It arrived unceremoniously, lifted up and over the hedge with an articulated grabber arm that was operated from the driver’s cab of the flat-bed delivery lorry parked on the roadside. The engine roared at the strain. The loading platform of the vehicle rocked back and forth but on the second attempt the swinging load landed gently on the gravel driveway. The ton bag of topsoil now sat inside the gate. The prehensile arm folded back into the lorry like the skeletal wing of a pterodactyl. The driver climbed back down from his cab, engine settling back into a calm. He held a clip board out in front of him and taking a biro from the breast pocket of his overalls, marked a cross on the sheet. “Sign here!” he said, holding the clipboard like a waiter serving a drink. Handing me the customer copy, he turned to go.
I stood thoughtfully, looking at the bulk bag of soil that sat on a curiously blue-painted heavy-duty timber base. “Um the pallet?” I asked. “Can you take it away as I have no use for it?” As he turned, I thought I caught a sly smile that melted into an apologetic demeanour. “Sorry chum. That’s how they get delivered. We can’t take the pallets away unless it’s in the order.” The lorry’s engine revved through the gears as it picked up speed towards the top road and faded.
Six months later, the now redundant heavy pallet sat obtrusively in the front garden, the bright blue paint still shining through a coating of green wood stain. I decided it was time to get rid of it.
Using an electric scorpion saw from Screwfix, the blade made light work of cutting the pallet in half, each just small enough to fit in the back of the car with the seats down. Loading the car with more items to recycle, I drove to the tip, or “household waste recycling centre” to give it its grander name. My turn came and I backed the car into the bay. I opened the boot, watched at a distance by the yellow-jacketed people who were sipping tea in their hut. I threw the metals in the metal bin, two broken wicker chairs in the wood skip and then heaved out the first half of the heavy bluish pallet. Now they say that Usain Bolt is the fastest man alive, but I now dispute that. Two of the yellow jackets had burst from their hut and now stood between me and my pallet and the wood skip. “You can’t bring that here! It’s a pallet.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “it is, well its now a pallet of two halves and its for wood recycling. Isn’t it?”
“You can’t throw it away here, it’s illegal.”
“What? I’m just recycling it!”
“You’ll have to take it away. And look at the corners, see that? It means it’s government property. And it’s blue. “
“Well, it was blue, it’s more greenish-blue now.”
They were humourless and my quip was making the larger one scowl and bristle ominously. This had clearly brightened their tedious day. If they had not been in charge of the tip then they would surely not have been out of place as traffic wardens or railway ticket inspectors.
I hate to generalise about people but I recalled taking an air rifle to the same tip a few years back and having the same cold stare from the operatives. They were not the same people but they were of a type. As kids, we had played irresponsibly with that same air rifle, pinging the 0.177 lead pellets off Penny and Wilfred’s steel oil tank next door, aiming it out of my old bedroom window. After Penny’s polite complaint to my parents, and the mystery of our fish pond that sat below the same window draining of water all of a sudden, my dad removed the sights from the rifle to prevent its use. Or at least from hitting anything with any degree of accuracy. A questionable parenting approach but he was never a disciplinarian.
When I found the weapon in my loft in a subsequent house move, I decided to take it to the tip to get rid of it in case may own kids did something equally daft. I remember handing it to a fluorescent jacket at the tip through the sliding window in their tea hut, feeling I was doing my part to keep the streets of Britain safe.
“Here, maybe for the metals or maybe you could take pot shots at any troublesome punters!”
Somewhere a gong sounded, a raw guitar achingly struck a few notes. Tumbleweed bounced past in the pregnant pause between me and the yellow jacket. The stony face showed zero emotion and never spoke but a large hairy hand thrust out of the counter window and took the offensive weapon inside. That’ll be on eBay tonight, I thought, as I moped back to my car.
I decided I would try again. The following weekend, I plugged in the scorpion saw and buzzed through the two halves of the pallet until I had a heap of foot-long pieces of blue-green wood and sawdust at my feet. They filled six tightly packed carrier bags and I would do the responsible thing and tip them into the wood skip to be chipped to save them going to landfill. I loaded my car with the bags of wood, together with an old kettle, clothing and cardboard. As I carried the carriers to chuck the contents into the skip marked Wood, I was stopped in my tracks.
“‘Scuse me, can I look in those bags? Where is that wood from? It looks like pallet timber. We can’t take that here.” Fishing in the bag, he pulled out a piece. “It’s blue, it’s government property!”
“So how on earth can I get rid of it? It’s only wood and no use to anyone now.”
“No idea mate. You could ring the council. Or burn it.”
So that was how I disposed of the body. In a tiny clay chimera in the back garden on one summer evening. I lay some kindling of newspaper, lolly sticks and old wine bottle corks. I watched as the flames licked the wood, spitting green sparks from something in the paint. It took me two hours to feed the little blaze, it’s smoke swirling into the night sky. It had been a long time since I had enjoyed the primal fun of a bonfire.
So the moral of the story is this. If anyone ever tries to offload a blue pallet onto you when delivering anything to your house, please refuse it. Or you’ll never get rid of the body!