The Agitator

This is a re-write of a column I wrote many years ago. I re-wrote it, because it’s been getting to me again, the discard society.

Here, and above, some of the construction debris cluttering Binalup (Ellen Cove) which, inevitably, finds its way onto the wider beach and the ocean. One of the last things the ocean needs is more bloody plastic.

Waste not want not, said my grandmother, as she forced me to eat my cabbage on threat of “no pudding”.

Maybe she started it, this obsession with waste. I can’t abide it, brook it, digest it, bear it, hack it, lump it, stomach it, take it, or tolerate it.

When I go to the beach, I walk with one eye on the surf and the other on the lookout for human waste.

Not the sort of waste you’re thinking of, although sometimes you see that too, but the sort of unnecessary waste that people drop as they go because they don’t care, or because they imagine someone is following to pick up their droppings.

The worst are construction workers and right now there’s a mob of them down at Binalup (Middleton) and their debris clutters the beach.

It gets to me. I have sought therapy, engaged in therapy, therapy has failed.

At our house the rubbish bin is barely full while the recycle bin overflows. And there’s more: we shower and wash our hands with a bucket; all our kitchen waste is buried in a compost heap; and last night’s left-overs are tonight’s bubble and squeak.

Yes, it’s not just waste, I’m also an obsessive recycler.

I refuse, for example, to use toilet paper that has not been used before, clothes that haven’t been worn, air that hasn’t been breathed, water that hasn’t been passed.

And, what’s more, all the words in this column have been used before, except this one, psoptimep, because I just made it up.

Hildegard (not her real name), my life’s partner, thinks I go too far.

If I go away from home for more than a day, when I get back the first thing I do is go through the rubbish bins.

It’s not because I’m hungry, or because I once spent a year on the streets of Johannesburg living from can to can, or because of the habit I picked up when working the side of a Melville City Council Rubbish truck in the days when the crew made more money out of the pickings than the pay packet.

No, it’s because Hildegard inevitably puts things that can be used again in the bin for things that can only ever be used again as anthropological evidence of a previous way of life. If, in that long time off time, they can be bothered sorting through the heap of crap we, from this time, left behind.

When we go out and the subject comes up, which inevitably it does, Hildy (not her real nickname) always manages to arrange for people to laugh hilariously at my expense.

I take it on the chin. Sometimes it gets violent and I’m forced to take it on the rest of the body.

Once, while hanging out with a group of psychologists at an evening seminar, the guest American presenter, Frank Farrelly, asked for a volunteer to experience his revolutionary form of “Humour Shock Therapy”.

My hand went up before I could pull it down.

We sat, side by side, in front of the 40 psychs, as he humiliated me within an inch of my psyche.

He used recycled jokes, insults, put downs, every old trick in the book in an attempt to make me see that obsessive recycling was the manifestation of an irrational desire to live forever.

I got the session on tape, played it a couple of times, then taped over it, because I only have the one tape.

I’m not alone. It’s a long family tradition, this recycling madness. It all started with my grandfather, Roy.

When he died he left me his kangaroo-pouch underpants, six pieces of string, a pair of leather shoes and a radio that only worked upside down.

Roy once saved a piece of string for 25 years, kept it in a cupboard at the back of the house until, finally, wove it into a wheelbarrow and pushed 14 kilos of potatoes from Bridgetown to Armadale for a weekend market.

All right, maybe that’s pushing it, but he did have great difficulty discarding: food, old clothes, old machines and bits of string.

And, every so often, some naive goose would ask that ageless question: how long is a piece of string?

Roy would calmly lead them to the back of the house, open the cupboard, retrieve the string and show them.

He wasted nothing.

And neither should you. If you print this out, make sure you place it in your recycling bin. If you don’t have one, use it in the kitty litter, or put in under the lino in the kitchen.

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