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Not Good, Not Bad, Just Different Barrie's Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Not Good, Not Bad, Just Different

I was enjoying time spent in a UK supermarket once again. In Waitrose, particularly, I was tempted with all manner of fresh produce and, best of all, prepared ready meals. Initially living on my own in the new property before David could join me, I was so busy throughout those very long days cleaning, painting and repairing that I had little time to prepare meals.

In any case, all I had available was a kettle, electric toaster and a microwave oven; even the gas cooker that I had retained from the house clearance had died. I would escape the daily chaos by walking the short distance to Waitrose where I could browse for a ready meal and then enjoy a coffee and cake in the café before returning ‘home’ to the chaos that was waiting for me.

For several weeks, it was a welcome escape that I valued. There was even a free supply of coffee for those that purchased one of their special mugs!

I also liked my local Waitrose store, since they seemed to have a very good policy that supported the local community. One example of this was the large collection of recycling skips located in their car park. This was very useful for me, since at the beginning of my relocation to the town, I did not have the necessary range of coloured boxes and bins that indicated that one was accepted as a ‘true resident’.

There were black bins, green bins, blue containers for food waste, blue bags for newspapers and magazines, green boxes and black boxes. I really did not understand what these were for, how to use them and when they were emptied. I decided to have a chat with a friendly neighbour, who was very helpful, sat me down with a coffee, and explained which box was used for what, and when they were due to be emptied; it was all very confusing.

In Gran Canaria, we did not have local refuse collections. There was a large hopper close to the seafront where we would take our rubbish each day, and there were others scattered around the village, each close to a local community of properties.

Each hopper was also an electric crusher which, in theory, would be activated once or twice a day that would allow more rubbish to be comfortably stored until it was emptied by a large collection vehicle. The system generally worked very well until the usual collection of saints’ days, holidays and staff illness punctuated the usual routine. Then the huge hopper would then sit, not activated, for several days, giving off disgusting smells and providing a breeding ground for flies, locusts and welcome treats for rats, as well as stray dogs and cats.

One afternoon, when I called in the store to buy my evening meal, I stopped at the café and found one of the usually cheerful members of staff in tears. I had spoken to Sarah several times before; she was a local woman and had been very helpful in giving me advice about where I could buy this or that, and asked her what the matter was.

She told me that they had just heard that Waitrose was closing the store. I was shocked to hear this and sympathised with Sarah. I knew that the John Lewis Partnership usually had an impressive record of looking after their staff, or ‘partners’ as they are called, and asked Sarah if she had been offered a job at one of their other stores, which were not too far away.

“That’s the problem,” she sobbed, “they are closing the other local stores as well; there’s nothing left in this area for us.”

Indeed, they did close the supermarket, as well as most of the other branches in the area. It happened very quickly and was a distressing time for the staff who had given loyalty and service and, in some cases, for many years.

I missed my short walk to buy my meal and the friendly chat and helpful advice from the staff. I also missed the large recycling hoppers that suddenly disappeared with no mention of where they would be resituated. I hadn’t quite realised at the time, but this was going to be an issue for me.

During my first weeks in our new home, I had no means of transport and therefore ordered all the necessary items online from Amazon and other online companies. As most readers will be aware, products ordered in this way are accompanied by huge amounts of packaging. I had ordered furniture, paint, step ladders, shelves, timber amongst many other large items that came, usually well wrapped, in large boxes.

Very soon, our large garage was nearly full of folded cartons that had to be disposed of. One day I called the local council for assistance and was put through to a less than helpful member of staff. I asked if someone could visit to collect the cardboard boxes, as well as the faulty gas cooker.

“No, we don’t do that. You will have to take the boxes to your local recycling point.”

I asked where such a point was and was told that it was in the Waitrose car park. I mentioned that they had been taken away following the closure of the store.

“You’ll just have to take them to another recycling point then, won’t you?” came the curt reply.

I pointed out that I had no transport.

“Fold them up, stand on them if you have to, and put them in the recycling box.” She sighed.

With my patience wearing thin, I repeated that I had a garage full of boxes, and they would not fit into one small recycling box, however much I stamped on them.

“Spread it over a few weeks then. By the way, we can take your gas cooker.”

Good news at last. I asked when it could be collected?

“You must give us at least four weeks’ notice, and it will cost forty pounds. Just leave it outside your door, but you’ll have to buy a permit first.”

With that, I politely declined the offer, looked in the local paper and discovered a very helpful man called Vince. Vince arrived the following day with George, and both men cheerfully emptied the garage, cleared away unwanted rocks, bricks and all manner of rubbish from the garden, together with the gas cooker, all for forty pounds.

I had been warned by a neighbour to make sure that I asked to see a recycling licence from anyone collecting rubbish from our property, since fly tipping was a problem in the area. With the unhelpful attitude of the local council that I had experienced, I could now fully understand why fly tipping was a serious and growing problem.

In Gran Canaria, recycling was never an issue. As well as the main rubbish hoppers, there were also recycling bins for clothing, shoes, cardboard, plastic etc, which worked well. In addition, charity shops were always willing to accept items offered to them, and most would cheerfully collect larger items.

The town council would often surprisingly quickly collect large, unwanted, broken items such cookers, fridges and beds. Some of these items would be repaired for use, even on a temporary basis, by homeless people and the many asylum seekers that were now arriving in Spain from the Western Sahara.

Looking back, their policy was both responsible and sensible; fly tipping was never an issue as it is in Devon. The lady clerk in the Devon council office could learn a great deal from her colleagues working on a small island in the Atlantic.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

This article is part of the book 'Travelling Hopefully' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here