Strictly Street Dancing with Edinburgh's refuse collection service

Edinburgh Makar, Christine De Luca, has paid tribute to the city’s refuse collection service with a dedicated poem.

The poet penned Strictly Street Dancing after spending a morning shadowing team members while out collecting bins, in order to get a feel for their work.

It will now be added to Edinburgh Unsung, a collection of poems by various writers celebrating the important work of those in the capital which goes largely unnoticed – from carers to grave-diggers and night bus drivers.

On Thursday, Christine visited the Bath Road depot and two of the staff members she’d shadowed – Robert Gyorfi and Kevin Manson, along with their manager Trevor Kelly - to present them with a framed, signed copy of the poem.

She 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 & 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 & 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.”

Transport and Environment Convener, Councillor Lesley Hinds, added: “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.”

Strictly street dancing

for Edinburgh’s Waste & Cleansing Department

Bins lurk in starlit chill.
Fifteen tonners rev,
beams sweep tarmac.
Rotas are ticked,
men leap aboard,
double gloved, high vis’d.

There’s a mix of new Scots and
Edinburgh-through-and-through Scots:
crews with two loaders, and a driver
skilled to reverse up cul de sacs,
wind past parked cars,
leave side-mirrors intact.

They watch out for each other,
know the drill to make it flow:
grab two bins, birl them, make a pair,
nudge them to the cradle, check and
trundle them back, grab two more…
it’s a Dashing White Sergeant

it’s a repertoire, with rhythm
and precision, a get up and go.
Bins dance in sequence too:
handstands, a wobble, balance, then
down to waiting hands, while
the hopper compacts and gobbles.

Stop, start, stop, start. Keep your cool
with drivers in a hurry. A gap: a minute
of banter, snatch of song, drive on.
They know their route by heart:
each cobbled street, each judder, jolt,
each turning place, each missing bin.

And a cheery wave to the child who,
like the boy awaiting the lamp-lighter,
watches at her window:
their momentary attention
their brightness
their beaming smiles.

Listen to Christine De Luca reading the poem on her blog.


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