Litter man's lament for our dirty habits
Spring Monday. Dawn. The only pretty ring time. There's puke and pigeons in the bus shelter. The latter eyes the former, gives it a distasteful look and moves on to peck at discarded pizzas. Funny... give them orange overalls and we would have much in common pigeons and I - grubby, ungainly foragers pecking at the rubbish on the street, unnoticed and unfluttered by the hurried throng of work commuting humanity. But I am not a pigeon. I have ears.
" It's a bloody disgrace, our street. You ought to see it Wilf. Dogmuck everywhere, smashed bottles, chip trays. They want locking up. And the ruddy council? Useless! They used to keep it spotless you know, but now you never see them."
"Then why don't you complain then?"
"Complain? Waste of time isn't it. Another cig Wilf?, just opening a fresh pack... here..."
"Well thanks, don't mind if I do. Ah here comes the bus."
The bus pulls up at the stop and Smith and Jones get on. A few minutes later I come along and pick up the four cigarette ends, cellophane, silver paper, matches and the discarded empty packet that they forgot to take with them while they were so engrossed in discussing the problem of litter!
Spring is in the air. This morning I can see it in the crocus beds on Skircoat Moor, in the fact that it's now daylight when I start work, and in the sudden increase of rubbish on city streets. Bad weather keeps the litter louts indoors, but come the first stirrings of warmer days they come out in force, leaving their trails behind them.
'Litter Lout'. Simple anatomy - you know the sort - cropped hair, gold earring, tattoos, Neanderthal mannerisms. Either them or the ruddy schoolkids - student louts. We know all about them. Or do we?
The sad truth is that 99% of our litter offenders are the sort of people who wouldn't say boo to a goose and would be genuinely shocked if you accused them of a criminal act. You can make a list of them - all of them fine upstanding members of society. That little pile of dog ends in the car park came from that middle aged thug in the Mercedes whom I failed to catch in the act of emptying his ashtrays into the street. I knew he was a lout the instant I saw the gang badge on his car - 'Rotary Club'. Then there's 'Postman Pratt'. Where he wanders no-one knows - leaves elastic bands wherever he goes. Bus drivers are also litter louts - leastways I assume they are, I mean your average commuter has to do an awful lot of bus travelling to throw away tickets thirty feet long! Tradesmen too soil the streets with putty, glass, woodshavings, polystyrene packaging and rubble, all because they are too lazy to clear up after themselves. Then we have those most universally popular of people, the diggers-of-holes-in-the-roads. A favourite one of theirs is the bags of sand and gravel they use to weight down their temporary roadsigns. When the job's done they come for the cones and temporary street furniture but leave the gravel bags on the street. Can't have those poor little navvy wavvys straining their backy wackies can we now? No! The muggins in orange has to clear it up.
But the oscar for urban environmental menace of the century has to go to that dandelion of humanity, the ubiquitous cigarette smoker. If you assess the amount of litter you collect in terms of individual items, rather than by bagged up bulk, then the smoker wins by a country mile. A smoker's detritus may be small, but 8 out of every 10 items of litter I pick up off a street has been put there by a smoker. Cigs ends may be small but they outnumber chip trays and coke cans by a hundred to one - and they are no easier to pick up!
Everyone knows that littering the streets is a criminal offence, but this of course doesn't apply to smokers, they can stub out their tab ends where they like. While dumping a three piece suite or letting your dog poo in the street will raise shrieks of horror, stubbing out a cigarette or throwing away cellophane wrappers is, for some bizarre reason quite socially acceptable. I mean - how many smokers do you see with portable ashtrays? If pooper scoopers are rare tab trappers are quite unknown. Look at it from my point of view and removing the three piece suite is the easier option. People dont dump settees by the hundred. As I trudge the streets in the rain I take cynical comfort from the thought that every cig end I pick up is a nail in some inconsiderate beggars coffin!
In Brighouse, Robert the barrowman usually lurks behind the public lavatories. Once he waylays you you've had it, you can't get rid of him. Barrowmen tend to do this a lot. I suppose its inevitable when you work on your own most of the time. By the time I roll up in my wagon the pent up floodwaters of his daily isolation are ready to burst forth in an endless one sided monologue about train spotting, transistor radios and a host of other things of interest to no-one but him. Robert endlessly talks shop - the kiss of death when you're a street sweeper! But to Robert it's a vocational calling! The box of plastic chip forks he found on the precinct this morning, the dumped traffic cones he's 'put by' for me, the 'why don't you work weekends Jim?' You listen, you nod, but after half an hour of not being able to get a word in edgeways your patience starts to wear a little thin and you start salivating and extracting tufts of hair from your scalp. Harry Enfield would love him. Grizzled binmen will jump into the canal to avoid him. This week however, I can relax, he's on holiday and Normski is standing in.
Norman is absent minded and ritualises everything. Brush, shovel, lunch, sweater,keys,litter pickers, bag,he checks and double checks each item and if anything is out of place he panics and dithers. He needs organising all the time and