Going Out of Your Way, Not Getting Out of The Way

Zoë Sharp

There used to be a guy who ran our local municipal tip – that’s garbage dump in American – where we’d go if we wanted to dispose of items too large to fit into the standard-issue blue bin bag and put out for collection every week. Now, landfill is a universal problem, but the council are enlightened enough to have separate skips – OK, dumpsters – for garden waste, wood, metal, electrical appliances, as well as the usual recycling bins for glass, tin foil, paper, plastic, batteries and glass.

Nevertheless, there’s an awful lot of stuff that gets thrown away for no good reason other than its owners don’t want it any more. Working stuff. Stuff that, if they could be arsed, could be given away with a postcard in the local newsagents’ window, or put on a swap site like FreeCycle, or taken to a car boot sale at the weekend. One man’s rubbish, after all, is another’s treasure.

The guy who used to run the local tip understood this. He also understood that people often don’t have a lot of spare cash, and children eat up a goodly proportion of it. So, if someone came in with an outgrown child’s bicycle in good order, he wouldn’t just sling it into a skip, he’d put it to one side against the fence, and let that person choose a slightly larger bicycle from the stock already there to take away with them.

That’s my kind of recycling.

He made going to the tip an adventure. He would come bouncing out of his little hut and beckon you over to show you the latest treasure he’d unearthed. One time, he showed us a beautifully made wooden rack with loops cut out of it and marbles secured into the loops with wire. We couldn’t guess what it was for. An old-fashioned printer’s drying rack, he told us. The marbles slid up and gripped the paper gently enough for the ink to dry without smudging.

Of course, such free-thinking is not part of today’s bureaucratic make-up. The council soon knocked that on the head, no doubt citing some Health and Safety/insurance/liability issue as the reason. The guys who run the tip now are friendly enough, but the fun’s gone out of it.

They are not really people people.

Some people find fun in everything they do, no matter how mundane it might seem to the rest of us. They make a trip through the supermarket checkout a real giggle, or something as tiresome as a late-night short-hop plane ride an experience to remember.

When we were touring in the States back in 2007, we took a LOT of Southwest flights. They were cheap, yes, but cheerful, too. I still recall getting on one flight in Phoenix. It was late, the plane was full, everyone was tired and grouchy, and when the standard safety briefing began, nobody was paying much attention to the cabin crew.

“We’re not anticipating any problems with our flight tonight,” said the woman on the address system, briskly, “otherwise I would have called in sick …”

Heads started to come up all the way along the rows of seats ahead of us.

“… but in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down from the overhead compartment in front of you. Place the mask over your nose and mouth and tighten the straps around your head. Always adjust your own mask before helping others. If you’re travelling with children – we’re sorry. Pick the one you like best. If you don’t like either of them, pick the one with the most potential. If neither of them have potential, nyah.”

By the time she finished, she got a round of applause from everyone on the aircraft. 

A people person.

Of course, some people cultivate this, like the yeoman warders at the Tower of London. I confess that I don’t often watch video clips sent to me – mainly because our internet speed is horribly, horribly slow, but this particular guy is absolutely fantastic at his job. He imparts history with humour. If only I’d had a history teacher who’d made ingesting historical facts this much fun, I might even have continued going to school past my twelfth birthday.

What about you, ‘Rati? Any nice examples of people you’ve come across who turn an everyday task into an event? Equally, anybody who springs to mind who takes what should have been a fun experience and made it deathly dull?

This week’s Word of the Week is sophomore, which means a second-year student. I’m sure most of you have come across the word, although it’s used far more in the States and in the UK, but did you know it comes from sophos, meaning wise, and moros meaning foolish?

28 thoughts on “Going Out of Your Way, Not Getting Out of The Way

  1. JD Rhoades

    Our local dump–er, tip–used to have a "swap" area like that, in an old shed off to one side. Books, bikes, old clothes, the occasional small appliance. It got so that when you got there, there'd almost always be a small gaggle of poor people looking for what they needed, or something they could maybe trade for what they needed. . Sometimes you wouldn't even need to unload the car, they'd do it for you. So of course, anything that worked that well had to be discontinued by our enlightened county. Can't have THOSE sorts of people hanging about the dump, you know.

