The Christmas and New Year period bring many reminders of waste and consumption, so it’s a particularly productive time of year for Waste Stories.
For example, I now have enough pictures of Christmas trees abandoned on kerbs and paths to constitute a series (rather like our series of pictures of inappropriately disposed of dog-poo bags). This is a series that started during the bin collection strikes back in the autumn, or perhaps even earlier when we visited Binn Farm at the start of the year, when hundreds of single-use trees were perfuming the compost.
My foiletti collection has also expanded considerably over the last couple of weeks and now includes special seasonal variations such as tiny Christmas trees and candy canes. Although they’re really tiny foil representations of walking sticks, just as candy canes are sugary representations of walking sticks. I’m not sure about the symbolism but I am sure these things are destined for our drains and thus ultimately our rivers and seas.
And of course we can’t forget presents, packaging and food. This year’s food waste stories have been a little different to last year’s – something I’ll write more about later. But I wanted to start with a story that is more focused on renewal and change, reclamation and potential. This story grew from debris by a bench overlooking the King’s Knot, below the Ladies’ Rock. We were following our usual circuit – the circuit we had taken Bruno along in the spring and that led to The Patient Bride – the same circuit we had also been coming to the end of when we found the seeds from which Flower Food grew. It was New Year’s Day, and I found Waste Stories treasure.
New Year’s Eve
Edwin De Montfort leaned against the railing, looking out into the darkness above the carse. Tears mingled with the rain on his cheeks. A strange brew of emotions swirled and bubbled in his breast: grief, happiness, hope, fear. And, beneath all of these, determination.
He fished in the lefthand pocket of his long grey coat and drew out the picture. She had painted it on this very spot, so many years ago. Her gift to him: an attempt to capture the sunsets they watched together, the ethereal glows rendered inaccurately in gaudy acrylic. He had loved it, just as he had loved her.
As the first bell rang, Edwin tore the picture in two – then again – and again. As he threw the pieces out over the railing, he cried out: ‘Goodbye, my darling.’ But his voice cracked and was lost in the din of Hogmanay fireworks. Pink, green and white-gold lights burst and flowered around him. On the twelfth stroke of the bells. he cast into the darkness the two rings that he had been clutching in his right hand. Smiling, he turned and walked away without a single backward glance.
The build-up to the decision had been slow, but when it came at last, it was made in an instant. For months, Edwin had been aware that something important had changed in his life. Ever since the eve of the anniversary of their wedding, he had felt … different. He was sure, now, that he had been right to come back to Stirling.
After years of avoiding the town – in fact, of staying away from the whole region – some unknown instinct had caused him to return the year before, just for a visit. Wandering up barn Road, he’d seent he For Sale sign outside his childhood home. He had known immediately that he would return for good; there was an inevitable symmetry about it, that he should be living once again in this place, on the 30th anniversary of his wedding day. That he should, once again, live next door to the house she had grown up in. Of course, her family were long gone. Initially, they had waited, as he had, hoping first that she would come home, then that she might at least be found. They had waited longer than he had, keeping her room exactly as it had always been, ready for her, even as he had fled to the anonymity of a southern town. Now, though, the house was home to Claire and her boy Cameron.
The English town had offered Edwin anonymity but never peace. His love, and so his incomprehension, had not diminished over the years. He felt himself to be under some kind of spell – cursed to wait; doomed to endure.
Then last year, the small, family-run grocery store where he had worked for 27 years had finally succumbed to the realities of modern commerce. Unable to compete with the national chains – or unwilling to engage in the battle on their terms, in which price bore little relation to value – the owners had decided to call it a day. Edwin had received a generous severance package, as well as what he imagined would turn out to be a lifetime supply of pickled cucumber, surplus stock unwanted by the customers, owners or even the local food waste reduction organisation.
Perhaps it was the sudden feeling o being unanchored, unrooted, that had led Edwin back to his home town. He didn’t hide his identity, but he didn’t need to – 30 years is a long time and there were very few people left who remembered Lotte’s disappearance. Noone who had been there, witness to Edwin’s increasing distress as he stood at the altar, alone and waiting. Noone who knew he had waited, alone, ever since.
But after her moved in, strange things began to happen. First there were the flowers – yellow roses, her favourite. Then the teddy bear, just like the one he had bought for her when they were first courting. Edwin began to feel that perhaps Lotte was closer than he’d thought.
Then the anniversary had arrived – and so had she. As on so many previous anniversaries, Edwin had drunk a bottle of wine and fallen asleep with the radio on, the quiet chatter of voices his only company. But that night, he’d awakened a little after 11, convinced that she was near. Stumbling to the back door, he’d flung it open to see her as she must have been on that day – as he had never seen her in reality – her wedding veil a diaphanous cloud in the moonlight. He called out to her, blinking back tears of joy: and then, just as suddenly as she had appeared, she was gone.
Even the next morning, Edwin knew something was different. It was as if the spell that had bound him was broken; as if one of the missing pieces in the jigsaw of his life had fallen into place. He might still be waiting, but could it be that he was no longer waiting for Lotte?
Then today, he had met Claire at the bottom of the road, struggling with several shopping bags. He’d offered to help and had been surprised at the weight of the bad she passed to him. Bottles clanked as they walked up the path to her door. As she turned her key in the lock, she’d thanked him and said he was welcome to call by that night. She still kept to the old tradition and welcomed visitors after the bells. The more the merrier, she said.
It was then the decision had come upon him. And is was to Claire’s house, and to the warmth of human company, that he was headed now.
New Year’s Day
Col walked out from Barn Road and onto the Gownie, hands stuffed into his pockets. A charm of goldfinches chattered and blew raspberries in the trees behind him. It was cold and damp, a smeary rain half falling, half suspended. Col’s Mum and dad had told him to get out and leave them in peace, their hangovers tarnishing the brightness of a new year. He’d chapped Cam’s door but got no reply.
He paused, as he and Cam always did, when he reached the bench below the Ladies’ Rock. Even on a day like this the view was pure magic – the whole of the west of Scotland dissolved in the mist. Then his eye was caught by a scrap of colour; dayglo pink, red and black snagged among the leaves. He stretched over the railing to unloose it from the briars. As he did so, he saw something glinting in the undergrowth, something shiny and out of place amid all the take-away coffee cups and discarded cans. The bright scrap seemed to be part of a painting, the canvas ripped and curling in the rain. Col slid it into his left pocket. Reaching deeper into the undergrowth, he retrieved the shiny object: a ring! And here was another, lying on the wet cobbles. Col thought they looked like a pair of wedding bands, one with a precious stone and the other plainer in design but still elegant. He put them both in his right pocket. Maybe he’d show his Mum and Dad when he got home.
Maybe he’d show them to Cam.
Or may he’d just keep them to himself. You never know – he might have need of them one day.