My Dirty Love Affair with Trash

27th August 2017 — 8 Comments

Rubbish, Garbology and Curling Irons

I understand that all the stroppy people read The Guardian. I was once a regular subscriber, but gave it up because I became weary of reading about single-parent families, third world issues and life-style preferences.

In my local coffee shop they have several national publications, including the The Guardian and The Searcher, all available for customers to read whilst quaffing their americano or skinny latte. With super owners and a reading list of such high standard, it was no surprise to me when such an enlightened establishment raced away with the local ‘Coffee Shop of the Year’ title! But I digress.

It was a couple of years ago, when resigned to looking through the job pages of that aforementioned newspaper in ‘Coffee Tree’ that I came across what must be one of the quirkiest occupations ever devised. There, stuck between an advert for a ‘Nappy Outreach Officer’ and a ‘Condom Distributions Schemes Co-ordinator,’ was one for a ‘Garbology Officer. You couldn’t make it up – and I assure the sceptics amongst you that I am not! Please trust me; I used to work in the public sector as a ‘Knowledge Navigator’ (teacher).

The word ‘Garbology’ is a portmanteau word; a hybrid made up of ‘garbage’ and ‘archaeology’ and the creation of this new post was a joint initiative between the Archaeological and Waste Management Services of Suffolk County Council. They thought it a great opportunity to start looking at archaeology and at the same time deliver an environmental message. A Garbology Officer’s duty includes using rubbish from recent centuries as a learning resource in schools and also working with older people ‘using retrieved objects as a focus for reminiscence’.

As you can imagine, this ‘exciting new initiative’ had a controversial start with a number of unhelpful tabloid headlines such as “Rubbish! Council is spending £30,000 on a ‘Garbologist’ and reminders from some hacks that, “those winos you thought you saw sifting through skips and rubbish bins were not to be pitied; they were not tramps at all, but Garbology Officers on a mission!”

So, picking up on the phrases ‘retrieved objects’ and a ‘focus for reminiscence,’ the idea for a blogpost was born. So, I now shed my mantle of metal detectorist and write as a Garbology Officer. And the reasons are clear. Apart from the kudos of (at long last) having an ‘ology’ to my name, I take the opportunity to discuss the bits and pieces I have found, not with a metal detector, but by chance whilst browsing in the snoopers’ paradise that is the bric-a-brac stall in my local market, Grandma’s drawers, the attic and the car boot sale. Detectorists often recover just a piece of the artefact and wonder what on earth it can be. I have also chosen to show this item because of associations and the memories it may evoke of bygone days; something I imagine the Garbologist might do when talking to the likes of this old duffer, one of the old folk . . .


When I showed this artefact to an auctioneer friend of mine, he took a cursory look and cheekily said that I would never find a use for them. He was right. The only parts of me that have ever been curled are my toes . . . and perhaps my lips on the odd occasion! However, In the past, men and women straightened and curled their hair using tongs heated in the fire.

Click inside image to see the tongs in more detail. ©JW

Here’s an example of a pair of tongs used before the widespread use of electricity and typical of the type to curl hair. They would have been heated by placing them in a fire or perhaps a pot of boiling water. If you look carefully, you will see the singed string wound around the handle for more comfortable use. Some examples had wooden handles. With no control of the heat of the iron there must have been many cases of singed hair, not to mention burnt fingers and scalps!

Handles detail showing remains of scorched string originally used to protect the user from burns. ©JW

Did you know that in 1866, Hiram Maxim who designed the machine gun bearing his name, applied for and obtained the first of many patents for a hair-curling iron? No, I didn’t either! Hey, hum. That should prove useful in the next pub quiz …

© Adapted from an article originally published in The Searcher magazine.


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8 responses to My Dirty Love Affair with Trash

  1. Well I have learned a new word from you John. ‘ portmanteau ‘

  2. Okay John.. There are a whole lot of Brit terms in this one.. Nappy [Diaper?] . condom [well.. okay that one I know]… But Stroppy eludes me..:):

    And for the record.. I too have been a ‘garbologist’ ; and to a limited extent.. still am.. Garage sale [what you would call boot sales I suspect] are one of my milieus.. I love them.

    Even a trip around our local dump occurs relatively often.. and some of the goodies to be found are nothing short of spectacular. Our head garbage mad has pulled all manner of antiques , jewellery [gold and silver], fossils.. The list goes on.

    Thank you my friend for making feel like I am not the only one..


  3. peter walsh ,aka..G.Clooney 27th August 2017 at 9:34 PM

    STROPPY – ill-tempered, awkward person ,met a few of them in my time John ..i call them nobheads

  4. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 28th August 2017 at 4:49 AM

    Garbologist is a great name, we call them dumpster divers! LOL…… Although in fairness these people are doing it for their own self gain and nothing more.

    You are correct, I had no idea that Hiram Maxim was into curling irons. 🙂

  5. Blood brilliant, full of the “older”, funnier, J.W. I first came to know, when I still had hair on top of my bonce.
    A great read John, and thank you for it, I at first thought the piece of garbage was of dental use.

  6. I remember my mom had hair curling tongs like your photo. She used to heat them up on the gas ring and curl my sister’s hair with them in the 60’s

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