    Sorry, I'm a bit grumpy this week.

    Love flying Southwest, for just the reasons you describe. Plus, they're cheap and efficient.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty

    Yeah, I can't understand why the barter economy has to be stamped on quite so hard. Oh, hang on – no tax revenue. Now I get it…

    I'm sending you a small cyber hug. Hope it reaches you ;-]

  3. Karen in Ohio

    What a great tour guide, and why wouldn't you imbue a tour like that one with humor? I love that he said he hated children! Too funny.

    I spent a lot of time in NYC on business when I was younger, but never took the time to really see the city until I went on my own a few years ago. It was raining so I hopped a tour bus that happened to have an incredibly interesting guide. Unfortunately he singled me out for some reason (probably because I was alone, and making eye contact, sigh), and it made me terribly uncomfortable, so I hopped off the bus too soon. A bit too much "interest".

    Zoe, I am hoping to meet you in Tucson!

  4. Debbie

    Zoë, fabulous post and great clip. I couldn't agree more about the fun school would be if a regular dose of humour was infused into learning. Best tour I ever had was the Duck tour in Boston. It's on an amphibious vehicle and when in the water, you have the opportunity to take the helm! I just found out that we have a similar tour in my very own city. I'm thinking I really should take it so I can catch up to the tourists, who currently know more about where I live than I do!

    To this day, West Jet is the best airline I've encountered, with very helpful and humourous flight attendents and crew.

    Best teacher: Mr. Walker, who made grade four so much fun that you wanted to go to school and looked forward to math tests! 10 out of 10 got you a piece of gum for recess, and if the whole class managed to do it we got two pieces, one to chew in class, one for recess. He'd draw caricatures of us for our birthday and each morning we had to sing, 'Ain't She Sweet' to a picture of a witch!

  5. Murderati fan

    I absolutely forget how many words are different across the pond. Loved your post and it's all too true how the letter of the law can often squelch the spirit of the people.

    That's why I love three to five year olds. They often have so many wonderful ways of looking at the world.

    My sister overflowed her tub.
    The eight year old said "Grandma what were you thinking?"
    The five year old said, "If it gets cold, we can ice skate."

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Karen

    Shame you had your NYC tour spoilt. We did a trolley bus tour in Boston a few years ago, which was a hop-on hop-off tour, and every time we got onto a new bus, the guide would give us chapter and verse about "and this is where the British massacred the brave Americans during the war of indepence … So, where are you from?"

    I have a tendency to get very mouthy if picked on, though ;-]

    Looking forward to meeting you in Tucson, too!

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Debbie

    I love the kind of sardonic humour the yeoman warder displays in that clip and in the three others that follow on. Just my kind of funny ;-]

    And wouldn't education be different?

    I keep seeing the Duck tours in London, that dip in and out of the Thames, and thinking that I must go on one next time we're down there.

    Never flown West Jet, but if the opportunity comes up, we'll give them a go. Thanks for the tip!

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi 'Rati fan

    There is a huge language difference between the UK and the States, as was demonstrated just a couple of days ago. I received an email from Toni with the subject line; 'out of pocket' and I thought, oh no, poor Toni, she's having a financial crisis! But when I opened it I found out she simply meant she was going to be out of contact for a little while.

    Loved the humour from the kids. I think it just shows the 5yo is a natural optimist!

  9. Allison Davis

    Coming into work, I had a similar thought. We are in a high rise that has "transit first" policy — this means that they included only a a few partking places on one floor beneath the building, hoping everyone would take the bus, including our clients I guess. So we have two garage guys, Joe and Herman, and they park the cars every morning, and move them around all day to fit more in and to have the cars ready to go when the driver needs them. And they are like family. I look forward to seeing Joe every morning, get caught up on what happened in sports the night before, chatting about the weather, or his daugher in college…a very mundane job that he has made spectacular. Joe knows everyone's name, their car, where they work — he remembers it and make me feel special every morning when I drive up to the garage…Herman is more low key and is there in the afternoon but always has a good word to say and something to chat about.

