THIS REFUSE HAS BEEN CHECKED FOR ILLEGAL PRESENTATION.
What the hell, I hope you are asking yourself, is that about? You need to live in Edinburgh's New Town to figure it out instantly. For the rest of you, I will explain.
The New Town in Edinburgh is called that because they didn't even start building it until the 1700s were almost over. It's a beautiful, carefully planned area of fine, high-ceilinged Georgian apartment buildings, half a millennium younger than the older parts of the town. The apartment buildings are called "tenements" (here that term connotes Georgian elegance rather than the ugly slum projects of Eastern US cities). These buildings have six or seven levels, with two apartments (which the British call "flats") on each level. The block where I live, built in 1830, has front doors on the sub-basement and basement levels way below the street (there is a sort of man-made canyon beyond the street-level railings) and a street-level front door that gives access to four other floors: ground, first, second, and third (to the mystification of first-time American visitors, the second floor in a British building is called "first").
How, in such a context, how can the local council handle the collection of garbage (or as the British call it, "rubbish")?
The wheeled bins of suburbia are out of the question here: nowhere to put them. Front yards are nonexistent except for the sub-basement flats, and they are two to four flights of steps down into the canyon from street level. There are no elevators (if we had them, they would be called "lifts"): the third floor residents have to climb six flights of stairs from the street with every bag of groceries (we don't buy wine by the case here). There is no outdoor space even for trashcans (if we had them, they would be called "dustbins"). So what do you do with twelve families' garbage per house?
So this is what Edinburgh does. Every few months the city council delivers several rolls of heavy black plastic sacks to each flat. People put their kitchen garbage and household trash in the sacks. Twice a week they haul their latest sack (plus their plastic boxes of recyclables) up or down the stairs to get to the street level and leave it by the kerb for council garbage trucks to collect. The law says you have to have your bag out early in the morning — but not the previous night. You see, Edinburgh is basically on a seacoast. We have seagulls.
These large, wily, and sharp-beaked birds don't spend all their time on the arduous traditional pursuit of catching live fish. Several days a week they head inland for an easier life, and flock to the New Town (they know exactly which streets to head for on which days). They come with the breaking dawn, looking for bags that were illicitly put out at midnight. In the spring and summer there is enough light to spot them as early as 4 a.m.; plenty of time to have breakfast before the streets start getting crowded with people walking to work.
Great gangs of gulls rip open the sacks, pull out packaging and envelopes and other dry trash and toss it all over the place, and dig around for discarded food, which they drag out and eat on the sidewalks (which are called "pavements" here; I hope you are appreciating the vocabulary lessons I have built into this piece). By 7 a.m., the street in front of many houses looks like a municipal dump.
The British waste a lot of food; in monetary terms, probably about £10 billion a year — $16,500,000,000 worth of food that no human ever eats). I walk to the university past big, beady-eyed seagulls eating whole boxed pizzas that went past their sell-by date; strings of sausages are being dragged around in the road; sideway and road are littered with meat pies, eggs, fish, cheese, bananas, uncooked chicken, bread, pasta; there are pounds of minced beef still in the supermarket shrinkwrap; and leftover meals in expanded polystyrene takeout containers which the birds peck their way into and toss aside when the food has been consumed.
These birds are big, omnivorous, and fearless: you cannot frighten them away more than about ten feet. They come straight back the moment you move on. And they have no sense of civic pride whatsoever. Edinburgh is heart-stoppingly beautiful, but the gulls do not appreciate that. On some pickup days I have had to come home and use a shovel and broom to clear up outside our home.
So I have been calling the city council to get them to come and prosecute the miscreants. When I see sacks on the kerb late at night I take them back up to the front doors, but I can't put them inside (the tenement houses have front doors with locks to which only the house residents have keys). What I'd like to see is police rubbish squads watching from unmarked vehicles and rushing out to grab the evildoers and haul them off to jail. But at the very least these people need to be identified and fined. I get up early enough to take my sack out on Mondays and Thursdays before 7 a.m., and make sure it's tied up tight and any food inside is sealed inside other plastic bags; so can they.
What the Edinburgh city council finally did, in response to my calls to the Environmental Protection department, was to come round and note sacks that had been put out too early, and they stuck on at least one of them (the one I noticed on Thursday) a small sticky label saying "THIS REFUSE HAS BEEN CHECKED FOR ILLEGAL PRESENTATION."
Nerdview is the (sometimes absurdly inappropriate) use of an insider's perspective and language in a context where messages are being addressed to a wider public. The symptoms are both perspectival (signs of seeing things as the factory or office or authorities would instead of from the standpoint of the public) and linguistic (using in-house jargon that the public might not even understand).
Everyone here calls garbage "rubbish" (as seen in this blog post about the resistance of New Town residents to the idea of large street-parked wheelie bins as a way of overcoming the seagull problem). Ordinary people absolutely never call it "refuse". So the city calls it "refuse" when talking to the public about it. That's nerdview.
The members of the public describe themselves as putting bags of rubbish out, and so the council talks about "presenting". People talk about the trucks collecting the bags, so the council calls it "uplift". Illegal "presentation" of "refuse" for "uplift". That's nerdview talk. [Update later: By the way, Brian Neill has pointed out to me a sense of check that is listed (number 11) in the OED: "To rebuke, reprove, reprimand." It is described as formerly archaic or dialectal, but now colloquial. Could they possibly have meant that the garbage itself has been reprimanded? I actually have no idea which sense of check they intended.]
The council exhibits nerdview conceptualization too. It apparently thinks it has done its duty if it verifies that certain "refuse" sacks are illegally "presented" and puts stickers on them saying they have been "checked". Inspection done, problem identified, regulation sticker attached, residents thereby informed, job done. It all makes sense if you are them. Not if you're us. We know that the sort of people who put their sacks out at night so they can sleep late are the sort of people who don't read council notices or stickers. And the sacks will be gone before they get up anyway. It can only make sense to put those stickers on the bags under a council-internal nerdview conception of the situation.
I wanted armed garbage patrols hauling off thoughtless neighbours in police vans, and what I get is nerdview stickers stuck pointlessly on sacks.
It'll be Monday tomorrow. Another "refuse uplift" day on our street. I can sense the excitement of the seagulls already. They will be gathering in flocks at Cramond and Leith Docks and Portobello to make plans for their big day in town, starting with a free al fresco breakfast buffet on the streets of the New Town.
[In due course I will be deleting the more absurdly parochial and non-linguistic comments below; this is not UK Refuse Uplift Policy Complaints Log, this is Language Log, and what I tried to present for you (though it needed backstory) is some new cases of nerdview. —GKP]