They seem to appear out of nowhere. One minute there’s an old Seat Ibiza parked outside your local bar or the gate to your apartment block. You look away briefly and when you turn your head to look back — the car is gone. And in its place? A skip. Has anyone ever seen a skip being delivered? Or taken away, for that matter? Or an empty skip? Because they fill up pretty fast. Just like in every big city, a skip in Madrid is an open invitation for all the neighbours to think about doing a little spring cleaning. Do we really need that old sideboard? Or that hideous vinyl lamp we picked up on a whim during our voluntary incarceration in Ikea? (The meatballs must have gone to our heads!) I think a nocturnal trip down to the neighbours’ skip is in order!
I see the humble skip as providing a telling insight into one facet of the Spanish mentality. Coming as I do from an Anglophone culture where health and safety governs every aspect of our existence and we live in such trembling fear of the lawsuit that adherence to sometimes over-the-top rules and regulations (or ass-covering as it is technically known) takes precedent over common sense, the Spanish approach to skip filling is heartening in its practicality, rebelliousness and humanity even.
You know the way skips always bear a sprayed-on message or a sticker saying Do Not Fill Above this Line? Well, that’s the case in Spain, as well (except it’s in Spanish), but the message is completely ignored, in a systematic and ingenious nose-thumbing kind of way. Now, I can imagine German or Danish skip contractors being quite strict and unyielding when it comes to the matter of filling skips. I can see them whipping out the old metre stick to make sure there was no foul play on the skip-filling front. A piece of masonry or a tile protruding even by a millimetre above the line would be removed and much stern tut-tutting would be engaged in. There might even be penalties or fines! Japanese skip contractors would probably have some sort of laser device for measuring the fill level. Your English skip remover would take a look at the overfilled skip, shake his head at the customer and apologetically mumble: “Impossible mate. Can’t take it away. If the boss saw me bringing in an overfilled skip, I’d get an earful.” “Jaysus Christ,” his Irish counterpart would say. “You can’t be filling skips up like that. The health ‘n’ safety crowd’d have me guts for garters!”
In Spain, they have skip overfilling down to a fine art! The first principle of skip overfilling is: forget that fill line. The fill line is an autocratic dictum from the pen-pushers in Brussels — the same folks that brought us austerity, fishing quotas and the Common Agricultural Policy — and as such national pride almost demands that it be ignored. An overfilled skip is not in itself unsafe. It just has to be done right and the law of inertia beats Nordic risk assessment models any day. The second principle: increase the capacity of the skip. You can never have a big enough skip. With the assumption being that their design is conservative and imperfect, the logical conclusion is that these babies need to be pimped. Raise the skip’s height by any available means — floor tiles and doors are best. After all, capacity (volume) = length x width x height. Third principle: regard the increased capacity as a challenge to fit even more rubble and old bathroom ware into the skip. At the end of the day, you have to fit in at least as much as the neighbours, who, remember, aren’t the ones paying for it!
While skips aren’t as common a sight in Madrid as they were during the property bubble, there are still some intrepid souls renovating their dwellings and in need of the removal of large volumes of debris. The fact that there are fewer skips on the go these days means they tend to fill up faster than ever with neighbours’ rather than the actual paying customer’s waste. This puts even more pressure on the customer to keep on fillin’ and I’ve seem some prime examples lately. It says a lot about Spanish culture and its relaxed approach to authority that little rules such as the skip fill line are universally bent. This attitude is one of the country’s charms — and one of its downfalls. One wonders how much petty rule-bending like the skip fill line leads to the large-scale and systemic corruption that we see at central and regional government level.