Confessions of a litter picker

Jul 28, 2018

Catherine D. spills the beans but not the litter

“You’re under arrest.”
Two Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) judder to a halt beside me, swerving on their bicycles.
“On what charge?”
“Possession of a large number of cannabis packets. And whippits.”
“But they’re empty. They’re litter. I just picked them up. From under that foul wooden bench. Look, here’s some of the balloons they used for the whippits…….”
“That’s what you said last time. How do we know you haven’t consumed the lot? You’re also under caution for making rude remarks about PCSOs when they’re sitting watching the bowling.”
“Have you got a sterile sample bag, by any chance?”
“What do you want that for?”
“Look at this Durex.” I pick it out of my black bag with my grasper. “It’s all slimy. Have you got a bag I could put it in?”
“Where did you get that?”
“I picked it up in the Woodland Walk. I’m going to take it to the electron microscopists in the University to see if they can extract a DNA sample. For identification. Could you hold it for a minute for me please?”
“We’ll leave you to it, love. Have a nice day. Ta-ra.”
“But I need assistance. It might get contaminated. I have to liquify it for 30 minutes at 37 degrees C and then centrifuge it for 5 minutes at 3400 rpm to remove supernatant. Then I have to wash it with sterile phosphate buffered saline and……..”
“Dial 111 if you need a health adviser, duck. Must dash.”
They wink at me and cycle off into Elms Road at high speed.

Recollecting this exchange makes me think of how rarely one sees a PCSO in the park now. And how rarely one sees a squirrel. The local squirrel population seems to have crashed. There isn’t a frog. We do have wondrous birds. Not a huge variety, but tumbling, chattering sparrows, wrens, siskins, red-flashed goldfinches, tits, blackbirds and thrushes, red-flashed woodpeckers. They start to sing about 4.30am, their little voices stitching notes, poco a poco, a long andante. They swoop out of the trees like sudden, urgent thoughts.

And we have our wonderful dogs – Alfie, Jaffy, Sophie, Lily, Seamus, Chilli, and many others, bound around with explosive energy. They seem full of true and perfect happiness. (And how nice it is for us litter pickers, the toddlers, the football players when their owners do the right thing and clean up after their dogs!)

I pick up many things. Plastic bottles, mostly. Beer cans. Glass bottles, often drained of vodka. Clam shells, many with chips and coprolites of kebab still inside. Gnawed remains of chicken bones. Plastic straws in every conceivable colour. Coffee cups. Aluminium cans with their gaudy illustrations. Crisp packets and the forlorn sleeves of freezer pops. Whippits and balloons in their hundreds. Cigarette butts and the stubs of cigars, cheroots and cigarillos. Pizza boxes, with shards of peppers, chorizo, pineapple, cheese. Broken things which have been discarded as no longer of use – umbrellas, sunglasses, leaking baby’s bottles, picture frames, portable barbecues, some still hot. Baby’s nappies, foul-smelling and oozing. Children’s socks and hats, odd shoes, all the shoddy shards that are shucked off at the back of our endless consumption.
I shove it all in my black – and ironically! –  plastic bag.

I once found a pair of men’s trousers, large size, in the rhododendron bushes. I gave them to the council workers, saying someone might come looking for them. They averted their eyes.

I plod on. A young man in a hurry, wearing a sharply cut dark Brunico anthracite and a pair of classic Tod’s Gomminos pauses and smiles at me.
“Thank you for picking up the litter. I want to commend you for it!”
“It’s my pleasure. I hate litter lying around. It’s kind of you to notice me.”
“Are you doing community service?”