It was Friday night and the streets were littered with drunks. The town was alive with the sounds of party-goers, all liquored up and ready to take on the world. I felt the city shake beneath me as my rickety bike trundled over Edinburgh’s cobblestones, past the scantily clad clubbers and past Friday night’s freaks.
There were three of us and even in the presence of all the various grotesque characters that lingered on street corners, we perhaps made the strangest trio of them all; two 19-year-old girls and an eccentric 47-year-old tree-hugging hippie, all out for the weekly shop.
Nessa and I followed Simon’s lead. He possessed all the rowdiness of his inebriated onlookers and yet not a drop of alcohol had been consumed. I chuckled to myself as intoxicated youths gazed on in bemusement as he graced the streets with an acapella medley of 80s chart hits, his lanky limbs flailing wildly in the air as he sang.
Nessa looked serene with the wind on her curious face, riding her bike, no hands. With auburn hair and dressed in a skirt of embroidered floaty fabrics, she looked like an elven princess who had wandered from the forest and found herself in the midst of a booze-induced chaos. And then there was me, gripping the handle bars, wondering why, on a Friday night, I was headed somewhere so strange. For we weren’t looking to get wasted, we sought to get inside the waste, delve through the debris and dig deep in search of treasure. We were out for a night in Edinburgh’s bins.
“Let’s see what Binderella has in store for us tonight.”
The first bin was a trove of peculiar things. Our bikes safely locked up, Nessa lifted the lid to reveal an assortment of discarded charity shop donations. Without a second’s hesitation she clambered inside and began throwing her findings at me… a pair of boots, a “wine journal”, Polish computer games for children… Cars drove by and slowed down as their drivers marvelled at such an unusual sight, or maybe it was because she looked so pristine, even when standing in a bin.
In the light of the street lamp Simon didn’t look quite human, more like some kind of friendly arachnid. He moved quickly and stealthily as his long thin arms were engulfed by the pile of refuse, his eyes glowing like big black spheres, obscured in the half light.
Having not yet lost my inhibitions, I held back. As a first timer I wasn’t quite ready to lose myself in the bins and so I stood on the dimly lit pavement and watched with an odd admiration as my friends unashamedly delved through trash. After a time I began to gather their findings and desperately tried to make sense of it all.
It seemed intriguing to me that so many donations had been deemed nothing more than useless junk and I began to carefully study each one, attempting to identify its own unique fault. A small crack or chip here and there rendered any crockery worthless, the cover of my new wine journal was ever so slightly faded, but the discarded clothing was a mystery. Nessa left that night sporting a new pair of lace-up boots while Simon took home a pair of khaki trousers, almost identical to the ones he was already wearing. I wondered if all his clothes came from bins.
Around us, the wails of the party-goers could still be heard but we were in the eye of the hurricane; the bins were an oasis of calm in a sea of raucous drunks and after a time we formed something of a bin community. We had company – Friday night’s misfits – and we sat together with our new friends on tiny plastic chairs around a battered old table, drinking imaginary tea out of chipped china tea cups.
Drunk, restless and rejected from the Friday night party the whole of Edinburgh but us seemed to be attending, Russell was introverted but his curiosity led him to us and to the bins. Peter on the other hand was a regular. Homeless and in need of clothing, he had in fact already scoured this particular bin for treasures that night. And so there we sat, each of us so different from one another but equal at our own private tea party and it became clear to me that we were the same in the most simplest of ways. As we parted ways Peter turned to us and waved.
“See you at the bins!” he called.
It was time for us to move on. Having salvaged many things, some more useful than others, we got back on our bikes and cycled through drunk Edinburgh once more. After a time we came to Morningside, one of the more peaceful areas on a Friday night.
Simon is the only person I know whose food shopping must be done under cover of darkness. As I waited in the shadows, he and Nessa raided the Waitrose bins and above me the sky turned from black to blue. They worked quickly, but they were no match for Scotland’s short summer nights; day was breaking and it was time to go.
The pair emerged with bundles of goodies and they scattered their findings before me and proclaimed their success. Bags of fruit and veg, canned and various other goods lay everywhere. Surrounded by green leaves, Nessa sat on the pavement and laughed until her sides were sore. Any doubts I had were extinguished – the bins did provide. After all, for Simon, this was a way of life and they were yet to fail him. Another Friday, another weekly shop done. We returned to the chaos of the town.
In the Meadows we watched the sun come up and accosted drunk people on their journey home. Two youngsters appeared to be embracing a tree.
“Fucking hippies”. When our eyelids became too heavy we got back on our bicycles, each of us with a load we did not have before, and cycled through the remnants of Friday night to our separate homes and to bed. As I mounted my bike I glanced behind me and saw the silhouette of Simon soaring down the road, no hands, singing and screaming at the top of his voice. He seemed like a total nutcase, but he was free.