I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

‘Dubbin men gud pee-pul’

There was a mad scramble in our house about ten thirty today, Tuesday 1 January 2013, when from up the road we suddenly heard the roaring of the refuse collectors’ truck. Our garbage collection day is Tuesday and of course last week’s Tuesday was Christmas Day. So no garbage collection on Christmas – the refuse and recycling collectors had the day off, like most of the rest of the country.

And why not? It’s a grim job, I always think, and their Christmas Day break is as well deserved as for anyone.

However, one week later, Frank and I (and much of the rest of the neighbourhood I’m very sure) were sitting with full dustbins and an almost equal amount of recycling that needed to be disposed of. And so it was with happy hearts that we began our mad scramble to make sure that our dustbins and recycling bags were placed outside for the tender care of our friends who work for both Pik-it-Up and the recycling company.

It reminded me of new year’s day five years ago, which must also have been a Tuesday because once again the good folks of Pik-it-Up were in action.

I remember it very clearly.

At that stage Liam was two and eight months old (yes, I am precise in these matters of age) and Matthew was just four months old. Having taken a maternity leave of three months with Matthew, I’d gone back to work for about three weeks and then had a nice gap again of ten days or so for the Christmas/New Year period. So it had all worked out very well, easing me gently back into work and then giving me another short break.

It was also good for Liam, who was still getting to grips with the fact that there was a new little usurper in the home who was taking up quite a lot of his mother’s time and attention. He had been very good – besides asking on the day that Matthew came home from hospital, “Baby go home now?” – but still you could see that it was hard for the little mite to have been dethroned from his position at the centre of his small universe by another little prince.

Baby Matthew smaller

So, as with parents the world over in this situation, I tried to give my firstborn some exclusive time every day that belonged to just Liam and myself. On new year’s day, five years ago, we had embarked on a gentle morning walk around the neighbourhood. The sun was shining from a turquoise-blue sky, the birds were singing, the trees were wearing my favourite shades of green and all was tranquil.

little Liam red shirt

Then the refuse collectors arrived.

Picture it from the perspective of a small boy not quite three: a huge truck suddenly arriving and breaking the silence with the petulant roaring of its engine. This was accompanied by the presence of noisy enthusiastic men in blue overalls jumping busily on and off the truck, whistling and shouting commands and injunctions. Then watch the small boy and his mother approach closer – the child clinging to his mother’s hand – and imagine the little boy’s eyes widen when he spots objects being flung from big black bins into the turning maw of the truck’s hungry belly.

A little scary, yes?

The child points with a shaking finger and a questioning upturn of his face.

“Those are the dustbin men, my little man,” answers his mother. “They are taking the rubbish away from the people’s houses so that our dustbins are clean. The rubbish goes away from here and gets sorted out and then there is no rubbish here where we live. Rubbish is not good for people. It brings germs that make us sick.”

And she prepares to carry on walking past the truck, but the little boy balks and digs in his heels. He is still afraid.

The mother stoops to lift him up and repeats her story about the refuse collectors, adding, “The dustbin men are good people, my little man. The dustbin men are our friends. Come, let’s go and look a bit closer and then we will walk past.”

The child says somewhat doubtfully, “Dubbin men gud pee-pul?” and she confirms, “Dustbin men are good people.”

And they walk past, and a small lesson has been learned (by his mother as well) even though the little man is patently glad when the noisy truck is gone.

And so five years later, this is my thank you to all those who work on weekends and public holidays when the rest of the world is resting or at play.

My thank you to those, especially, who fulfil vital functions that keep the engines of our society turning while others rest: refuse collectors and other cleaners; policemen; doctors, nurses and paramedics; pharmacists; firemen; petrol station attendants… the list goes on.

I think that the dubbin men are indeed good people, along with many more.

Wishing you all, everywhere, a good new year as you help to keep the engines turning!

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