidly assayed by one of the professional rag-pickers employed by the contracting company which runs the dump. Wondering off with our rusty sun-lounger and an ancient paraffin lamp, he resembled a latterday Florence Nightingale, albeit with a London crop and a luminous safety jacket. "We've had parachutes, a hang-glider, a speed-boat. You name it - it's ended up here," one of these prospectors informed me. "Ever 'eard of Bang & Olufsen? Last month, someone dumped one of their music- centres. I sold it for pounds 150, then saw the same thing in a shop for two- an'-a-'alf grand. Before that, some geezer drove in with a car packed with rubbish. `Unload it for me and the car's yours,' he says. It was a Datsun in perfect running order. Went for 'undred-an'-fifty."
Niggardly in many respects, Bromley Council is unexpectedly liberal in the provision of refuse tips. "Very generous of you," crows a pal of mine from a neighbouring borough, who regularly makes use of this facility. I once saw a van delivering several rows of cinema seats to the dump. If this was domestic rubbish, it was from a very unusual sort of house. Still, I know the anguish of not being able to junk an unwanted item. Maybe 20 years ago, I recall cruising round the streets of south London with a pal while trying to ditch a vast old cooker. Every time we lugged it out of his van, like the protagonists of the early Polanski film, Two Men and a Wardrobe, someone would bellow, "Oi, wotcha think yer doing?" Eventually, we found a site where there wasn't some jobsworth coming out to protest. It was our own front garden.
Whenever I see a sign saying "Roman Villa", a kitsch vision worthy of the brush of Alma-Tadema inevitably rises in my mind. Beneath a pantiled roof supported by Ionic columns, I envisage a shimmering pool, risque mosaics and a fountain spouting Chianti. A light collation of stuffed dormice and milk-fed snails is arranged on a golden platter. Maidens are chucking rose petals about, and there is possibly a spot of discreet orgying going on somewhere. Unfortunately, the reality inevitably turns out to be a 2nd-century building site, which would be more accurately signed "Roman Foundations". Though this is more or less true of Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent, which I visited the other day, at least some impressive mosaics have survived - and, yet, they are risque, if in an unexpected way. It is easy to imagine the mixed reaction of the archaeological team which uncovered the site in 1949. Though they discovered one of the largest mosaics in Britain, sadly, the Roman designer had chosen to incorporate several prominent swastikas in his pattern. In the recorded tour of Lullingstone, a regretful note enters the voice of the narrator as he explains that "the symbol had none of its modern associations".
The present-day mosaic-maker can be equally misunderstood, as I learned from a friend who recently completed a large work which now cheers up a pedestrian underpass in Oxted, Surrey. After being given a warm welcome while doing similar intricate work in the most severely deprived parts of Birmingham and South Wales, he claims never to have met such open hostility as from the well-heeled burghers of commuterville. "It's a chamber of horrors, a veritable chamber of horrors," spat a grande dame. "All these bright colours. Disgraceful! How much will it cost?" groused one old buffer. But the worst reaction came from a pair of youths who attempted to relieve themselves over the art-work while it was still being constructed. "Hang on, I haven't finished yet," one said, as my pal hauled him off. I bet the Lullingstone mosaic artist didn't have that problem 2,000 years ago.
I don't know why everyone was so surprised that the 7.03am from Bristol to Cardiff arrived over two hours late because the driver took a slight detour. ("The scenery was very pretty," remarked one passenger.) Surely the whole point of privatising the railways was to introduce a certain degree of liberty into the system. I bet I'm not the only one who was reminded of the scene in Three Men in a Boat where a Waterloo engine driver is persuaded to be the 11.05am to Kingston-on-Thames rather than the Exeter mail: "Nobody will ever know on this line," we said, "what you are or where you're going." "Well, I don't know, gents," replied the noble fellow, "but I suppose some train's got to go to Kingston. Gimme the half-crown." It's an approach worth bearing in mind to ensure a successful journey on Britain's fragmented rail service, but I think you'll need more than half-a-crown (1212p) as an inducement.
I don't suppose that it is as a result of the Weasel's critical observations about the Loyd Grossman sauce range - in particular, the lack of capers in his less-than-authentic version of the classic Puttanesca sauce - that the lead role in a new radio advert for his pricey sugo has been given to a ferret. The thrust of this brilliant piece of advertising creativity is that the creature is so busy being thrust down a Yorkshireman's trousers that it doesn't have time to cook. At the end, Loyd himself pops up and announces in that much-parodied, Bostonian drawl: "Loyd Grossman pasta sauces. I made them so you don't have to." But, of course, he doesn't. They are actually manufactured by Chivers Hartley of Cambridge. The food conglomerate is pumping pounds 500,000 into the promotion of the brand "to support its growing market share". You'd think with that kind of money sloshing around, they could afford to sling a few capers into the Puttanesca. Unless you happen to find yourself stuffed down a Yorkshireman's trousers, your best bet is to simply make your own pasta sauce. A bottle of Delicias capers costs pounds 1.25. A bottle of Loyd Grossman sauce costs pounds 1.49Reuse content