They all stared at us accusingly as we drove into the dump.I mean the garden ornaments, of course. Faded in the sun and worn by years of exposure, they'd been lined up along the route to the main parking area. I saw any number of owls, gnomes, Rupert The Bears, deer, pigs, badgers, blue tits, lucky wishing wells, Terracotta Soldiers and licensed properties, all watching us like angry exes at a really awkward school disco.
They'd been arranged there with care by the workers at the dump, or rather, the recycling hub. This was the new name for the place, and it was no longer just somewhere where you went to ditch your crap. It had to be carefully sorted and placed into one of 13 very long, very deep skips - one for plasterboard, one for paper and cardboard, one for plastic, one for electrics and electronics, and broken washing machines...
Needless to say, we had not gotten this memo and turned up instead with loads of ragged black bags full of junk and clutter from our cupboard (and our in-law's busted-ass vacuum cleaner). This is what happens when you come from Dagenham - there you dump it and drive off. In Southampton, they sort of want to recycle all this.
I made my apologies and tried to focus on chucking away old magazines and cardboard into the right skip. My in-law, meanwhile, just gave up straight away and gave the staff lots of black bags for them to sort through, having been overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all.
I felt a pang of sadness as I ditched our old £29 microwave. It had served us well for nigh-on 7 years, and we only finally - reluctantly - set it aside when its rotator motor failed and the insides rusted to the point that we had started to get bits of black debris in our scrambled eggs.
At home, before I set off, I shoved in some old flowers into the microwave, making use of the extra space this would free up. My SO gasped and realised that I had - by accident or design - just added a floral tribute to the funeral of our trusty microwave. It was rather poignant. At the dump, I rested the microwave gently on an old office chair next to the electronics skip, as the council worker said he'd deal with it from that point on. I turned and left, feeling a little bereft.
The irony of it all was, of course, where the dump is. Next to the docks, you can see the vast, horrific, magnificent sight of barges playing host to vast mountains of trash and junk. And right next to the dump itself, you can see the still-amazing sight of vast cranes lifting and lowering containers into neat towering rows, all piloted by one tiny little man on top of the long, vast spider-like thing that does the work of hundreds of old school dockers.
Here is where all our manufactured crap arrives, and here is where it ends up once we tire of it. Most of what's in these containers will end up in the dump or in places like it. Consumerism is many things, but in the end, it is about desire, and that can be surprisingly disposable when we move on to other things and other infatuations.
I tried to crack a topical joke as I ditched my in-law's vacuum cleaner by the electronics skip. "Knackered, I'm afraid..." I said to the rather bored looking council workers. "More life in a Christmas turkey!" They didn't laugh. As my in-law finished handing over ragged bags of junk to the poor souls in the general waste section, I slipped a fiver into their Christmas box by way of nervous apology.
Over my shoulder, I saw a shed where they seemed to stash the few things of value they’d managed to salvage. I saw a beautiful dolls house, cleaned up and neatly place on a shelf in the shed. I felt a little relief. Seeing a dolly house in a skip would have been heart breaking.
And why be sorry for feeling sentimental? It makes a change from just throwing things away a few days before the Great Consumerist Binge that is Christmas. I wondered about the men and women – Chinese, of course – who made our microwave at the other end of the World and the great consumerist life cycle.
Did they know their microwave would last so long? Did they ever wonder about the long journey it had on its container ship? Did they ever imagine who might end up owning their handiwork? And could they imagine it all ending up in a council skip one drab Wednesday afternoon in December?
That microwave was the only connection I had with those people. What were they like? Did they have pride in their work? What were their dreams? What consumer goods did they save up their Yuan for? I’d never know, and that seemed desperately sad.
We got in the car and drove off, the garden ornaments staring at us as we left. In our wake, the council workers sighed and picked up all the junk that had fallen out of our bags.