Monday, August 11, 2008

Throwing it in the Lake

The girl on the path in front of me, as I walked round Waterloo Lake in Roundhay Park, was finishing a large bottle of Coke as she chatted to her friends.

When she'd finished the Coke, without a millisecond's thought, she just threw the bottle to the right of her, into the lake. Not even in a happy hey-look-how-far-I-can-throw-it way, just in a matter-of-fact getting rid of it way.

She was on the edge of the lake: I was passing her on her left. She will never know how very close I came to giving her a hefty push into the lake after the bottle. In that split second I could see all the media coverage: I could see crowds of people cheering me on as I was led away to prison.

But then, I thought, oh hell, what if the wretched girl can't swim and I have to rescue her? Or what if she drowns, damn her? So I didn't do it. But afterwards, just a bit of me still wished I had.

Litter, and people who throw it, makes me just blazing mad. I walked the length of the street where I live recently - in a leafy suburb of Leeds - and it was like there'd been an explosion in a paper factory.

I've just been watching Panorama, with Bill Bryson pondering on the state of the nation's litter.

The first thing I have to get out of the way is my thoughts about Bill Bryson himself.

Whenever I've seen him on television - and it's not often - I think, how did that happen? Here is a man whose books I love, and whose evocative prose has made me laugh out loud on many an occasion.

And yet, in person, although you can tell he's a Very Good Thing, he seems to have had a bit of a charisma bypass. As a television presenter, he just doesn't cut it. His accent doesn't help - you'd expect him to have a bit of a mid-Atlantic accent but he seems to have found a different accent for every word he speaks. It's amazing. And, sadly, a bit hard to follow.

Anyway, he pointed out that every council seems to have a different policy on litter: some have instant fines, others don't seem to care. Hardly any of them have prosecuted anyone for fly-tipping.

Why we put up with it all I don't know. It's one of the single issues that makes Britain - with our glorious countryside - a shocking place for foreigners to see, and it detracts from the quality of life of all of us who live here.

It's not a minor issue. To me, it's up there with robbery. And I nearly said "with armed robbery" but I thought that was going a bit too far. Only a bit, mind.

One of the more interesting theories that I ponder from time to time, though, is what would happen if you swapped the sentences that courts award for dropping litter with the ones they dish out for murder. I'd guess there'd be only a few more murders - - and the whole of Britain would be a hell of a lot cleaner and tidier. Not that I'm advocating it, of course. Well, only in my angrier moments.

So, what to do with people who drop litter in the street, or in the countryside? Well, d'you know what, I'd get them to pick it up. Not just for a day, or for six weeks or so. I'd get them in teams, in charge of keeping a particular patch of land spotless. After a while, perhaps they'd get to understand why places are so much nicer when they're litter-free.

As for fly-tippers, probably the best thing would be to put them in the stocks for a few days and throw half-eaten curries and fish-and-chip wrappers at them. No, I'm not saying that it would help them to learn the error of their ways, or that it would teach them never to do it again. But by heck, it would be fun.


Blogger Debby said...

I don't know if you ever had the old 'chain gangs', but I'm all for bringing them back in every state here. You're in jail? You screwed up? It's not a country club get your soft little hiney out there and pick up trash. It's not infringing on your rights as you lost any of those you had when you broke the law. Florida uses prisoners for road work. I say bravo. Let them earn their keep and make our countryside look nicer in the process.

We have large fines for littering. I say fine them, and then make them pick up trash along the roads for a few months.

I shall step down off my soapbox now, and as I have vehement opinions about littering also, I shall pick up my soapbox and throw it in a proper receptacle!

2:40 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Hello, Daphne, this is Bob Brague (rhymeswithplague) on his maiden visit to your blog. The blogname came as a distinct shock to this tender American psyche, I must say, but I know you have your reasons. Thanks for visiting my blog; I had my reasons too.

I'm looking forward to reading many of your earlier posts. BTW, I call the Atlanta, Georgia (USA) area "home." I spent one night in your country back in 1969; I flew in from Stockholm via Amsterdam, stayed in London at the Europa Hotel near Grosvenor Square, and caught an airplane back to the U.S. the next morning. I don't remember what the situation was in the litter department.

3:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I am so with you on this one. Have you noticed the huge increase in cigarette butts on the streets since the smoking ban? More litter.

I almost always have a plastic carrier bag with me nowadays in case I might want to do some shopping but I have seriously been thinking about using it to collect litter whenever I see it.

But I expect that would probably attract more stigma from strangers than they give to people who drop litter.

9:07 am  
Blogger MrsG said...

I ADORE Bill Bryson - Notes From A Small Island was given to me just before I first came to study here as "the only travel book you'll need". Real guidebooks aside, it was. I have seem him do readings in person and even bumped into him randomly in a street in Leeds, and he listened bemused as I told him I had once met him in California and was now meeting him here and wow isn't it funny and by the way could he sign my ancient tattered copy of his book, please?
No, he isn't going to set the world alight as a tv personality, but he certainly is a sweet, patient man.

9:43 am  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Daphne - you are a bit of a chicken! That girl in the park - you should have confronted her politely and pressed home the anti-litter message on behalf of the rest of us who weren't there. Perhaps it would have made that one irresponsible litter lout think twice next time. Of course if she was an average Leeds teenager with piercings, muscles, scars and tattoos with various boyfriends in prison and babies to various fathers then even polite confrontation may have been unwise.

10:54 am  

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