A summer carpet of fag ends
Its summertime and the sun is cracking the flags. The world and his wife may like to sit in the sun and sip sodapop, but for street orderlies summer is the busiest and most exasperating time of the year. While most people hope the heatwave will last, The men in orange pray for bad weather! No madam, the little hop and skip you see me doing each morning on Elland precinct has nothing to do with mess on the pavement. It's actually a traditional council workers rain dance. 'Come rain, hail snow and sleet, keep the litter off the street!' Chanting this mystic mantra I drag my brush seven times widdershins round each free standing litter bin, then I spend the rest of the day hopefully peering up at cloudless blue skies! What a hope! There's no sign of any rain! Not a breath of wind either to blow away the mess!
Warm weather (unaccountably) sees a growth in the number of tab ends I have to pick up. There's a carpet of them this morning. Last night there must have been a gathering of the Elland Chapter of the British Lung Cancer and Bronchial Sufferer's Glee Club. Jeez! my wrist aches! Hundreds of the bloody paper tubes and spent matches. I wonder if things were better in the days before filter tips were invented? There was a lot to be said for the old plain 'woodies' 'seniors' and the like.... plain cigarettes were more biodegradable, and smokers used to die off more quickly from smoking them!
Mid morning and the usual mess outside the Savile Arms - smashed bottles, chip papers, ice pop wrappers and all the other school kid detritus. I keep picking up wrappers with american wrestlers on them. They're everywhere! Last month it was chinese fortune bubble gum wrappers, and before that it was wash off tattoos. Even rubbish it seems is ruled by fashion nowadays. Next thing it will be specially made 'designer litter'!
Three school truants have just come out of the sweetshop with the usual array of eat-on-the-hoof-junk-sugary-littery-thingies. They cross the street and sit down on a bench near where I am working. I pass by them, clicking my 'litta pikkas' loudly, as I remove tab ends and gum wrappers from around their feet, by so doing dropping a very broad hint about what they shouldn't do with their wrappers. But will the hint be taken? they gaze at me, in the manner of todays youth, as if I am an alien from another planet. I glance at the oldest of them - about twelve years old, weasel faced with basin haircut and earring, wearing shabby trainers, cheap jeans and one of those 'naff' sad sacks that todays youth fondly imagine makes them look 'cool'. I scrutinise him further out of the corner of my eye - oh yes - a typical juvo-clone the sort who would nick your Astra and set fire to it faster than you could say 'ram raid'! The present day incarnation of someone who in a past life was probably black, bewhiskered and carried bubonic plague. I fear the worst - and am not disappointed. On my return from Northgate they are gone, but their droppings remain to greet me.
Emptying a bag into my wagon I chat with John, custodian of the Rex Cinema, who works where the action is. Last night, he informs me, one of 'them' was prancing around the adjacent carpark smashing car windows with a brick on a rope! His answer to the problem is in the gardens outside the council offices - the former town stocks! Not a bad idea - it would be a good diversion for the drunks at the nearby amusement arcade! Elland seems full of bored, illiterate, socially deprived no hope youngsters who the experts say need handling with sympathy and understanding, when what they really need is discipline, self respect and respect for others, real job opportunities and a place in society, none of which seem to be forthcoming under the present grasping bunch of sado-masochistic ministerial hypocrites who blight the employment prospects of young and old alike. The kids here are bored and seek action. Perhaps someone ought to give them a gun and send them to Bosnia. Plenty of excitement there!
Yes I am morose and cynical. Day in, day out, picking up the droppings of the uncaring public, constantly staring up the backside of the human race, it is not surprising that you take a jaundiced view of life and have little love for your fellow human beings, whose gall of human selfishness seems to come at you from all sides. As I trudge the streets my life seems wasted and unfulfilled - trainee teacher, actor, musician, published author, countryside ranger, proof reader - I have done all these things, but fate has never allowed me to hang in there for any length of time and now in early middle age the best life can offer is long term unemployment or picking up dog turds for a living. It must be Karma. What did I do in the last life?
At lunchtime I feel better. I am sitting in the grass on the site of the former Atlas Mill Tip. Beyond the skips and the bottle banks the refuse of the seventies is now a nature reserve. A bee buzzes lazily from vetch to harebell and I am lost in reverie. 'Jim! Wake up! It's time we were off!" Sid gets to his feet and we retreat to our wagons. Rubbish calls! I envy Sid - he takes it all in his stride!
At West Vale there's another bloody mess. Feculent liquid smelling of pepsi and stale lager trickles down my bare arm as I lift out the bin liner. A brat on a skateboard rolls up. "What you doin' mista?" (The dreaded words!) "Is there a magnet on that stick?" I remain deliberately expressionless. "There must be if it attracts the likes of you". It doesn't register. Oh Christ, now its going to follow me round the streets - why dont you push off you little twerp. What is this thing that kids have about workmen? A wise guy walks up. "You've missed a bit there!" I smile weakly, Its a quip known to every street sweeper between here and Truro! Two schoolkids cross over and put chip papers in the bin! Am I hallucinating? It must be the sun.