I’ve been looking into my neighbours’ recycling boxes. I mean, not looking into them as such, not really looking per se, just sort of… glancing as I pass.
I can’t help but be interested in the empty wine bottles they contain. Ooh, I think, they’ve been drinking a lot of champagne, wonder what they’re celebrating?... That’s a bit of a low rent red…Hmm, fell for that one, did they?...Now that’s a bit nice…etc.
Wouldn't you? Don’t you? Worst of all, is someone doing it to me?
We don’t normally have to make a public declaration of our wine drinking. What we’ve drunk, and how much of it, in the past week. But the glass recycling box, sitting outside your house, does exactly that. And if like me you’re concerned about what a wine says about you as a host, it stands to reason that you’re worried about what neighbours think of the wines you’ve been drinking.
In my case, there’s quite a range. There are the occasional indulgences, that I hope someone passing recognises I had the knowledge and good taste to buy. There are the midweek supper wines, which might indicate a certain shrewd balance of quality and price. But unfortunately, there are also the appalling offers, discount fiascos and bottom-shelf bargains to which I’ve fallen prey, which I hate to think my neighbours might consider to be my wines of choice.
There’s the inevitable judgment about consumption. With a weekly collection, there is no hiding place. The neighbours don’t know that I sometimes keep empty bottles for weeks, to refer back to the labels because I’m writing about them. I do. But I have enough trouble sometimes persuading Mrs K that not all of my recycled bottles were drunk in the last seven days. So my neighbours must inevitably assume that they are looking at my weekly consumption.
And then there are the cases, because cardboard goes in another recycling box, and there’s the flattened case for a dozen bottles of this, or half a dozen of that. Immediately, of course, passers-by are thinking aha, there’s someone who’s sufficiently into wine to buy it by the case. To consume it by the case. And Mrs K is thinking aha, I didn’t see another case arriving…
I think anyone would be suitably indignant if the council said that you had to put up a notice outside your house every Tuesday, detailing just what you had drunk that week. It would be a pretty serious posted declaration; hardly Martin Luther, but still. I’ve bought it so I’ll drink it is one thing; but I’ve bought it, drunk it, and I’m happy to tell every passer-by is quite another.
I could, I suppose, take them all to a bottle bank. Unlike a weekly collection, this has the advantage that no-one knows how long you have been hoarding up your bottles. It also has the childish attraction of hearing the bottles smash inside the bank, as you shove them in. Smash! Smash! It’s like state-sponsored vandalism.
But therein lies its fault; shoving bottle after bottle in, one by one, is a pain in the…arm. And somehow, you always stain your cuff with a little dribble of red wine from one bottle which runs out and up your wrist.
Or I could try recycling them myself. I have seen bottles turned (or “upcycled”, as I believe they say in craft markets) into tablelights, chandeliers, flower vases, distinctly hazardous wall lamps , and, er, things.
There is one simple but significant drawback to these items. They’re all horrible. Deeply, deeply horrible. I am not about to jeopardise years of acquired good taste, not to mention a happy marriage, by decorating my home with what are still clearly old bottles.
And this do-it-yourself business is all very well, until “yourself” is “me”. I am not remotely convinced that I could cut drinking glasses from a wine bottle without the need for an ambulance. Readers of a certain age will remember television ads for the legendary Ronco Bottle & Jar Cutter, a tool which in my hands could only lead to reconstructive mouth surgery.
So you find me, out in the dark, stockinged feet, rearranging my recycling box. Trying to move the contents around quietly. (Here’s a tip: you can’t.) Pushing the bargain bottles out of sight. Turning bottles around so that the labels don’t show.
And probably suggesting to the neighbours far more about my sanity than any empty wine bottle ever could.