After a short lived affair as a cub scout, where I learned to leap out of trees badly, build shelters that collapsed and was never able to light fires by rubbing stones (or was it sticks?) together, as well an assortment of valuable life saving skills. I also learned to be kind and helpful to retired and elderly people; to my young mind, apparently, they liked nothing more than being helped across the road, whether or not they wanted to go. However, I did disappointingly notice that retired folk tended to be a bit mean during those exciting ‘Bob a Job’ weeks’, which thankfully were banned some years ago, being considered as gross exploitation of seven-year-olds. After all, a ‘bob’, which is now five pence in modern money, wasn’t really an attractive rate of pay for helping to paint a living room or dig an allotment. All those distant, and mostly fond, memories came flooding back to me this week after an unfortunate incident at the rubbish bins.

I was taking our dog, Bella, for her morning walk, when I thought I would walk via the village rubbish bins with a bag of rubbish. Unlike better organised municipalities on the island, which have smart stainless steel hoppers leading to cavernous bins set well below street level, our municipality, which tends to have only an interest in the more prosperous tourist areas, provides smelly open-topped hoppers where all manner of vermin congregate, as well as a unhealthy gang of people searching through the rubbish trying to find something that they can sell. Times are hard for some people, and I can understand why they do this, but it often leads to arguments and fights, as to who found something of value first. It is a place where Bella and I do not linger for long.

I strode over to the bin and threw in my bag of rubbish. It was then that I noticed a small, elderly lady trying to throw a small carrier bag of rubbish into the hopper, which was far too high for her to reach. She was clearly arthritic, and her weak throw meant that her carrier bag fell well short of its target. I picked up her bag and threw it in for her. The elderly lady smiled gratefully and mumbled a ‘Gracias’ and then added something else, which I could not fully understand. I then noticed a second carrier bag in her other hand. I smiled and grabbed the bag from her hand, although I noticed that she did seem to be holding it rather tightly. This time, the old lady looked at me, shook her head and mumbled something in bad Spanish, which I took to be “I can manage”. My cub scout training certainly would not let me take no for an answer when there was an elderly person in need, and so I replied with a smile, adding “De nada” (which loosely translated means “it is nothing”), tossed the second carrier bag into the bin and went on my way, feeling satisfied that I had done my bit to help an elderly person in distress. Akela would be pleased with me.

Bella was anxious to continue with her walk and dragged me across the road aiming for the place where she usually likes to run and search for lizards. As I walked passed the hoppers, I noticed the old lady still standing by the bins, pointing and shouting at where I had thrown her carrier bag. I paused as I noticed that someone had climbed into the hopper, retrieved the elderly lady’s second carrier bag and was passing it to her. The dreadful truth slowly dawned on me. I had not only retrieved and thrown the lady’s first carrier bag of rubbish into the hopper, but I had also grabbed her second carrier bag, which probably contained groceries, into the hopper too.

I felt both guilt and acute embarrassment as I walked quickly away from the scene, but pleased that the elderly lady was now reunited with her groceries, whilst no doubt complaining about the thoughtless Brit who had thrown her shopping into the bin.

I blame it all on the cub scouts. Although I meant well, next time I will curb my enthusiasm to be helpful to elderly people who seem to be in need.