Class conscious - Andrew Martin buys a bin

Do you ever stop to wipe the baked-bean juice off the lid of your swing-top bin?

In Crouch End, north London, near where I live, every other business is a restaurant. Whenever one of these closes down, a new restaurant inevitably replaces it. I fantasise about Crouch End going back in time, so that smart, minimalist Thai restaurants become chintzy, traditional Indian restaurants, which in turn become Italian coffee bars, which in turn become English tea shops, which in turn become fishmongers, greengrocers or something useful, and there (before Crouch End becomes open fields) I would check the reversal.

I had a shock last week, though, when I read that somebody was hoping to open a cement factory in Crouch End. Surely, I thought, looking at the headline, "Cement Factory" must be the ironic, self-deprecating name of a new restaurant chain. But no, this was just as off-message as it sounded. It was a proposal for a cement factory in the traditional sense of a factory that produces cement, and as such it must have no chance of being built. I read this story while visiting Crouch End in order to buy a kitchen waste bin - because most of those businesses in Crouch End that are not restaurants sell kitchen equipment.

Now the thing about waste bins is that there is no middle-class answer to the problem. Imagine you're at close quarters with a Hampstead hostess in the moment before a dinner party. As she makes the final preparations, you might notice that she opens a cupboard you didn't think was there with just a flick of a finger; she might pluck a bottle of Moet from a custom-built champagne-chilling section in her towering, stainless-steel fridge. She will have some sort of green-waste receptacle (purchased immediately after reading an article by George Monbiot). But she will also eventually put some ordinary rubbish into an ordinary bin, and at that moment a flicker of shame will cross her features. The bin will probably be little more than a plastic rectangular bucket attached to the inside of a kitchen unit door, the top of a plastic bin liner drawn either too tightly or too loosely around the rim.

The kitchen bins I experienced in my squalid, post-university years of shared accommodation were not much worse. Usually these were plastic pedal bins. At first, the lids would lift smartly to the vertical every time you pressed the pedal, like an old-fashioned gent lifting his hat to a woman he was pleased to see. (And I'm sure we can all think of another simile here.) But after a while, the old-fashioned gent would lift his hat only a grudging couple of inches or so, and soon after that, you'd have to do it for him.

The alternative was a swing-top bin, but their lids would quickly become spattered with food, which I and my mates would not notice. I would give the kitchen what I thought of as "a really good, thorough clean", perhaps spending an hour on the job, but it still wouldn't occur to me to wipe the baked-bean juice off the white lid of the swing-top bin. I mean, those bean stains were part of the bin.

In our present kitchen we had for a long time used an ordinary dustbin, albeit one kept shinier than those we place outside. We thought we'd get marks for boldness here, but an architect came to our house and commented in passing, "Mmm . . . ugly bin." So off I was sent to Crouch End, where a man in a kitchenware shop said: "I've thought about bins for so long, and it's very hard to get it right."

I eventually paid £130 for a stainless-steel swing-top bin made by a firm called - unwisely, I think - Simple Human. We've had it in our kitchen for a week now, but haven't placed any rubbish inside it, because my wife can't decide whether it looks right, and we may have to return it. I'm expecting a decision any day now. Meanwhile a half-full black bin liner straggles across our kitchen floor, like a partially engorged puff adder.