By the time you read this I'll have racked up 500 days of sobriety. This isn't much of a milestone but of more interest to me is that it's made up of 71 sober weeks, with a few days left over for contented contemplation. Contemplation that I have had the pleasure of 23 collections of the green bin in sobriety.
This isn't much of a landmark figure either but it is worth pointing out that for every one of those collections I have had many others where the giveaway symphony of glass bottles rattling in a bin was painfully audible to everyone in the street. The bottles in the bin came from numerous places as, in the fog and futility of alcoholism, I turned my back on social drinking and drank in solitude.
I drank secretly in the cottage-style garage, the Edwardian summerhouse, the dilapidated shed, the hammock, the hidden place behind the ancient Douglas Fir, which also doubled as my outside toilet and reading room, and even in the tree house. Actually, it was just a tree. I sat in the branches like a chimp and imagined what a palace of planking I would construct around me, until I fell out.
Every three weeks I heard the sound of the wagon wheezing to a halt at the first house in our street, the one with the couple with two young kids who don't drink. There seemed an easy lightness to the lifting of their bin and a gentle wumphh when it emptied, followed by that cosy fub-a-dub when they bounce the bin to loosen the stuff gummed to the sides. Next down is the bohemian woman who makes bespoke jewellery - wumphh, fub-a-dub. Then the old doll who lives on her own, ditto. Then the nouveau-riche couple next door who don't glug either - wumphh, fub-a-dub. In years past, this ordinary procession of sound would be broken by the dramatic moment when the wagon got to my gaff.
The wagon would always strain to lift my bin, sounding like one of those Olympic weightlifters from Georgia or Armenia. The groaning of the vehicle virtually bursting its big jockstrap would echo down the street and then, after the machine did its balancing trick and tilted the bin, the straining was replaced with a sound much like a bomb going off in a greenhouse.
As the wagon trundled up the avenue with its band of disapproving binmen knowing full well where the bucketeers lived I'd imagine their conversation "That's Robinson Crusoe's emptied for another three weeks. Look, he's in the tree again, watching." The wagon would then loop back down the other side of the street, every house emitting their genteel wumphh, fub-a-dubs with only an occasional tinkling from a chutney jar or the pop of an old lightbulb.
What must they have thought, my sober-living neighbours, who had probably never talked to a tree or been knocked over by an ambulance on Kilmarnock Road? Twenty houses with the unmistakable audio evidence of clean living and just one in the middle with the sounds of alcoholic self-destruction.
And nobody knew - or did they? - that there was a second bin-bag in the garage waiting to be tipped into the now empty wheelie bin with another noisy cascade ready to give away its contents. Plenty of spirit bottles had also been spirited into the bin at the top of the street under the cover of the moon with even more being furtively shipped to the recycling box behind the shops at night. This was the alcoholic equivalent of David Macallum in The Great Escape filling inner-trouser pockets with soil from the tunnels and dispersing it over the vegetable patches with a jaunty shake of the leg and a "They say perhaps a little rain later, Sir."
Yes, yes. I know you can get silent wine in bags and what a boon they are on the discreet disposal front but they don't yet do litres of Captain Morgan in soft-skinned receptacles do they? And there's the problem. Or rather, there was the problem, for me.
Yet, as we say so often in AA 'It's not like that now.' Five hundred days on and back in society to the extent of having scores of truly admirable, funny, kind, ironic, sincere, clever, soulful, generous, entertaining, colourful and just glad-to-be-alive friends in numberless meetings, I get a perverse kick from sitting clean-shaven under the apple tree once every three weeks.
When the wagon sighs at my gate, pausing only for a wumphh, fub-a-dub, I turn to the finches and tits around my bird-station and coo "Is that not the sweetest sound, my pretties?!"