Skip Diving Made Easy
Pop is a serial skip-diver, a 'dumpster diver', as the Americans would say. He has big dreams, but one little find turns out to be one BIG nightmare...
Pop was a professional. He withdrew his upper body from the rusting hulk of the skip and waved the empty cardboard box at the irate security guard.
He always addressed security guards as ‘Sir’, said it calmed them down immediately – and it worked.
“It’s my mate, you see. He’s just been kicked out by the missus and has got to pack up his stuff pronto. So you see – boxes.”
The security guard adjusted his bulk and placed his thumbs into the top of his black body-warmer – a la police.
“Right. You should of said mate, and next time pop in to the office,” he motioned to a small hut on the other side of the car park, “and get a permission slip, awright?”
Pop was at his obsequious best. “Yeah, yeah, of course sir; no probs.”
I always cringed a bit when Pop did that – it wasn’t like we were thieves or anything.
The guard wallowed back to his little warm pit as we made a show of collecting up all the cardboard in the vicinity and carried it back to the car and tried to place it with care in the boot and on the back seats. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the broad stomach and one eye of the guard as he pretended to be a curtain in his hut. Pop didn’t say anything as we casually climbed into the Rover, turned and drove out onto the street.
As soon as we were one street away, Pop gave me a succinct summary of how it had gone.
“Bollocks”, he said quietly. Pop never raised his voice.
Some people obtain their livelihood by working for others. Some create works of literature or art. Pop made his living out of other peoples’ trash and he was really good at it.
You probably have a mental picture of me – dirty, unkempt, and slightly greasy and with a torn hood. Pop too, I imagine, plus unshaven and likely sporting a bottle-shaped paper bag. This could not be further from the truth. Although the clothes I wore were indeed ‘work’ clothes, they were damn good work clothes. Double stitched cargo trousers, nearly new sneakers and a warm, robust top. Pop, recently shaved, wore his best black cargos topped with a rugged, light grey top. And this was important.
“You don’t want to stand out by wearing something too bright but at the same time you don’t want all black – it’s suspicious and has ‘burglar’ written all over it. I looked over Pop’s top. It didn’t have anything written on it. “And that’s another thing,” he said, “you don’t want to be too identifiable either, ‘cos people see the design or the logo and remember you. It’s one way of getting a reputation.”
Yes, I thought as we headed through the darkening street towards home. It was bad enough that my life outside of school, my entire world, consisted of climbing into large trash containers, filling bags with what we found, and taking in home. I didn’t need to advertise the fact.
Which was why the TV crew had come as bit of a surprise...
“Look, son,” Pop had said to my incredulous and loud protestations, “we need to legitimise what we do here so that people know that its’ not wrong. He slapped his fingers into the palm of his hand.
“One, it’s recycling – we reduce waste and re-use it. Two, it’s not technically illegal and three,” he said slightly louder to ameliorate my observations to this, “they are paying us a lot of money and we can eat like a king - I mean Kings, “he corrected.
I wondered if my title stretched to the top of the royal heap since I was socially subordinate. ‘Prince’, maybe or a prince in waiting to the royal succession of skip-divers; for that is what we were and what we had been for as long as I could remember.
My first memory, my first memory was of falling. Now I know we all have those semi-waking starts in the moments before repose hits us and we come to in safe knowledge that the black cliff that was trying to claim us is imagined but mine was actually real. I was falling. Headfirst. Into a black pit. And at the bottom of the pit was something dark and sludgy and cold. It could have been worse, Pop giggled as, years later, he recounted the Great falling into the Skip story for the umpteenth time. It could have been something dangerous he fell onto, he would say, but it was just manure – Can you believe that?
His listener nodded, smiled gravely and gently pushed his whisky glass across the (reclaimed) table in our kitchen. In the wings I rushed to action the unspoken request and refilled the glass to three quarters full.
If Pop, real name John, was King of the Dunghill Skippers, as we were affectionately known in the ‘circle’, then Hogwith Plessent 3rd was his Vice Chancellor or even his Praeceptor Legum. Dignified in voice, ruddy and huge-boned he sniffed his drink with the nose of a connoisseur, warmed it expertly in one massive hand and downed half of it. Hogwith sprawled unintentionally. His girth meant that in any given situation he kind of overflowed, as now upon the squeaking and groaning chair. Even when he spoke it was with a big voice. Not loud, but rumbling like an approaching avalanche of rock.
“Very funny, John,” he chortled. The glass before him trembled slightly. “But I wish to know more of this TV person you have mentioned…”
“Crew,” corrected Pop. “It’s a proper film company with a camera and everything and one of those hairy things they use as a mic.”
“Boom”, boomed Hogwith.
“I think it will be really good for us, you know. Bring the Job into the 21st century, kicking and screaming as it were.”
Hogwith 3rd, downed the remnants of his drink and pushed it gently across the table once more whilst Pop, after looking around to make sure I was leaping forth with the bottle, sat diminutive and submissive a little to the side. It was like watching a tiger toy with its’ prey.
Once more the lifting of the glass to the nose. The inhalation of its’ peaty bouquet. The downing. This time nearly all of it.
For a moment Hogwith was so completely still and silent that I feared his heart might have imploded. Then a great gale, an exhalation of breath that carried its fumes even as far as me.
“So be it,” he rumbled.
Mr Plessent was our indeed our unspoken leader, if you could call it that. No one in the Circle did anything without first consulting the great man. It was just what everyone who was anyone in the Circle had ever done. No-one knew exactly what would happen if they didn’t, although there were stories; pretty unbelievable stories.
All in all, it was felt by every man, and woman – the circle was not misogynistic – that the certainty of the Praeceptor was better than the uncertainty of crossing him.
Then there was the Gift; the tribute to which we all adhered. Not a payment as such but more of an offering.
Pop scurried forward with a small white sack as Hogwith rose, a little unsteadily, and placed it with care into his bear-like embrace. The big man inclined his head in acknowledgement, slung the package over one shoulder and left, bowing his enormous head to clear the doorway. I watched him walk with calm measured steps along the pavement as lesser folk parted before him and was reminded of a certain jolly fat man in a red cape – except the other one usually brought the presents.
©Nick MacIneskar 2020
End of Part One
In part two, Pop entertains a film crew and discovers the wonders of TV magic...