It’s a haul like no other. I spot the Alessi citrus squeezer first, and that turns out to be dumped on top of a brand new Bisley drawer unit. I almost wonder if this is a kind of adult version of the witch’s gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, and someone has placed this stuff here to lure and entrap a greedy woman in her thirties. Either way, I’m having it.
These items have been left outside a house in south-east London, on a street near mine. There are a couple of piles of books too, and some framed pictures.
Posh fly-tipping is something I’ve only noticed in the past decade. Which is odd, as it seems like the worse the state of the economy is, the fancier the things are that people decide to chuck out.
Some perverse way of showing off, maybe? “I’ve gone off my Alessi citrus squeezer (a design classic that retails for about £70). Not even gonna eBay it. I’ll just leave it out in the street for some poor soul who can’t afford prestige kitchenware.”
Over the years, my street finds have included a mid-century drinks cabinet, and an original 1970s film poster, which now has pride of place in my living room.
My sister – who used to live in the posh fly-tipping paradise that is Brooklyn – effectively managed to clothe her kids for free, with high-quality castoffs left in piles on the stoops of brownstones.
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But this south London Alessi assortment is primo. With the drawer unit and the citrus squeezer, I reckon I’ve already (legally) pillaged about £100 worth of stuff.
Then I start sorting through a pile of framed pictures. Four of them -= some prints – look Japanese, and relatively old. They’re all professionally framed, and a note on the back of one of them informs me it’s a woodblock print from 1916.
My heart begins to race. This is potentially the moment I’ve been waiting for my entire adult life – the moment where, via a random act of God or whatever higher power oversees wealth assignment – I find treasure. Actual treasure. I could be like one of those people you read about, who finds a lost Picasso in their attic, or buys what turns out to be a rare Ming vase for 40p at a jumble sale. Complete chance like this, I figure, is the only way I’ll ever attain anything resembling wealth.
Looking around me, I scoop up the Japanese prints. Am I part of some bizarre social experiment? Am I breaking the law in some way? This all seems too easy. A bit of research at home tells me similar pieces of art have sold for thousands. I practically start salivating.
Then come moral considerations of having found something potentially valuable in the street. What if the owner is mentally unstable, and threw out the prints in some kind of frenzy? Am I potentially profiting off of someone’s nervous breakdown? “Nah, it’s just a rich person Marie Kondo-ing some of the less joy-sparking trappings of their wealth,” I keep on telling myself.
I send photos of the prints to a Japanese art specialist in Kensington, London. Mentally, I begin spending the money I’ll get for them at auction. I’m buying a stand mixer. I’m going on holiday. Suddenly, I’m putting a deposit down on a house. When you find something so intriguing dumped in the street, pretty much anything becomes possible. Your mind goes to some strange and deeply unlikely places. This delicious uncertainty lasts for days, until an email from the specialist dings into my inbox.
“Good quality reproductions”. “Decorative value only”. “Sorry for any disappointment”.
Scanning the email, my new life as a member of the street find nouveau riche melts into a rainy day spent eBaying some souvenir-quality prints, for a cool £5 a piece.
I still want to believe that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Mostly though, it’s just another man’s trash.