Scraping up the Doodies
Its six thirty AM on a (nowadays)
typical Pennine summers day. Dreary mist hugs the Calderdale hills
and a mizzle is in the air. People dream of sunshine and blue skies, but
on this autumnal July morning it seems more like the morning after bonfire
night than the onset of the summer holiday season.
It doesnt bother me much. While I
might fantasise about lounging in my back garden and washing down an
alfresco paella with home made sangria at the weekend, I am quite content
to endure dismal skies and depressing drizzle throughout the working week.
You see I am a street orderly, and when the nice warm weather lures people
out of doors they bring their rubbish with them and deposit it on the
pavements. That increases my workload, and forces me to work harder in
conditions where prudence would suggest taking things easier! Sunny
weather for me equals sweat, shortness of breath, headaches, raised
bloodpressure and aching swollen feet. At the end of each hot day I am
burnt out with each new day offering the promise of being more exhausting
than the last. Rain and cold? I love it!
Its a good day for
streetsweeping. Cool breeze and overcast. I have been at this job for nine
years now. Five years ago with four countryside books in print, I dreamt
of being a successful writer, doing things that didnt involve picking up
rubbish. But now, half a century old and standing at the gates of a new
millenium, all that seems to be part of the last century, and I dream now
only of being successfully retired!
Dispensary Walk Halifax. 7.30 am.
I look up at the great clock on Halifax Parish Church - it doesn’t agree.
It stopped at 12 some time ago and no-one seems to have got it going
since. I am litterpicking around the remains of the town stocks, picking
up some of the discarded meal packaging which informs everyone within a
half mile radius that there is a Burger King in the area. Beer cans and
smashed bottles litter the ground. I pick up one of those giant cardboard
pizza boxes. The pizza drops out - one bite has been taken out of it. In
the corner someone has thrown up. I stare wistfully at the stocks,
imagining how wonderful if would be if they were still in use. Especially
for those who made this bloody mess! Ten minutes later I am emptying bins
near the register office, sweeping up the confetti. Across the road is the
magistrates court. The pavement outside is strewn with dog ends. The
inexorable rise of the social unacceptability of smoking in public
buildings has expelled all the cigarette ends onto the street, as smokers
are forced to slip outside for a drag, turning the entrances to hospitals,
law courts, offices etc. into a sea of dog ends! Later in the day youths
in earrings and baseball caps stand there smoking nervously and making all
this mess as they await court appearances. They ought to sentence them to
pick up tab ends for a month!
Sherlock Holmes could tell you
much from the observation of litter. He would have deduced from the trail
of elastic bands down the road that a postman was working up ahead, or
that the plastic brewery keg tops scattered in front of the nearby pub
denoted the recent prescence of draymen. Woodshavings from joiners and
shopfitters to idle too clean up after themselves, supermarket trolleys
abandoned in the street half a mile away from their point of origin,
sandbags and 'men at work' signs abandoned after the roadworkers have long
since filled in their holes and gone. All these are grist to the
streetsweepers dreary mill. Then the 'hot' spots - at bus stops, outside
newsagents, public seats, bank cash points - all of them daily sources of
unending mess. The master criminal behind this environmental pollution
however, is not so easily identified. His name is Mr. Nobody, and no-one
ever seems to see him at his nefarious activities!
Mid morning I am in Sowerby
Bridge. The busy A58 cuts it in half and simply crossing over the road to
empty a litterbin can be a nightmare! It is a long, linear place, and the
only way you can clean it is on foot - end to end. This makes for a
wearying plod. Half way along Wharf Street the call of nature beckons. I
sigh, this means having to grapple with the potential horrors that lurk in
the inner recesses of the public conveniences- smashed door locks, lurking
homosexuals, no toilet paper and cold, wet slimy surfaces making contact
with ones nether regions. Halfway through this hazardous operation the
ruddy phone rings! (street sweeping is high tec these days!).The phone is
fastened to my belt, which is currently socializing with the tops of my
boots! After a scramble, Max hits the button.
"Hello - Sowerby Bridge Animal
"Hello Jim its Mandy. No not a
dead cat today. Its dog dirt I'm afraid."
