Brian Viner: 'Who knew that waste disposal could turn into a comedy of social niceties?'

Home And Away

On the train the other day I received a text message from Jane, saying she had just been to the tip in Bromyard. I didn't quite splutter my First Great Western tea over the elderly nun sitting opposite, but I did emit a small squeak of surprise, causing her to glance up from her well-thumbed copy of the New Testament. Because ever since Jane and I became born-again recyclers, the tip in Leominster, not Bromyard, has been our place of worship. Dumping our empty bottles in Bromyard seemed like heresy, and indeed Jane reported that she had felt slightly disloyal, yet proclaimed it no less fulfilling as an act of cleansing. She still got home with the Volvo boot empty.

She assured me, though, that she would not lightly stray again, and remains as committed as I am to the cathedral of waste disposal that is Leominster tip, which now even has a dedicated bin for unwanted "televisions and monitors". It must be at least a year since I last extolled its many virtues, yet north Herefordshire readers of this column still stop me from time to time and tell me conspiratorially that they love Leominster tip too.

Partly this is on account of the men who work there, jowly angels in fluorescent orange jackets who will sometimes help you unload your rubbish in a kind of reversal of the job done by bag-packers at Waitrose. A friend of ours, another Jane, told us recently that one of the orange angels has taken such a shine to her that he gives her things discarded by other people that he thinks she might like, with the unfortunate consequence that, being far too nice to risk hurting his feelings, she sometimes drives home with more stuff in the boot than she arrived with. A useless section of trellis fencing was his latest gift, but my Jane has now given her directions to Bromyard tip so that she can go straight there and jettison the things she has just been given in Leominster. Who'd have thought that household waste disposal could turn into such a comedy of social niceties? Yet another Jane, Austen, could have written a novel about it. Fence and Fencibility.

Anyway, we told Jane and her husband, Frank, about our own comical shenanigans at the tip a year or so ago. I was dumping some stuff when I saw a shovel lying by the scrap-metal bin, evidently intended for anyone who wanted it. I chucked it in the boot and put it to good use in the cellar to shovel coal, for which it was the perfect size and shape, and it was much admired by my father-in-law when he came to stay. At the tip about a month later, Jane noticed a similar shovel, also apparently abandoned. She went to put it in the Volvo, thinking that her dad would like it, when a stentorian, orange-jacketed "Oi!" rent the air. "That belongs here," he bellowed. "We've only just got it, too. Some bugger nicked the last one!"

The comedy value of that encounter was heightened by the man's broad north Herefordshire accent. It is a wonderful, sing-song hybrid of Welsh, Brummie and West Country, which lends itself perfectly to the kind of dry humour best savoured in the greengrocer's in Leominster, run by two men whose banter evokes the golden age of Morecambe and Wise. Jane was in there once when one of them complained of a sore foot. "Oh yeah? Drop your wallet on it, did you?" said the other. On Tuesday she was in there again, remarking on the abrupt closure of the delicatessen round the corner. "It's a shame," she said, "because there were things they sold in there that you couldn't get anywhere else in Leominster." The older of the two men raised an eyebrow, slowly. "That's right," he said. "There's nowhere in Leominster now where you can buy a bag of sugar for £1.20."

My passport is up for renewal in September but I am going to the United States soon and they don't let you in on a passport within six months of expiring, I'm told. So this week I started the renewal process and had some photographs taken, taking to heart the strict instructions not to smile. The alarming result is a murderous stare, likely to get me into the US only on the understanding that I am sent directly to Death Row.