Wednesday, March 05, 2008


I went for a walk in the wood opposite yesterday (that's the wood opposite this house, there isn't one opposite this blog). The ground cover is starting to green up with the brambles creeping through and the bluebell leaves beginning to flourish. As you can see from the picture, the wood anemones are flowering and by next week there should be a few more carpets of these lovely little flowers. As you can also see, there's an unwanted foreign import. These pests have been complementing our local flora since their introduction in Powis Street, Woolwich in October 1974. They joined the earlier American invader who began spreading chicken bones and other rubbish from Preston in 1965.

When KFC opened a branch in Beaver Road, Ashford in the early 70s, everyone thought it was rather fun. Except us. Not because we had anything against the novelty nourishment, we had other concerns. We were about ten minutes away from the "restaurant", just the right amount of time for the passenger in any car heading out of town to have finished his or her "meal". They'd then gather the driver's rubbish together with their own and wing it out of the passenger's window. Our total frontage here is over a quarter of a mile because we're on a crossroads and have a couple of fields and over the years my parents must have picked up tons of American themed shit from their hedgerows and inside the fields. Just last Sunday I picked up a bag containing the rubbish from a Big Mac Meal that had blown right across the bottom orchard and every day there are new Coke cans and plastic bottles dumped. It's never ending. Admittedly, the above picture was contrived but only in that I picked the box up from a couple of yards away and placed it on the anemones. I could easily have picked up a cardboard beaker as well as three plastic bottles and two fag packets, all within a 10 yard radius and 50 yards into the woods. Who took it down there to dump instead of taking it home? This stuff gets everywhere.

Traditional English fast food came wrapped in a couple of sheets of newsprint that could be screwed up and thrown in the bin but even that's changing with thick cardboard or styrofoam boxes being increasingly used. Why? My last paid employment was with a company that supplied some of the largest fast food chains with a lot of their equipment and consumables. Believe me, those boxes and bags take up a great deal of weight and space compared with good old newsprint and it really coloured my attitude towards those places that use them. I don't think many people have a single idea about the amount of waste created by a restaurant meal compared to a home cooked one. And that waste has to get to the restaurant in the first place, don't forget. Paper plates, napkins or cardboard ramekins for your dips originating halfway round the world and then dumped in a hedge after 10 minutes of use is not environmentally friendly by any stretch of the imagination.
Even the dustpans and brushes used in some franchises are flown in from the US in bloody great cardboard boxes because all their restaurants have to conform (and not only US either. There's a well known UK pub chain that uses the same equipment) . I was becoming increasingly annoyed that I was part of that waste cycle and despite the fact that I desperately needed the money, it contributed heavily to my leaving the job because I do actually have certain scruples. That picture above was a case in point: the American chicken chain gets its cleaning products from Belgium. One day we had a pallet delivered on an articulated lorry with two boxes of test strips on, each one smaller than a pack of playing cards. It could have been posted in a jiffy bag or put on one of the other two pallets we had delivered at the same time or even, heaven forfend, sourced from a UK supplier. Before I arrived, apparently one box was delivered in a similar fashion. Arse numbingly stupid. We re-used the pallet but the heat-wrap ended up in landfill. And these companies apparently display an awareness of green issues!

Yes it's nice to eat out or grab a takeaway occasionally but please stop and think sometimes. Say no to extra bags and wrappings if it's totally uneccessary and think twice about using those stupid styrofoam boxes. If cattle, sheep or horses inadvertently eat a piece of discarded foam from a discarded box and it gets stuck, it doesn't show up on x-rays. Better still, just walk out of those establishments that use them. If they ask, tell them why you're not buying anything there. They might change if they feel their profits are at risk. I was sorely tempted to pick up all the McDonalds detritus from our frontage, get a hack from the local paper with a camera and dump it all on the floor of the Ashford restuarant and shout "Yours, you pick it up" but I'm a coward and didn't fancy getting arrested for littering when it wasn't me doing it in the first place.

Towns invariably have street cleaners so if your town is still full of rubbish they're overworked, not lazy. The rubbish shouldn't be there in the first place. Nothing of the sort out here in the sticks. Not many pavements and anyway, it's counterproductive as the council invariably has to employ a lookout to warn of approaching traffic while the other worker scrabbles around in the verge or ditch so you can bet your life the local twat with nothing better to do will start complaining to the local paper about his council tax being wasted. Wouldn't be a problem if the twat had educated his kids properly about dropping litter in the first place of course. I still feel guilty about bits of washed bus ticket falling out of my pocket and will always look for a bin, often to the amused bemusement of onlookers. If I can't find one, it goes home with me (or more accurately, as Sharon will no doubt remind me, it stays in the car until I drive past a recycling centre or remember to empty it).