She gives me the location. "Are
you ok with that Jim?"
"Yes Mandy - I can find that OK.
Any problems I'll ring you back,'bye!"
I hitch up my kecks and head back
for the van. I hate clearing up dog foul. Its not the job I mind - its the
attitude of the people who complain about it. For some reason there is a
segment of the public that rates dog fouling as a worse problem than
paedophilia or abortion! If gentle dobbin drops half a ton of equine
excrement onto the street they will not bat an eyelid, but at the mere
suggestion of a doggy doody or a canine cocktail sausage they hit their
phones and start baying for blood! They always tend to be cranks or cat
lovers. (Cats dont foul footways you see, their owners put them out at
night to foul their neighbours gardens!). Thus it is that you can almost
guarantee that within minutes of being seen clearing up dog dirt someone
will start poking their nose into your business.
Today is no exception. I soon
find the offending doggy bits, grab a little shovel and a bag and start
scraping the stuff off the pavement. A gate opens in the adjacent yard. A
young bloke in his mid twenties appears. Crewcut, earring and
"You from the council are you?
Clearing up that dogshit then?"
I reply in the affirmative.
"Bloody animals done some in my yard as well. Frightened of the kids
treading it in. Could you shift that too?"
"Of course. Show me where it
I enter his yard, scrape up a
tiny little piece of dog dirt, and I'm on my way. He calls me
"That it then?"
"How do you mean?"
"Well aren't you going to rinse
it down and disinfect it?"
"No I cant do that. I'm a mobile
litter patrol. I dont carry water or disinfectant."
"Well what are you going to do
I stare at him in puzzlement.
Young, able bodied, built like a bricklayer, he's hardly an ailing old
lady with a zimmer frame. Realisation dawns. The mans a pratt. I try to be
tactful. "Nothing I can do mate. If it's a problem, just nip in and swill
it down with a bucket of hot, soapy water. It'll be OK."
I climb into my van and return to
Sowerby Bridge. I am now way behind schedule. Somehow I feel I've not
heard the last of this guy. I'm right. I'm hardly back on the street when
the phone rings.
"Jim. The gentleman who reported
the dog fouling says you haven't cleared it up properly. It needs swilling
down he says. Can you come up to the depot and collect some water and
cleaning fluid to wash it down ?"
Biting my lip I explain my side
of the story. I make it abundantly clear that a return visit from me might
find a certain member of the public being swilled down with said
disinfectant. Furthermore I am now behind with my work. Mandy seizes the
"OK Jim. You've been diverted
long enough. I'll get someone else on it. Bye!" I pocket the phone, and
continue grumpily on my rounds. That I should be lowered to this - playing
politics with dog shit!
Next stop Ripponden. The posh
zone! It is a place to mind ones Ps and Qs. A place to keep up ones guard.
Here people tend to complain about the slightest most petty things.
Actually its one of the tidiest places in Calderdale, but you wouldnt
think so to hear them talk. The only time it gets seriously messed is
after the September Rushbearing festival when all the bins are filled to
the brim with empty beer bottles and broken glass is everywhere. This year
I am quite looking forward to it - I will be in the South of France at the
As I empty litterbins along the
Oldham Road, providing a free trade waste removal service for shopkeepers
who think they are put there for their own private use, an elderly,
distinguished looking man is sitting astride a bicycle outside the post
office. He speaks as I empty the adjacent bin.
"Disgraceful the mess they leave
isn't it? There are so many dirty people around. Its sad they let things
get in this deplorable state."
I concur heartily. Leastways
thats what he thinks. I learnt long ago that a council worker who
disagrees with a member of the public is treading on dangerous ground.I
gaze down the road. The mess looks pretty minimal to me, but I play
"I know. There's some sad people
around I'm afraid."
"And the dog dirt! That really
makes me angry. A threat to public health! They should be caught and
heavily fined!" I nod my head in assent (a cat person! Good job I kept
stum! But he's not getting away with that one!).
I smile at him. "It's a problem -
but you know people are much dirtier than dogs - dogs dont daub excrement
on lavatory walls or dump soiled nappies from passing cars."
The man stares at me with a look
of genuine unfeigned horror."Soiled nappies? Thats horrible! how can
people do that?"
