It has always upset me that our people are considered the litterbugs of Europe and that our streets are disfigured in the way they are.
Long ago Mrs Thatcher displayed what many of us at the time considered the eccentric trait of picking up rubbish strewn along her line of walk and disposing of it. She recommended that more of us should do the same to make Britain a tidier place. I have to confess that I share that eccentric habit.
Walking with my son the other day our local Tesco Express – a distance of three quarters of a mile – we commented on how litter was lying around, even in one of Plymouth’s more affluent districts. But then it hit me whose fault it principally was: it was the local authority’s.
In all that distance there was not a single bin. What right, we both asked ourselves, have the powers that be to criticise people when they themselves fail in such a basic function as providing receptacles? Do they seriously expect young people – the principal offenders – to carry their rubbish for untold distances? They even have the effrontery to believe they have the right to punish the miscreants when they have failed in their own duty. It is ludicrous and completely unreasonable.
I have a suggestion for Plymouth City Council; indeed, it might make it the cleanest, tidiest council in the Kingdom. Give us the bins and then you can consider yourselves entitled to go after us if we do not use them. In fact, it is a suggestion which might usefully be taken up at government level. Were it to legislate that every council in the land put out bins commensurate with the size of its population (X number of bins for Y number of people) we might, at last, move away from that less than flattering sobriquet, ‘Europe’s Litterbugs’.
While we are on the subject of councils failing in their duty, why is that they are so inconsiderate in the hours that public loos are open? It is nothing short of scandalous that an entire city centre is devoid of them during much of the 24-hour day. The same could be said of our world famous Plymouth Hoe.
Before the former Derry’s Cross filling station and car park was sold off to coin a buck, there was a 24/7 facility there. My own suburb of Plympton, with a population of 35,000, has its one and only loo locked up from three in the afternoon.
Such callous disregard for people in distress – particularly older people with bladder problems – is quite unfathomable. Would they win a case were they to prosecute a person caught peeing in a public place? I think not. Particularly when they themselves had transgressed in such an important Human Right – a truly genuine one for once. Cherie Blair, in her chambers, would love to fight their corner.
Having said all this, it is only fair to give credit where it is due: well done Plymouth City Council for its recent ‘Best Run Council’ award. It is clearly doing some things right, like collecting rubbish once weekly.
On a less critical theme, the afterglow of the Olympics will stay with us for some time I hope. And let’s not forget that we still have the Paralympics to look forward to. Around the world, disabled people have a hard time and none more so than in the Third World. When we look at someone afflicted with a physical – or mental – disability we should all say silently to ourselves, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ and act accordingly.
It is heart-warming that even in a country like China, wherefrom time immemorial the state felt no obligation to intervene, things are changing. Having had charge of the previous Olympics – with its now obligatory Paralympics – has brought home to them what is the right and noble thing to do.
That afterglow of which I spoke should encourage us in the harsh years that lie ahead. Projects don’t come bigger than the Olympics, and even if we say so ourselves: we made a thundering great success of it. All the world was impressed, even enthralled.
In my entire life (73 years) no single feat of organisational brilliance of ours has come anywhere near it for scope, efficiency and aplomb.
Those blues that have dogged us through all the years of the rundown of Empire and beyond have finally been laid to rest; now, at last, we know that we still have what it takes and can compete with the best – even beat them. So now let’s apply that spirit of ‘can do’ to get out of the hole we’re in and fashion a bright new future for ourselves.