I meet Gary Robertson for a chat on his tea break, on one of those perfectly crisp December mornings.
As we sit on a frosty bench in Dundee’s Balgay Park, I try not to feel too jealous of his warm and toasty colleague in the bin lorry several metres away.
It’s been another successful year for Gary, 56, who is still buzzing following the fifth run of his play The Berries at Dundee Rep Theatre in November.
The comedy is set in the summer of 1974 amid the berry fields of Kirriemuir, and follows a day in the life of four Dundee pickers as they toil and graft under the watchful eye of the no-nonsense foreman Rab.
“This year was great because I played the part of the gaffer Rab and my wife played one of the drunks,” Garry said.
“She was a sherry-drinking drunk berry picker.
“My daughter played a part and my wee grandson came on stage for the first time.
“So it was a right family affair.”
Gary – a full-time binman as well as a successful poet and author – started organising the play with wife Sue in August.
“Me and my wife kind of run everything, so it’s quite stressful. But it is fun. Every time we do a play, it’s like, ‘Oh we’re not doing this again!’
“You start worrying about wee things.
“I was really proud and I was very emotional when we did the last show.
“It sold out months ago, which put my mind at ease. Just financially, I always hope to break even. And just make sure everybody is paid.
“But it has been probably the most successful and quickest to sell out.
“Every show we’ve done we’ve been so lucky to have the support of the Dundee public and beyond.”
Gary, who has released six books since 2007, has also been busy working on his next publication, Wild Mountain Times.
It is inspired by his years with the NCR Mountaineering club, which he has been a member of since 1990.
Gary, an avid climber, worked at the NCR factory before its closure in 2009.
“Wild Mountain Times has been about 13 years in the making,” he said.
“It is basically the history of the NCR Mountaineering Club.
“Some of the stories are mad, and usually involve a few aperitifs.
“There are loads of climbing and mountaineering books out there but there’s not many that touch on the humorous life and the stories that go on in the wee bothies.”
He hopes to finally finish the “stop-start” project in 2024.
The dad-of-two has also been working on new music with punk rock band The Cundeez, who are currently planning a trip to Germany and a tour of Norway next year.
In addition, he reveals he has an idea for a new stage play, which he will write in 2024. But for now, it is hush hush.
Somehow, Gary fits all of the above around his full-time job as a Dundee bin collector, a role he’s held for 14 years.
But despite his success in the creative sphere, he insists he has no intention of quitting the day job any time soon.
He said: “People often ask if I fancy doing writing as a career, or even taking the plays outside of Dundee.
“But I’m content with our wee city. It’s brilliant.
“I would never say never, but I’m just happy being in Dundee and being a Dundonian.
“And if it became my employment, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much.”
In fact, it seems the role informs much of his writing, which is often centred around social issues in Dundee.
Reflecting on the cost of living crisis, he said: “Because we are on the streets everyday with the bin lorries, I do see the poverty first-hand, people begging on the streets.
“It is heart-breaking to think that a lot of people are really struggling out there.”
The festive period is a particularly tough time for some families he says.
“Many parents trying to provide for their kids over Christmas face extra financial pressures at this time of year.
“They may need to take loans when they don’t have the money to pay for it.
“I am lucky in my family. Everyone is really supportive and helps each other when it is needed.
“Certainly me and my wife helped our son and daughter get their first houses.
“But not a lot of young people are in that position where their parents can support them. We were just lucky we were able to.”
‘You can be anything you want to be’
But Gary also makes a point of remaining upbeat in his works, in a bid to inspire the younger generation.
“There is no point in just being negative all the time.
“The city has got its problems the same way as any town or city in the UK.
“I love this city and I always try and look forward and be positive.
“It is always good to speak to younger people and try to say, ‘Look, you can be anything you want to be’.
“It really is true, if you put your mind to it. I think it is good to have role models around you.
“Not that I’m a role model, but I want to inspire young people to go and be the best they can be.”
Gary’s advice for a happy 2024
What is Gary’s advice for a happy 2024?
He said: “Get up in the morning, whatever is going on in your life, and get a smile on your face.
“And just try to help others where you can.
“I know we’ve all got busy lives, but helping people or your family and friends when it’s possible makes all the difference.”
He added: “If you’ve got any plans, don’t just think about them. Go do them. Make them a reality.
“It is good to look to the future, but there is nothing better than actually doing it. Whatever that entails.
“I’m looking forward to the new year. It is always good to start afresh.
“I think, everyone starts hammering the gym and thinking, ‘Right, I’m going to do this’, but a lot of people lose the willpower.
“The important thing is to keep going.”
Keeping fit seems to come naturally to Gary, who has accomplished several extreme fitness challenges, including a 24-hour run, climbing all 282 Munros in Scotland and even winning the BBC show ‘SAS: Are You Tough Enough?’ in 2001.
How does he do it?
“For me personally, it’s always come from the great love of keeping fit.
“And that has done me in great stead since the age of about 12.
“I think if your body is fit, then your mind is fit.
“If you can master that discipline, it opens the doors to so many other opportunities in life.”
The support of his friends and family is also key to his success.
“I’ve been lucky, the friends and family around me keep me happy.
“It’s just nice to have a positive outlook on life.”
There’s that word again – “lucky”.
Gary’s gratitude and passion for life is infectious, and I walk to back to the office feeling lucky to have met him.