I am taking out the rubbish. It is not a task I enjoy. There are several reasons for this. I do not like that moment when you jostle the contents of the bin bag so you can tie it and in so doing force a guff of rotten air up into your face. I hate that sometimes bin bags leak: oozing rancid juice from their blackened pores without warning like some B-Movie blob from outer space. I dislike this chore even more because I live on the top floor of a three-storey flat and I must walk down the stairs and then up again, all the while risking the slow-dripped stench of bin juice. Like I said, it is not a task I enjoy but I do it all the same because it must be done. It is a thankless task. Or so I thought.
It has started badly. I have not yet left the kitchen and already I have bin juice on my leg and garbage guff clinging to my face like a cobweb. When I start my journey down the stairs, I do not know if the acrid stench is from the bag itself, the damp patch on my shin, or the last remaining particles of pong clinging to the lining of my nostrils like limpets.
After what seems like an age, I make it outside and to fresh air. I walk over and lift the lid of the wheely bin and am about to hurl the wretched bin bag when I spot them. In amongst the carrier bags, cider cans and mulch at the bottom of the wheely bin are three LPs. I do not give it a second thought – I dive in and fish them out. They are good too. Not just good in fact, but records that I actually want. There is a jazz LP, a sixties soul LP and a Howling Wolf record – the reissue of which I had been considering buying earlier in the week. I dump the bag and take the LPs inside. Mildewed, scabbed and slightly smelly, I carry them delightedly back to my room.
I spend time cleaning the records. I wipe a stray strand of cabbage from one sleeve like a mother dabbing at a child’s post-icecream mouth. I flood the wax grooves with cleaning fluid and lovingly wipe them with an anti-static cloth. And then once the foreplay is over, I drop the needle. And they are as I had hoped: bristling with electricity, offering up a slight hiss and spit in acknowledgement of the energy they transmit but playing loud and true. I think of the whole thing as a happy coincidence, a one-off fluke of fate. Some thoughtless builder, a careless relative, an uncaring burglar – an accidental or perhaps even malicious act that resulted in these fantastic records ending up in my bin.
Two months pass, my life playing out as lives do. Bin bags got full. Bin bags got taken outside. It went on.
Then, a bin bag much like all the others, began to demand my attention. I jostle its contents, tie it, and cautiously carry it outside to the wheely bin. I lift the lid and there are more. More records! This time the selection feels personal to me, uncanny even. The coincidence of the first set of LPs has stretched beyond breaking now, snapping back in my face, leaving me open-mouthed and dumbfounded.
I look over the four vinyl LPs in my hands, struggling to comprehend the fortuitousness of the situation. I have an album by Sister Rosetta Tharpe pinched between fingertips that I have wanted for over a decade: a record that I have searched for in every vinyl shop I have entered around the globe during the last ten years of my life. It had always been too expensive, too scratched and here it was sitting damp and decaying in my bin. There was also a record by Yusef Lateef, the jazz flautist that I had started collecting on hearing his stunning Eastern Sounds. These records were on my wishlist. They were amongst the handful of titles that I ask for each time I enter a record shop and here they were sitting in my bin.
At this stage, I was beginning to ask questions of the universe. How had these records ended up in the bin? Why would someone get rid of such wonderful records? What had I done to deserve this delightful twist of fate?
I realised then that I had to act. This was no longer allowed to happen. Records like this did not belong in the bottom of a bin so I decided to write a note. It was not an easy one to write. It was a note to a complete stranger to try and facilitate something quite out of the ordinary from an unfathomable situation and to be left in a communal hallway for all to see. It also needed to impress upon the person that was throwing these records away that they should no longer do so and that I, for all my shortcomings and occasional forays into exceptionally loud Hall and Oates when hungover, was worthy of these records. Eventually, it was written and I left it on the table by the front door.
When I returned in the evening, my note was gone. A week went by. Nothing. A fortnight went by. Nothing. I cursed myself for being so foolish. Then one morning I came down the stairs and there, neatly piled on the table, was a small collection of rare jazz records. They were immaculate, snug and shiny in thick plastic sleeves, looking up at me. It had worked. A fortnight later another pile materialised. Beautiful records. Each and every one of them. I was beside myself with joy. In gratitude, I bought a bottle of wine and placed it on the table. The next morning it too was gone.
This exchanging of wine for vinyl went on for five months until, to my dismay, I was forced to vacate the flat. In this time, my record collection had grown by 25 or so records. I had discovered incredible recording by Keith Jarrett (the Koln concert), Coleman Hawkins and Booker Ervin. Fallen in love with releases by Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk.
I never did meet the vinyl fairy. Our paths never knowingly crossed. It was just how it was supposed to be, I guess.
Some time has passed since this chapter in my life. I’ve managed to stop looking in random bins. Occasionally though, I do allow myself to think a while on how this whole situation began. Why would someone who clearly loved music and cared about LPs, throw them into a bin to rot? Did these pieces of wax carry with them bad memories? Had they reached an aural nirvana, moving beyond these sounds to something else? Had they discovered CDs? Worst still, MP3s or Spotify? The questions kept coming and the answers never quite sat right. Like many unexplained and wonderful things in life, I decided to just let it be and be thankful.
Enjoyed this? Try this selection of female blues and jump-up tracks from the 1950s.