Let's face it, we're a lazy bunch of sods. Most of us are content to ignore litter because someone's paid to pick it up. Then there are the other annoying bastards who whinge that they don't have to pick it up because they didn't drop it. Oh, please. These are the same idiots who complain that they ought to have their council tax reduced because they don't have any children at school then whine because they can't get a qualified mechanic or a kid who can't add up properly short changes them. They always want something for nothing. What's obvious is that if somebody doesn't pick it up, the countryside just becomes a mess. One person has had enough of waiting for others to do it and decided to start a campaign to get everyone to do it, regardless of whether they've dropped it in the first place. People Clearing Litter it's called and it's the idea of Steve McCormack. He was on the wireless yesterday explaining it to Jeremy Vine. Yes, yes we could just do it ourselves without publicity but would we? We love to be part of the herd and it's that being part of a popular movement that Steve is counting on to drive his initiative forward. If that's what it takes to raise awareness then so be it. It shouldn't be so, of course. We like to think of ourselves as an intelligent species but it's quite obvious that we're not, otherwise we wouldn't live in such a mess. Maybe, just maybe, if someone drops litter and spots a complete stranger picking it up then the shame factor will kick in. We won't really know unless we give it a go. Sharon will tell you about what they do in Norway; I've forgotten what they call it (I asked yesterday but forgot to write it down) but every so often, the local neighbourhood gets together and has a tidy up. Then afterwards they'll all have a barbecue and a bit of fun together. They share the responsibility for their community and thereby keep a community spirit going. Perhaps we could start something similar over here: have a clear up and then barbecue the local drive-thru, just like the French used to do.

12 Vegetable peelings:

Blogger Sharon J said...

Dugnad, that's what they call it. It's done in the spring to clear away any litter that gathered between snowfalls during winter. They also repair things in the neighbourhood, wild shrubs are cut back, etc etc. Supplies are provided by the council. There's a real community spirit to it and the 'party' afterwards is always good fun for all, young and old. For newcomers to the area, it's a great way of getting to know the neighbours.

Sadly, too many Brits seem to have lost pride in their surroundings and the sense of community has all but disappeared. I'm not that old yet I can remember when the women would be out cleaning their doorsteps and sweeping the street outside their houses and everybody in the street knew each other. Nowadays it seems we just expect somebody else to clean up the mess after us and then complain about the cost of council tax.

Thankfully the chippies up here haven't started using those awful boxes that you have down there. If they do, I shall tell them where they can stick them.

7:00 pm  
Blogger Dave said...

It does seem pathetic merely to comment, after having read your entire 56,000 word diatribe, that I agree with you.

I agree wholeheartedly with you.

8:21 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Dave, believe it or not but it started out as two paragraphs.

9:54 am  
Blogger Murph said...

I had to go out after 55,500 words but agree as much as Dave.

12:11 pm  
Blogger Rol said...

As a country boy, I always try to pick up litter when I'm out walking he countryside - particularly plastic bags. My dad had a young calf choke to death on a bag it had chewed once. Yes, people are lazy, but worse still many of them just don't care.

1:48 pm  
Blogger tom909 said...

Great rant Richard. I'm really going off on one about why this crap happens, rather than how to deal with it after it has. Why are some people so oissed off that they feel the need to throw garbage around the place.
Here's my theory - If they had a bit more of a stake in the place they might treat it with a bit more respect.

6:56 am  
Blogger Malc said...

Top stuff, Richard!

I'm happy to say my nearest McDonalds is a an-hour-and-a-half ferry ride, a 40-minute bus trip, another hour-and-a-half ferry ride and a four hour train trip away. It was the main reason we moved here, but it's kind of symbolic.

Chrissie Hynde had a point in the early 80s when she urged us all to firebomb McDonalds, although, for a more moderate response, maybe everyone could collect all their crap up in a bin bag and empty contents at the front door of the nearest "restaurant" (taking bin bag home for a second use).

Here on Orkney we have a 'bag the bruck' weekend where locals clear up all the crap washed up on the beaches.

11:06 am  
Blogger Tennessee Jed said...

You are suffering from that pathetic Americanism with its disposable lifestyle. Just wait till you start finding old people lying around in the brambles wishing they could find a Mac box to scrape the goo out of for breakfast.

On a side note we have a new restaurant in town that serves London style food called the Crown & Goose, do you guys eat things like bubble and squeak and cheese board often?

Very good post/rant Richard, very nice to believe we can have community once more even in a throw away time.

10:19 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Jed, yes bubble and squeak, I had some the other day. It's fried up leftovers, usually bacon, potato and cabbage and done decently it's a fine meal.

I've just been on the Crown and Goose website. I'm not sure if the owners are English or not but if they are they've made a couple of elemental mistakes: a ploughman's lunch isn't a cheeseboard, it's usually only one large chunk of cheese - usually the popular local one and maybe if you're lucky, a lump of stilton; crusty bread, butter, pickled onions and the food of the gods, Branston pickle. It's also Welsh Rarebit, not rabbit. Some people do call it rabbit, but usually those who think they've encountered a spelling mistake. Most of us call it cheese on toast or Welsh pizza. Has to be eaten with HP Sauce. Much of their fare isn't traditionally English but then what is. Proper English menus really ought not to have anything written in French on them at all. However, there are far worse pubs over here so good luck to it. Have you been?

12:50 am  
Blogger ziggi said...

noooooo! Not HP sauce! Bleugh! I agreed with everything up until that point.

10:38 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It's your right. Some people eat cauliflower and I think that's demented.

11:03 pm  
Blogger happyhippychick said...

I can't drop rubbish either... I've been known to chase a scrap down the road rather than litter! My son is the same... basically it comes down to how I was brought up and in turn how I brought him up. We both will pick up litter if we see it more often than not

I think a lot of this rubbish droppping is down to parents not bringing their kids up not to do it... in fact I think a lot of the problems like the violence etc is down to parents not doing what they should - everyone is jumping on bandwagons and saying what ought to be done but nobody seems to have looked for a root cause

PS - no cauliflower for you off my allotment then! (unless I drench it in HP in an effort to disguise it?)

9:14 am  

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