The Mendicant Writer explores two divergent communities through the lives of five remarkable characters. In this fifth instalment he meditates on bin-diving with Bruno, ponders outcomes with old friend (and young professional) Jeremy, and returns to the Highlands.
Bruno and I managed two or so hours of bin-rummaging before succumbing to coldness and going home. Bruno salvaged a few pairs of jeans, jumpers, a sleeping bag and some thick tartan blankets from one bin, but otherwise I don’t think that we found anything valuable.
At home I found myself reflecting on the whole experience, as I scrubbed my dark, slimy hands with a nail brush, using the strongest and most robust smelling soap I could find.
Bruno’s company had been enthralling, but otherwise the experience of bin-diving had been quite gloomy (which probably comes as no surprise to the reader). I suppose it all depends on the bin in question (as only the avid bin-diver knows) but if you sift through the things which society throws away, on a freezing, wet pavement in the moonlight, you’re left with an understandably bleak picture of that society, and what it values.
I remember seeing photographs from Steinbeck’s Great-Depression era America of mountains of oranges burning, while thousands of people starved. I suppose I’d expected Bruno and I to see similar examples of wasted food, and we did find loaves of bread, cucumbers and bags of potatoes outside one supermarket, but most of our finds were forgotten consumer electronics. I thought about taking home the odd cassette or video but realised that they were completely useless to me.
My time spent exploring two very different communities inEdinburghand theHighlandswas drawing to a close. The experience had been fascinating and I’d encountered wonderfully warm, honest people who wanted to help, but I still felt uncertain about what they’d actually told me.
I stayed around in Edinburgh for a few more days, procrastinating and wondering about my contributors. But when I finally got around to transcribing what they’d told me it didn’t completely make sense. I decided to make the trip back to theHighlands, much earlier than I’d planned. My school friend Jeremy insisted I meet him for a drink at Waverley station before I left.
I’ve known Jeremy for a long time. He’s now in his late twenties, and sometimes, if I see him crossing a road to meet me, or climbing from a taxi, I struggle to recognise him.
These days Jeremy is every bit the young professional. He has a well paid job in advertising with a very informal dress code, a light, spacious flat with exposed brick-work and numerous drawers of obsolete gadgets. One of the things I love most about Jeremy are his eyes.
Even if he’s pretending that he likes conducting his meetings on bean-bags or the company’s mandatory cycle-to-work scheme, Jeremy’s calm, ruthless eyes unintentionally reveal what he’s really thinking.
We spoke about his job, before touching on my project about contemporary community. We’d been talking nostalgically about school memories for ten minutes when I noticed his eyes flicker.
Jeremy explained how one of the main problems with all conversations about community, even amongst the young, was the obsession with ‘now’ and ‘then’ and the human tendency to fixate ourselves on the idea of a better, more wholesome past, which didn’t necessarily exist.
Jeremy pointed out that communities have been ravaged by drugs, alcohol, unemployment, poverty, violent computer games and any other social ill which we care to conjure.
But community will only cease to have a meaning when we can look back on the past and say that it’s definitely worse than our present, something which is highly unusual, even unprecedented in the context of the word. Though Jeremy made the point, I reluctantly agreed. His eyes flickered again as we parted ways on the concourse atWaverleyin the tumbling snow.