On Friday evening my microwave died. I was heating up a potato when I saw sparks on the other side of the internal gauze, so I turned off the oven and unplugged it and resigned myself to buying a new one. When your magnetron's broken, all is not well.
Then I rejoiced, because if there's one good day of the year for your microwave to break, it's Black Friday. This American retail interloper has gained traction in the UK over the last few years, filling inboxes with spam and enticing folk to buy so-called bargains they don't need. But if you do suddenly need white goods, and fast, it's a godsend.
I had a new microwave in my kitchen before 10am on Saturday morning. None of this poncing around with delivery options for me, I got the bus into Stratford, paid much less than normal in Argos, then caught the bus back. Microwaves are quite manageable on buses so long as you catch a quiet one, and are physically capable of waving your Oyster card against the reader while holding the box.
But this left me with a dead microwave. Rather than it clogging up the house I thought I'd best get rid of it, so considered my options. I could have dropped it in our communal bin, but I suspect the refuse collectors (and the management company) would have complained. I could have left it out on the pavement assuming a passer-by would take it away, except that's littering, and I knew the microwave was unsafe. I could have rung up the council to come and collect it, but they'll only turn up twice a year, and that seemed like a waste. So I decided to take it to the tip.
My past experience of 'going to the tip' is from years ago, and involved getting into the family car with some unwanted artefacts and driving into the countryside. Council tips tend to be a long way from residential areas, which is fine when you have a car and less good when you don't. Also large chuckable items tend to be heavy, which again is fine when you have a car and less good when you don't. Visiting the tip isn't always easy.
If I lived in Redbridge, the council tip would be up a sideroad between a river and the M11. If I lived in Newham, the council tip would be off the A13 almost in Barking. If I lived in Hillingdon, the council tip would be at the miserable end of New Year's Green, which is somewhere I'm keen never to visit again. If I lived in Sutton, I wouldn't be allowed inside the council tip without a permit obtained by showing two forms of ID. If I lived in Hackney, there wouldn't be a council tip, only permission to visit some of the neighbours'. How would Tower Hamlets fare?
Tower Hamlets' tip is on the Isle of Dogs. Specifically it's on the eastern side, alongside the Thames, roughly level with Canary Wharf. For someone living on my side of the borough it isn't too hard to get to. I worked out it was doable in two buses, or via the DLR and a long walk, so took the two-bus option. I managed to rest the microwave on the driver's cab while touching in, and nobody seemed to mind that was I filling up a seat with a big cardboard box.
Finding the tip in Yabsley Street was easy - I followed my nose. I wonder if residents of the adjacent highrise developments realised this before they moved in, and now have to keep their windows closed more often than they expected. All the local dustcarts empty into one half of the site, which is privately run, and conveniently located because refuse can be taken away by boat.
Tower Hamlets council now only own the pull-in yard in front of the Blackwall Tunnel ventilation mushroom. It's also no longer a 'tip', it's a Reuse and Recycling Centre, the emphasis now on sorting rubbish by category rather than dumping it all into a single skip. I looked a bit lost, so a man in a woolly hat directed me to follow the pedestrian walkway to a shed at the back, passing several bins and receptacles along the way. Lights flashed. A sign warned that children and animals must stay in their vehicles. I manoeuvred between the cones.
The shed at the back is used to store expired electricals, including several lines of white goods and three cages of smaller stuff. Toasters, vacuum cleaners and hi-fis were amongst the goodies piled up - once the latest must-have gadgets, now dirty, defunct and unwanted. I managed to find space for an empty black metal cabinet and bade my old microwave farewell. Its cardboard box went into a separate skip outside, and then I got the bus home. That was a much easier journey.
And then I went back again. I had another microwave I hadn't thrown away when I should have done, a grey one which went wrong in 2016 and which I replaced with the black one I'd just chucked. It would have been a good idea to get rid of it at the time but I didn't, for the same reasons listed above, so it was stashed away taking up floorspace. Using my newly-gathered tip-visiting intelligence I now knew how to get rid of it, so I did.
I was expecting the bloke at the tip to be suspicious. I'd been down with a microwave in a box an hour earlier, and here I was with a microwave in a box again. Thankfully the bloke on shift was different now and waved me through, and my old dead microwave joined my new dead microwave in the cage in the shed. Also fortunately, Tower Hamlets don't seem to ask to see ID to confirm you're a genuine resident, so nobody was checking up on the frequency of my microwave-dumping visits.
What I only noticed on the way out on my second visit were special bins for items I don't normally see special bins for. Tinfoil. Mobile phones. Books. Cassette tapes. Discs. I have a lot of the last three, probably rather more than I need, and now a means of thinning them out. I don't really want to get rid of them, but I'm going to have to one day, or else someone else will have to get rid of them on my behalf. Looking around my flat, your house, wherever, pretty much everything in it will end up down the tip one day, it's just a case of how long it takes.