Oct 1st - Bins and Gones
Fifteen years ago, when we arrived in the Cevennes, they didn’t have wheelie bins or a lorry in Moisson: black sacks of refuse piled up round the back of the church and every Saturday the Garde would heave it all into his pick-up, drive round the mountain to a convenient stopping place, and tosh the whole lot off the side of the hill.
Every now and then he used to set fire to the resulting mess but mainly it was disposed of by the rats. Except of course for tins, bottles, cans, bricks, plastic wrappers, containers and other reject detritus which used to tumble, ugly, blackened and stinking, down into the valley.
It was quite extraordinary, and seemed to us a potent and rather welcome symbol of just how far we’d retired from the modern world. Mobile phones wouldn’t work, you could only get two channels of television, the trannie only crackled into life in the attic, the drinking water was cloudy, gas came in bottles, most people’s heating involved logs, and rubbish was thrown to the rats. We were thrilled.
And nothing’s changed - we’re still thrilled and Moisson is still decades behind the times, but with one notable exception. We’ve got bins. Solid grey plastic ones with hinged lids and wheels. They were ceremonially delivered last spring and introduced via an official letter.
Our Maire loves these letters and writes them whenever he wants to make a point. For less important communications, he just puts up a poster; but when his undies get seriously twisted, the secretary has to type out a formal letter, print it 30 times and run round the village putting copies in everyone’s letterboxes.
So anyway, he wrote one about the arrival of the bins and how we were getting a grant from Brussels to pay for them, so please desist from leaving black bags round the back of the church and henceforth avail yourselves of the new bins.
The positioning of each one was a serious business involving many council meetings and arguments but they were finally installed to everyone’s satisfaction, dotted very fairly round the village so no-one had to walk too far to the nearest one.
The Garde constructed little concrete stages for them to stand on with sweet chain belts so they wouldn’t roll away down the hill in the wind. The Maire put up notices listing what should and shouldn’t be put in each bin, the ecology club put up even bigger notices about re-cycling and composting, and the kids gathered round to watch the pneumatic lift emptying the bins into the smart new lorry which ferried the contents down to the brand-new waste disposal and recycling centre.
We were even issued with green stickers for our car windscreens, identifying us as members of the “Commune of Communes” and therefore allowed to take our “encombrants” to the dump. There was general satisfaction all round, only slightly offset by that autumn’s local tax bill - which included sparkling new taxes to pay for all this sparkling new technology.
Over time however, the charges gradually increased and the bins lost their polish. Not only that, but in the nature of bins worldwide, they started to er... whiff. At first it was only in the summer, but as the layer of grime at the bottom of each bin thickened, the scent grew more agricultural until people started to avoid walking past them, and the village joker asked the Mairie for a packet of industrial face masks.
At which point the old pebbledash was stripped off the exterior walls of the church. The ancient re-exposed stonework was re-pointed, the roof was tarted up, the old benches removed, a posh notice-board affixed, and the bottle bank banished to the outskirts of the village. Which left the bins round the back of the church homeless - because it was generally agreed that they couldn’t stay where they were. Not with the church done up like a dog’s dinner and sporting a red and gold Septimanie flag, they couldn’t.
So the bins started house-hunting again, but this time no-one wanted them. First they went into the main square but that was no good because they obstructed the new floral arrangements. The smaller sandy square was off-limits because of the boules, the disused mines were too far from the village, there was no space beside the bottle bank, the bus shelter was full of sulky teens, there wasn’t any room behind the phone box, and no-one would let the bins nest outside their houses, so in the end they squatted the base of the Mairie steps where no-one could legally force them to move on.
Which was when the fuss really began. The sight of them, right in the middle of the village, stinking their heads off and cluttering up the entrance to the Mairie really got people going. One enterprising soul got up a petition, another wrote a series of anonymous letters to the authorities in Nimes, and such serious divisions began to emerge amongst the population that the Maire was obliged to deliver himself of a letter on the subject of tolerance and village harmony.
Which stopped the story. Until now. You see, the stench is reaching Olympic proportions. No only that but predictably enough, the bins are even filthier than before. Especially after a long dry summer. So not only are they an olfactory irritant - and believe me, they hum like a swarm of bees in a dishwasher - but they’re also an eyesore.
So I wasn’t surprised to receive yet another official letter in my letterbox. Monsieur le Maire has had enough. The bins will be removed. He has consulted other municipal authorities, thoroughly researched the subject on the internet (don’t even ask) and is not prepared to discuss the matter.
In line with modern thinking, all wheelie bins will be banned from the village as from next spring. The bins will relocate to a new purpose-built bin park beside the cemetery. By order of the Maire.
Oh Lawks! Can you hear that rumbling noise? Yes, outrage and scandal are brewing.
Watch this space...
Next column will be uploaded around 15th Oct.
This article is protected by all international copyright agreements, and reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author.