The other day I stood in the twilight outside a church hall with my daughter waiting for a club to start. Buses pulled up at the nearby bus-stop belching fumes. And in the narrow passage leading to the church door, plastic bags and empty chip packets floated in the breeze. As I tried to be cheerful, I had a bright idea. I picked up the rubbish and put it in the nearby bin. As other mothers and daughters joined our queue I felt proud that I had made this little corner of England more pleasant for all of us.
I have to confess that it was only this summer that I became a litter-picker-upper. As a child growing up in New Zealand it was drilled into me that dropping litter was an anti-social act of the first order. Is it embarrassing for me to admit that I don’t believe I have ever dropped a piece of rubbish in my entire life? However, picking up other people’s rubbish – now that was a step too far. Why does a perfectly clean crisp packet floating in the breeze become something too foul for most of us to even contemplate picking up? Why is a freshly dropped sweet wrapper a thing we wince to touch? In a way, this shows how much we all dislike litter – in the act of being dropped and left to float about, a transformation occurs, and it becomes too foul for us to want to touch. Odd, isn’t it?
Well this summer, on a beach in Cornwall, I got over all that. I sat gazing at, yes, a crisp packet, tossing and turning in the waves, feeling grumpy about modern existence. Then I had the bright idea to fish the soggy packet out of the sea and stuff it dripping into the side pocket of my backpack. Oh the transformation of the scene, by this so simple act. Ah, the pleasure of gazing out at the silver sea.
Of course, once you start, it’s hard to know when to stop. If you are not careful a maniac is born! After all, here in the heart of London, it’s not possible to leave the house without coming across litter.
The lessons I have learned are these:
1. Picking up litter is far less foul than you think. It is just stuff that someone else, not long before, has dropped.
2. Picking up litter has an extraordinary ability to transform your day and the pleasure you can take in your immediate surroundings.
3. So limit your litter-picker-upper-ing to spots where you can make a real difference. Transform your trip to the park or beach or local church, and make a little spot more beautiful for everyone else visiting that day.
4. If you feel like it, take a plastic bag out with you when you go out. This makes it easy.
5. If you don’t feel like doing it, don’t do it.
6. Smile and say thank you when you see an elderly lady (usually) cleaning up her little corner of the earth, often the street outside her house on a busy road.
7. Spread the word.
8. Who will wear the t-shirt?