I smile at him angelically.
"Quite easily I assure you. I've picked up four this morning!"
He hops on his bike and cycles
off, shaking his head. I grin and resume my work. One nil to
From Ripponden I head out to
Sowerby. My route takes me over the tops through Cottonstones, a haven of
peace and tranquillity deep in the hills. Here, with sweeping Pennine
vistas, bleating sheep and lapwings wheeling over the marshy moorland
intakes, replete with nardus grass, the coke cans and crisp packets might
well be on another planet. Unfortunately it doesnt last.
Now I am working outside the
shops in Sowerby Village. What should be a tarmac area is a byzantine
mosaic of compacted chewing gum. Attempts to remove it would require a
pneumatic drill and a visit from the boys from the blackstuff. A chewing
gum surface is indestructible - they ought to lay it on motorways. The
shops are steel shuttered, graffitied and embattled. The phone in the
gouged public phone box is wearily ringing. I wonder if its the local drug
dealer. Only the little Post Office with its old fashioned grocers and
cheery pensioners is a bastion of pleasantry in this otherwise lout
infested community. Sowerby was once a charming little Pennine hilltop
village, until some bright spark in the sixties got the idea of
demolishing half of it and surrounding it with council estates and
schools. The litter here is horrendous, the juvenile source of most of it
being bussed in on a daily basis during the school term.
Nearby three teenage schoolgirls
are giggling in the bus shelter. They are not giggling in English.
Exchange students perhaps. As they watch the
scruffy-guy-with-the-bin-on-wheels plodding towards them their disdain
shows. Momentarily I am perplexed, then suddenly their high speed banter
crystallizes into intellingible form-
"Mais Non Simone, je dois acheter
une carte telephonique."
"Tu n'as pas de la
"Non je n'en ai pas!"
"Hola! regardez l'homme la bas -
il est fou!"
I look up at them and smile.
"Mais non - je ne suis pas fou. Sauf quelquefois.....quand j'ai faim!
Aujourd hui par example je crois que je dois manger de la viande... vous
Silence and shock descend upon
them. The bus arrives - they leg it toute suite! I wander on my weary
way... TWO - nil to Jimbo!!
The French are by no means alone
in thinking that anyone who sweeps streets for a living must be somehow
mentally defective. At one time this may have been so, but Mrs Thatchers'
planned unemployment culture changed all that forever. You gotta be smart
to get any job these days! The English attitude to street sweepers tends
to manifest itself in a matey condescension of cliched 'bon mots' which
they fondly imagine you've never heard anyone say before - 'You've missed
a bit!!' - 'Ho Ho Ho I bet YOU'RE good with Chopsticks!' 'You're wasting
your time doing that you know!' 'you've got a job for life there!' I smile
wearily - I've heard it all before - HUNDREDS of times! How little people
It is now afternoon and I am
collecting the litter bags from Halifax Town Centre. Pat and Ian (the town
men) are waiting for me. Pat is a jovial Irishman and Ian a Scotsman from
Dundee. Together we could make the preamble for a thousand jokes! Pat
normally drives a 'green machine', one of those tiny twin brushed vacuum
sweepers, but it is perennially breaking down and he's working with the
barrow today. Hes happy with this arrangement. The machine is unwieldy,
inefficient, needs endless servicing, and really only is there as a
political hi tech toy to overawe the public whom the council perceives as
being more likely to be impressed with noise and flashing lights than a
mundane bloke pushing a barrow. I ask Pat if he ever gets 'smart' comments
from the public when he's on the machine. "All the time" he replies."Think
they're clever they do. A copper said it last week. I was riding the
machine towards him, and I knew what he was going to say before he opened
"What did he say then"
"Shine my shoes!!"
Battinson Road Depot. "Club 1500"
is convened. There is talk of bins, rubbish, contract specs, sick pay
issues, blue jokes and all the idle banter of an all male council
workforce couched in language that you would not hear in your local
conservative club. Around us, minibus drivers are finishing their
afternoon break and heading back out to work. Not us. Three pm and
everyone bolts for their cars! Its street cleansing one-upmanship. Lowest
of the low maybe - but we go home early!