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Slovenly Britain?

Is Britain
the most slovenly country in Europe?  And if it is, was it always that way, or has
something occurred to make it so?    

I can’t answer those questions.  Nor can I answer the various derivative questions,
including the key one, namely whether Britons are more apt to litter than other
nationalities, or are merely less efficient in picking it up.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake,
that some agency of the European Union were to publish a ranking list of
offenders for dumping household waste, fly-tipping and littering.  Would Britain appear nearer the top (bad)
or the bottom (good)?    

My guess, for what it’s worth, is
that Britain
would appear somewhere in the middle of the table – above the eastern countries
but below the western ones.  If I’m
right, that’s simply not good enough.

What I do know is that whenever I
emerge from the Channel Tunnel, I’m mere minutes away from tossing out
expletives about the volume of throwaway detritus scattered along the roadside,
including the plastic bags that festoon the hedgerows, and soon to be hidden
under the emerging foliage.

Leaving aside the many obvious
objections to litter, the worst aspect, it seems to me, is the risk that we
will simply get used to it.  That’s
silly, I can hear you muttering, but I’ve spoken to a number of people who tell
me that they haven’t noticed any change in our littering habits, and don’t
consider it a problem anyway. What’s more worrying is that many of them come from
a far younger generation than my own.

Is it possible, then, that litter
is an eyesore only to those of us of a certain age – silly old farts who, as
they grow older, tend to enlarge certain minor irritants into major ones?  Again, I’m just asking. 

The kind of behaviour I observe
just about every day doesn’t fill me with confidence.  Often, on the morning train up to town, I have
to clear my seat of discarded newspapers, paper coffee cups, plastic bottles,
fast-food trays, sometimes even bananas, before sitting down.  Sometimes the debris is stuffed down the side
of the seat – in many ways a far worse offence, as the people doing the
stuffing have acknowledged that their leftovers need to be hidden.  I could understand this form of littering if
there were no litter bins, but the trains on my line have at least four in each
carriage.  They are usually empty.

Today, as I was sitting at a
traffic light, a woman in the car in front of me tossed out of the window not
one but several paper wrappers. Before I could get out and offer my opinion the
light turned green.  I was reduced to
sounding the horn.  To this she responded
with a raised finger, presumably mistaking me for a typically impatient, macho
male driver.  The kids in the back seat
were highly amused.

A few days ago, in Fleet Street,
a well-dressed young man tossed an empty cigarette packet into the road.  I ventured the opinion that this was poor
behaviour.  “Fuck off,” he said, “and
pick it up yourself”.  

“I think I should pick it up
first, and then fuck off,” I quipped, in the belief that wit is always a better
offensive weapon than outrage.

“Jerk,” was the return witticism.

There’s no point in going
on.  You’ll be bored rigid. 

I just find it all very sad, the
more so because the only cure is voluntary adherence to the basic rules of


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