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February 2004 - Cantankerous Corner?

It was part way through last month's missive that I was trying to remember the details of a television programme in which a gentleman was threatening to sing loudly and flat whenever forced to share any small area of the world with a mobile phone user.

Those wonderful people at the British Broadcasting Corporation were obviously reading my every word in their usual diligent fashion as, as if on my command, they gave the great television audience another chance to enjoy the programme in question within days of my publication date.

I still can't remember which of the participants it was who was threatening the off-key oratorio, but at least the name of the series has now returned to me. It was "Grumpy Old Men".

Now, I don't know if you've ever had the immense pleasure of engaging the aforementioned Broadcasting Corporation in a lengthy copyright battle through the courts, but suffice it to say that I've decided NOT to entitle my epic this month, "Grumpy Old Men", but, for safety's sake, to go with the phrase to be found at the head of this column instead.

The replacement title, it has to be said, was also indirectly suggested by another individual on the fringes of the television industry, who had the audacity to suggest that Mr Nick Harvey can, on the odd occasion, be just a little cantankerous.

Now, I know that at this very moment, all you regular devotees of this wonderful piece of periodic prose will be jumping up and down shouting "No, no, no" at the tops of your voices.

Well, thank you all for your support. I shall wear it always, as someone once said, in a joke first heard in the nineteen-fifties on the Light Programme.

There you are you see, Madam, even Nick Harvey can occasionally indulge in offering you all another chance to enjoy, or a quick repeat to put it in layman's parlance.

Ah, could this be the digression for this month I wonder? It probably is.

Talking of quick repeats, which we weren't really, but appear to be now, reminds me that in the little known Gilbert Islands, somewhere out in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, it's quite rude NOT to belch after being entertained to a meal.

That little known fact is from a book I had to read for "O" Level, back at about the time the "support" joke was first being aired.

Trouble is, the title of the book has gone in the same direction as the name of the bloke with the off-key oratorio. Down the proverbial plug-hole!

Which brings us, very loosely, full circle, to explaining the final title of this month's exciting epistle.

It is an unfortunate fact that the further we progress on life's journey, in the direction AWAY from "O" Levels and the first airing of ITMA, the more forgetful we tend to get.

And for some strange reason, probably connected with the frustration of not being able to remember the name of that balding chap who used to service the car for us in nineteen-sixty-one and had a red-headed wife who was an expert at opening coconuts, we do, just occasionally, become a tiny bit cantankerous.

Only a TINY bit, mind you.

I mean, anyone who was more that just a TINY bit cantankerous would make an artform out of it, wouldn't they? They'd probably start up a web site and have an area on it where they moaned on ad nauseum about some subject every month. That's the sort of thing a REALLY cantankerous person would do.

But, as all you regular devotees were shouting earlier, that's obviously not ME. I wouldn't do such a thing, now would I?

No, of course not. My raison d'etre is simply to improve the world. To make the occasional tiny suggestion to oil the wheels of life.

And, talking of oiling the wheels of life and improving the world, why the heck isn't my black recycling box about six times bloomin' bigger than it is?

You see, dear readers, that digression actually took place this month before the fingers even got anywhere near the keyboard.

There I was, all ready to write this epic entitled "How Green is my Recycling Box?", when this individual suggested I might be a victim of terminal cantankerousness.

Well, I HAD to defend myself, did I not?

But, having got all that out of the way, we can now move smoothly on to the main subject for in-depth analysis in this month's edition of Comment.

They've recently introduced something called "kerbside recycling" around our neck of the woods.

Well, it WOULD be kerbside, except they don't actually tell you on which side of the kerb to leave the box.

If you leave it on the road side of the kerb, you'll probably get yourself one of these new fixed penalty parking fines, plus a demand for an extra fiver to buy lunch for a crime victim, from one of our, newly extra-empowered, Traffic Wardens.

If you leave it on the pavement side of the kerb, Mrs Jones with the bad leg, who drives the motorised scooter thingy, won't be able to get past it and you'll end up in the European Court of Human Rights for interfering with the passage of the disabled.

So what do you do? You end up leaving it on your own property, just inside the gate, so nobody's inconvenienced, but the bloke from the recycling lorry doesn't see it and it only gets emptied every OTHER fortnight.

That's the basic problem, you see. Bins get emptied every Wednesday. Recycling boxes get emptied every OTHER Thursday, that's if they notice you've put it out.

And as for the box, well, I alluded to the problem earlier. It's not really all that big, you know.

One or two of you, who've been following this load of old nonsense for a year or five, will probably be aware that Nick Harvey has been known to consume the odd drop of alcoholic refreshment occasionally. The current tipple, as some of you might know, is mainly wine, of the red variety.

Now, red wine bottles are ideal recycling material, so ideal candidates to go in this black box, I thought.

So why is the black box about half an inch shorter than the average height of a red wine bottle? Put the bottles in the box and the lid won't latch on. Leave the box out without the lid latched and the lid blows into the street, gets run over by the next passing car, smashed into seventeen bits and is totally useless thereafter.

At least that saves us worrying about latching the lid ever again! AND, as plastic's on the list of things they DON'T want us to recycle, the old bits of broken lid can go in the bin and not the box!

Having moved on from the lid height problem, let's now address ourselves to the wine bottle quantity problem instead.

As I said, recycling occurs fortnightly. Wine drinking, however, tends to occur daily. The box has room for eight wine bottles, less if you're good people and recycle other things, like tins and paper, as well. The fortnight has room for fourteen wine bottles, more if we have lots of visitors, or either I or 'er indoors fancy a particularly inebriated evening.

Result, unhappiness, if you'll allow me a Dickensian moment!

You can't get a quart into a pint pot and neither can you get fourteen bottles into a space made for eight.

As it is, you give up. As the lid's not on the box anyway, you just pile all the stuff in, on and around the box and put it out, making sure to put all the old copies of The Spectator on TOP of the wine bottles, so at least the passing riff-raff get the impression that you're an intelligent alcoholic!

Having put all this pile of woe out first thing on the correct Thursday morning and in a suitable position as not to inconvenience Mr Warden or Mrs Jones, you return home at tea-time to find everybody else's box has been emptied and you've been missed AGAIN.

You move it all round the back once again and prepare to repeat the process two weeks later, but then with twice the amount of stuff.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that the week they DO collect they won't remember they missed you previously, so all the blokes are wandering off down the rest of the street talking to each other at the tops of their voices about "that lot up the end, who put twenty-eight wine bottles out".

Me? CANTANKEROUS? Never! Not even when I try to ring them up about where EXACTLY to leave the box, being missed, a new box lid or even a larger box. After all, it's one of those "0870" numbers, where BT give you exactly ZERO in discount and all you get is an hour and a half of bloomin' Greensleeves to listen to. Why should I get cantankerous?

Now, on the assumption that the rubbish pile hasn't reached typing finger height, I'll be back on St David's Day, March 1st, with a further episode of this marvellous monologue.

Until then, keep smiling, and the world won't be cantankerous with you. Right, I'm off, where's me 'appy pills?

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