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Rubbish bloomers left Thurso woman exposed!

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Thurso's Heritage by a Thirsa Loon

A photograph taken on the occasion of Jock Smith’s retirement featuring the Thurso binmen plus other council staff.
A photograph taken on the occasion of Jock Smith’s retirement featuring the Thurso binmen plus other council staff.

Within the seemingly mundane profession of refuse collection, humour finds its place.

On one occasion, the binmen witnessed an elderly lady crossing Sir George Street. Midway across the road and stuck amidst traffic, the elastic in her bloomers suddenly gave way.

With both hands full of shopping bags, she had no choice but to waddle like a penguin, her undergarments at her ankles, until she reached the safety of the other side.

In 1977, binmen suffered an unexpected surge in injuries because of hazardous refuse. In Thurso, two out of five workers suffered injuries from sharp objects. One individual cut his fingers on a shattered pane of glass that had pierced the sack, while another had his palm pierced by a hypodermic needle.

This prompted the Caithness District Council to plea to the public, urging them to reconsider before disposing of sharp and dangerous objects in paper refuse sacks. The council even contemplated abandoning the paper sack system once embraced by the former Thurso Town Council and returning to the older, yet safer, metal dustbins.

With all the rubbish collected, it has to go somewhere, so various sites were used as dumps, including Oldfield, Bowgswa, Brims, Castletown, Murkle Hill, Burnside, Dornoch. The 43-hectare piece of ground, a former farm site at Seater, has been used since 1990 and cost £1 million to construct.

Three years later, the Thurso Traders Association opposed additional refuse collection charges imposed by the council. Many local businesses were dissatisfied with paying for a service that was once covered by their business rates.

Under the new rule, commercial rubbish would only be collected after traders purchased wheelie bins, ranging from £25 to £243 in cost. Additionally, depending on the size, they incurred charges ranging from £1 to £4 for each collection.

In 1995, the mechanical sweeper was dispatched early to clean Thurso’s streets in preparation for the Scotland in Bloom competition. However, it would soon turn to Thurso in Gloom. The driver had jumped out of the lorry.

To his dismay, the 12-ton road sweeper rolled down High Street, striking a curb, damaging aluminium railings, and crashing through Woolworths’ windows cab-first.

On a slightly brighter note, the hanging baskets remained unharmed above the shop front, ready for judging.

A memorable occasion, which could have been fatal, occurred when, in 1996, one refuse collector went to collect a commercial wheelie bin. He was about to empty the bin when he looked inside “because it didn’t feel right” to find a “tramp dozing”. Yelling at him to get out, the sleepy gent ran down the road without saying a word.

Where the Thurso road-sweeper did most of the town, plus Dunnet, Castletown and Halkirk, today, at no fault to the men, there is no sign of one. The town’s expansion has resulted in more refuse to be collected. While one might expect additional equipment and more men, the current trend seems the opposite.

Thurso’s binmen and street sweepers have witnessed numerous changes in their line of work from the early days of barrows and brooms through the era of horses and carts and on to tractors and lorries.

Nonetheless, the core responsibility of keeping Thurso clean remains constant. These workers continue to perform their invaluable duties, rain, snow or shine, and the public holds them in high regard.

  • To get in touch, contact thursoheritage1@gmail.com

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