Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Magic Composter

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, close to the border with county Meath, there lived a man and a woman and their two teenage children in a nice semi-detached house in a nice estate. They were happy in their home because they used to live in the middle of the big, bustling city where there was a lot of noise. Here on the edge of suburbia, they had a bit of a garden and could enjoy the relative peace and quiet.
Now the woman of the house was a keen environmentalist. She was determined that she could help to make the world a better place for their children to live in and so she became a committed recycler. She would always sort her rubbish and would make sure that nothing went into the black bin that could be used again.
Her husband was not a committed recycler but he agreed with schemes that saved money. “Careful with money” was how generously minded folk described him and he willingly went along with his wife’s recycling because it saved on the amount of times the black bin had to go out for collection.
The children, who don’t really appear in this story very much, were not all that bothered about recycling but were more interested in somebody called Justin Timberlake. However they would share in the recycling for fear of being told off.
Now the recycling was going well. The woman would wash and squash plastic bottles and cut the little see-through windows off business envelopes in order to maximise the amount of waste that could be recycled. The man would gather up their unsolicited junk mail and return it to the sender in the freepost envelope provided. The woman would make the man wash the car with a thimbleful of water, in order to safeguard this valuable resource for future generations and woe betide anybody who left the cold tap running while cleaning their teeth.
Then one day, the woman said to her husband, “Peter,” – for that was his name, coincidentally the same as my own – “Peter, I think we should get a composter.”
“What is a composter?” replied Peter, who was slightly dim, though in his defence had only ever lived in city houses with concrete paved back yards.
The woman tutted deprecatingly. “A composter is a big green plastic container. I have heard all about it. You put all your organic waste in at the top, and out of the bottom comes lovely rich dark compost which will make your roses grow tall and strong and will save you lots of money on fertiliser.”
Of course it was the final phrase that caught the man’s attention and he agreed to get a composter.
Now this land didn’t have a King. Instead the King had been replaced by something called a Local A uthority, though some people called him Fingal. The man went to Fingal and bought a composter and brought it home to his excited wife. The children just glanced up from their PSPs and said “Whatever.”
The man and his wife read all the books about successful composting and even went to a workshop in a place called The Library to find out how it worked. Apparently you had to fill the composter three quarters full with a mixture of green waste and brown waste, although confusingly the green waste did not have to be green and the brown waste did not have to be brown. When the two were mixed together, they would produce lovely compost, they were told.
So the environmentally friendly pair set to filling up their composter. They threw in potato peelings, carrot tops and tails and broccoli stalks, although the man normally brought his Swiss Army knife into the supermarket to cut off the chunkier stalks, as broccoli is sold by weight. Then they got the brown leaves which were clogging up the shores along the side of the house and scrap bits of paper assiduously shredded by hand and added them to the mix. Then the man got an old broom handle and mixed up the concoction like the witches stirring the cauldron in Macbeth.
And then they waited.
And waited.
Every week, the man would throw in the week’s supply of kitchen waste with a liberal sprinkling of shredded paper on top to keep off the flies. Every second week he would lift the flap at the bottom expecting to see shovelfuls of rich crumbly compost but all he saw was a mish-mash of kitchen waste and bits of paper.
“I think the Local Authority have sold me a dud composter,” he would say to his wife sadly on returning from another disappointing reconnaissance.
“Don’t be silly,” his wife would reply. “The Local Authority is wise and good. Shame on you for thinking otherwise. You must allow time for the breakdown process to begin.”
So the couple gave the composter some more time. The man still threw in the waste every week but did not check the bottom flap for months and months. The months turned into years and every Spring, when the man had a momentary burst of gardening fervour, he would lift the flap and then lower it again with a sigh.
“I can’t understand it,” he said to his wife. “Every week we throw in a bucketful of waste, yet we never get any compost. But the funny thing is, the level in the composter keeps going down regardless.” His wife was eventually forced to admit there was “something quare” going on. Where did all the peelings and apple cores disappear to if they weren’t being turned into compost?
“Maybe the worms and slugs are eating it all?” she suggested lamely.
“Maybe our next door neighbour has dug a tunnel from the other side of the fence and is scooping out all the compost every week?” said the man.
“Maybe it is the horticultural equivalent of a space-time vacuum that sucks in all matter and turns it to anti-matter?” said the woman.
“Maybe there is a fissure in the rock just beneath the composter and the waste is falling into a giant molten cavern below?” said the man.
“Maybe a kitchen waste fetishist is creeping into our garden at night and regularly helping himself to a bucketful?” said the woman.
“Maybe it is a Magic Composter?” said the man. “I have heard of these things before. An old woman in a neighbouring estate had a Magic Porridge Pot that had the whole street knee deep in porridge.”
Of course the man and the woman kept the secret of the Magic Composter to themselves. If everybody knew about it, the Local Authority would send out his servants to examine and dissect it in order to find out how it worked. The woman was happy because it was eating up all her kitchen waste. The man was happy because he knew he had found somewhere to dispose of his wife’s remains when she died and thus save on funeral bills. The children were happy because Justin Timberlake was playing at The Point. And the Magic Composter was happy because he was being well fed every week!
And so, as in the way of all such stories, they all lived happily ever after.

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