    My dad used to make fun of me because I had a habit of getting NYC cab drivers to tell me their life stories. I should have written them down.

    Another is a security guard in our office building in NY. He's the nicest man and when I visit there a couple times a year, I always look forward to flipping out my ID to get my building pass. He tells me how beautiful I am and how glad he is to me.

    So funny, those short interchanges with strangers and how uplifting they can be sometimes.

    Maybe I'm just weird.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Beautifully put!

    Lovely story – Joe in particular sounds like a class act. A real people person.

    And cab drivers have such a fund of fascinating tales to tell, don't they? A friend of mine drove a cab years ago and he was just the same.

  11. Rob Gregory Browne

    Zoe and I just had an email exchange about the language differences between Brits and Americans. I asked her for the British slang for breasts and she came up with about twenty or so. She's very well-informed.

    As for turning tasks into events, I'm afraid I rarely, if ever, see that. Maybe I live in the wrong place. Or maybe I'm just not looking hard enough.

  12. Reine

    Zöe, first off I have to say I'm jealous that you get to recycle aluminum foil and put batteries in a recycling bin.

    Steve and I flew Southwest Air from Phoenix to Providence, rented a wheelchair-accessible SUV, and drove to our home in Boston in half the time it takes by flying directly into Logan Airport and driving home. The flight attendants were fantastically funny, informal, and pleasant. The one who passed out the snacks stood at the front of the cabin with a boxful of packaged goodies and did a baseball park routine of passing them out by tossing them under his leg, from behind his back, over his head while facing the opposite direction– complete with sound effects. And the cost cannot be beat. We paid $49 each (one way), and that was just a couple of years ago.

    See you in Tucson. Fingers crossed and attempting the positive attitude approach on having my new chair by then.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rob

    Hey, being asked for Brit slang words for breasts was mild compared to JT's translation request for her Brit character …

    Any maybe you're too grump for people to make bright off-the-cuff conversation with? Erm, I mean, concentrating too hard on your latest book, of course ;-]

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine

    When I said batteries, I was thinking car batteries! For ordinary household batteries there are collection bins in every supermarket and DIY store over here – in fact, I believe any place that sells batteries has to offer the opportunity for recycling them.

    Southwest are just entertaining, aren't they? The last night flight we took with them, last year, as they dimmed the cabin lights to taxi to the runway, the guy who'd just done the usual announcements in his ordinary voice, then came on the microphone very quietly, "You are all feeling v-e-r-y sleepy … You don't want any drinks … Nuts give you gas …"

    See you in Tucson!

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hey Debbie

    Just realised I didn't answer the part of your comment about your teacher, Mr Walker.

    Can't imagine teachers now giving out gum or making their pupils sing 'Ain't She Sweet' to a witch. He'd be vilified for grooming, providing a choking hazard, or child cruelty ;-]

  16. Murderati fan

    Guys, I was going to Tucson then had knee surgery and now I can't. I'll be there in spirit. Look for me at the bottom of the brandy bottle. Judy

  17. Reine

    Hi Zoë,

    Where does "neddies" come from? You used to hear "Nellies" here in the US years ago, as in, "Hitch old Nellie up to the wagon, and we'll go to the market," or "Look at all those old Nellies tied up to the hitching posts outside the marketplace!"

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine

    There's a wonderfully vulgar book of British slang called THE ROGER'S PROFANISAURUS, which contains more rude words, phrases and comments than the average human mind is designed to know. Dipping in and out of it reduces both me and Andy to tears on a regular basis, we giggle so much. It's my first port of call for all slang, but as for the exact derivation of 'neddies', I have no idea ;-]

Comments are closed.