Travelling around Devon’s streets and country lanes at the moment one could be forgiven for thinking that there was a post-apocalyptic monster at work who, rather pissed off at waking to find itself in a world devoid of human contact, wreaked revenge by emptying the whole of humanity’s detritus over what normally looks a bit like the cover of a chocolate box. Normal streets have taken on the appearance of a landfill site as various councils have failed to collect rubbish for a period of weeks.
Rubbish trucks are a distant memory of mine. As far as I can recall my rubbish was last taken away on 10th December. Now I know that at some point around 17th December someone picked up Narnia and dumped it wholesale on Devon. I know it snowed. I know this makes it difficult to take vehicles along roads. But I also know that now, approaching week 4 of smelly-bin-pocaplypse, there is an area of my courtyard where my bins live that I don’t really want to approach whilst in full possession of my sense of smell. In fact I don’t think it’s just my bins that live there – I strongly suspect that if they are left un-emptied much longer, a small ecosystem will develop by which point I will have something of a dilemma on my hands. I’m all for healthy ecosystems and I’m quite taken by the idea that there might be an evolving life form in there – but you know what? I’d quite like someone to empty my bins.
As a good, liberal, left-wing, Guardian reading, sandal wearing, weave your own lentil curry out of muesli and a raffia mat, mind the ozone layer, don’t dump that there, or there, re-use that, recycle that, and for goodness sake reduce the amount you use that, basic hippy type, I don’t throw much away. However, the stuff that I did throw away four weeks ago is now growing legs whilst not, unfortunately, showing any signs of walking itself into the nearest landfill. In fact I think my memory of rubbish trucks is starting to meld with my memory of the Winter of Discontent (I was 6, fact fans) such is the distance it is now acquiring.
Now I’ve been reliably informed by regional BBC news that my council think this rubbish is not a problem. Sure, it’s liberally strewn all over the streets by seagulls who, I’m starting to think, will actually take over in a post-apocalyptic world, at least as long as the rubbish lasts. But it isn’t a problem, apparently. Well accept that it is, and not necessarily for the reasons that they think.
I have a horse, and the un-emptied bins affect him too. I should probably make it clear that the council responsible for my domestic refuse collection is not the same one as the council responsible for the refuse collection in the area where I ride my horse. But the problem remains the same. I ride my horse on single-track roads – there is just enough room for one car travelling one way. If traffic is to pass, it must find designated passing places which means that someone has to reverse (that’s another story in itself). If the car is a sensible size and carefully driven, and your horse is well-mannered, you can actually pass each other without one of you needing to find a passing place. However there are many larger cars and assorted farm vehicles on the roads and if I encounter these the horse and I must turn around and find somewhere to tuck ourselves in, whilst the vehicle passes. And of what are the passing places currently full? Yes, that’s right. Uncollected rubbish.
Now various things might occur to you at this point. Could people not just keep their rubbish out of the way? Could my horse not just stand quietly beside it? First things first – no-one is quite sure when the council are going to come around and take the rubbish away since communication is rather sparse beyond ‘soon, really soon’, like a lover telling you he will leave his wife, and about as convincing. So people leave the rubbish out as an example of the triumph of hope over experience and with the thought that one day, and one day soon, the rubbish trucks might be seen again. (Though currently they are significantly rarer than whatever life form it is that’s evolving in my bin).
As to standing the horse next to the rubbish, that’s highly unlikely. It’s not that he’s particularly highly strung, but people have described him as ‘a bit of a character’ (trans, I like him, but I’m glad he’s yours, not mine) and ‘not a novice ride’ (trans, dear god, no, it’s fine, you ride him. I’ll just sit here. And watch). When the chips are down, I trust him with my life. But when the chips aren’t down he likes a laugh as much as the next person, so long as the next person thinks that leaping wildly into the air at the approach of the Attack Bracken is hilariously funny. (Seriously, you want to watch bracken, deadly stuff, according to my horse). But all in all, he is well-schooled and obedient. He will pass a landrover with a pile of mangolds in the back, a giant roll of hay on top of the mangolds and a collie dog balanced on the hay. He won’t stand next to piles of rubbish though.
In fairness to him, it’s not an unusual reaction for a horse. It does not mean he should not be on the roads. It means the rubbish shouldn’t be on the roads. Horses cannot focus particularly well. Like most animals which are preyed upon their eyes are to the side of their heads, not the front. This gives them a great range of vision but little overlap and therefore, less depth perception which means that objects probably often just look a bit odd and undefined to them. Added to that, they are flight animals. If something scares them, millions of years of evolution have hardwired them to run, run for the hills, run like you’re being chased by a lion. Run like you’re being chased by a whole pride of lions. Run, run like there’s a post-apocalyptic bin monster chasing you. Run as if the Attack Bracken is on the loose. But at all costs run now and ask questions later, if at all. So when faced with a big pile of rubbish that isn’t normally there, I can’t blame the animal for A. assuming that a predator might be lurking in it B. wanting to get away from any potential predators and C. claiming that for goodness sake woman, it stinks, I’ve got a Sensitive Nose I Do Not Want to Go Near It.
This morning this caused me, and him, a huge problem. Approaching a large pile of rubbish he and the horse we were with both spun around to get away from it. We had no choice but to go past this rubbish but my horse spun with so much force that although his foot turned, his nailed-on shoe did not. He all but wrenched the shoe off, leaving him at extreme risk of standing on a nail as his shoe was hanging off his foot with nails sticking out of it.
Now fortunately, underneath it all, he is an incredibly sensible animal. He waited until the other rider I was with had dismounted and stood quietly whilst I held both horses, whilst she removed the shoe so we could walk them both home. But I do not yet know if he is all right. He may have stood on a nail. If that did happen he could get an infected foot. This means, at best, vet and farrier bills and a large expense. At worst, I have known such injuries become infected resulting in osteomyelitis (a very serious infection) and death.
It’s also possible that he may have torn the hoof wall (yes, that is like ripping down to the quick of your nail) to the extent that the farrier cannot get a shoe on him. My horse is 18 years old. I’ve had him for seven years now and he is the love of my life. But in 2009/10 I spent 14 months nursing him through a tendon injury. He has fought his last great battle – I cannot put him through something like that again. If he has minor injuries and illnesses I will nurse him through, but I don’t think he or I have the wherewithal to recover from anything major, and not being able to shoe a working horse is a more serious problem than you might at first think. There is an old expression ‘No foot, no horse’. Since my horse cannot work without shoes (some horses can, he can’t) without shoes, he has no foot to work on.
So for the want of a rubbish truck, the shoe was lost. I only hope that in this case the consequence is a bill for the farrier to replace the shoe, not the loss of a kingdom. I also hope that whilst this situation persists, nobody encounters any more alarming unintended consequences. And I really, really hope that Devon’s various councils get around to emptying our bins – or I’ll be leading a mounted charge against them, with my trusty newly-evolved Dustbin Lifeform as the rearguard.