Edinburgh Makar’s new poem celebrates work of city binmen

Super stanzas: Christine De Luca presents her poem to, from left, Robert Gyorfi, Trevor Kelly and Kevin Manson. Picture: Greg Macvean
Super stanzas: Christine De Luca presents her poem to, from left, Robert Gyorfi, Trevor Kelly and Kevin Manson. Picture: Greg Macvean
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SHE has already penned appreciative verses about the less-than-glamorous world of sewage workers.

Now Edinburgh Makar Christine De Luca has composed an ode to the Capital’s binmen.

Ms De Luca wrote her latest poem – entitled Strictly Street Dancing – after shadowing a refuse collection team last month to get a feel for what their job was like.

It will be added to the online anthology Edinburgh Unsung she launched earlier this year, bringing together work by more than 20 city poets focusing on the work of people who keep the Capital running smoothly but are often taken for granted.

The council’s waste and cleansing department has been at the centre of controversy recently over complaints about overflowing bins.

And city leaders drew up a 65-point action plan in an effort to tackle the problem.

But the Makar was impressed with the skill and dedication of the binmen when she accompanied a crew on their rounds.

Her poem highlights their ability to reverse up cul-de-sacs weaving past parked cars and the well-practised routine of emptying the bins, which she likens to ceilidh dance favourite the Dashing White Sergeant.

She also pays tribute to their banter, singing and cheerfulness – and compares a binman’s wave to a little girl with Robert Louis Stevenson in his famous poem The Lamplighter, in which he addresses the man with the ladder who lights the lamp outside his window: “O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight”.

Ms De Luca said: “I was delighted when many other Edinburgh poets agreed to help me create an online anthology of poems celebrating those who daily undertake some of the lesser-seen jobs in our city: jobs like waste water and sewage management; looking after the civic clocks; doing the laundry in care homes; driving the night buses.

“For some unknown reason it proved difficult to get a poem for the waste and cleansing department in time for the launch. However, that has now been put right.

“I was delighted to be allowed to join a crew on one of the big ‘motors’ for an early morning shift, well before winter set in. It was a fascinating journey.

“The resulting poem may seem light-hearted but it has serious intent: to pay tribute to those who daily, and sometimes in appalling weather and traffic conditions, keep our city much cleaner and safer than it would otherwise be.

“The little girl in the poem reminded me of the young ­Stevenson in his well-known poem The Lamplighter.”

Other workers whose jobs are celebrated in the anthology ­include lollypop patrols, chimney sweeps, care home laundry staff art gallery security men and book-dusters at the National Library.

Environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “Our waste and cleansing staff carry out an essential and challenging job here in the Capital, which so often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. That’s why I’m delighted to see their efforts recognised by Christine De Luca’s wonderful study, Strictly Street Dancing.

“The poem not only captures the detail of their day-to-day duties, but sheds light on the people beneath the hi-vis jackets.”

And Mary Alexander, deputy Scottish secretary of the Unite union, which represents binmen, said: “Christine has got to the heart of what our members in waste and cleansing do for the citizens of Edinburgh.

“They do a difficult job that they know from back to front, and they do it with energy, commitment and good humour. It’s great to see them get the recognition they deserve.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com