You might think that rubbish with an exclamation mark is simply the shout of the drunk at an onstage comedian trying to earn their crust, or maybe a cry of derision at an attempted goal in some crucial football match. In either case the owner of the exclamation probably wouldn’t have the guts to be the individual on the receiving end. Hey! Ho!

But rubbish, without that exclamation mark, has become one of the most important issues of our time, how to change our habits, how to deal with the detritus of our throw-away society and how to improve the environment. This PC is prompted by what happened in the last full week of June, here in Brighton & Hove. The weather that week was actually quite warm, about 30°C, and the pandemic lockdown was easing. It also coincided with the end of the virtual term exams for our 16 year olds. Hundreds of teenagers descended on the seafront, intent on ‘having a good time’. The mess they left should have shamed everyone who created it, but ownership and responsibility are sadly lacking. Plastic containers, beer bottles, coke cans, Nitrous Oxide gas canisters (note 1), cardboard pizza boxes smeared with tomato paste and grease, portable BBQs, soiled nappies etc.

PC 186 1

At the moment the Co-Op, an average UK supermarket, is offering two pizzas and four Budweiser beers for £5 – with no thought to how the pizza boxes and bottles will be disposed of. I know this because the distinctive blue bags that were part of the rubbish on the promenade!

PC 186 2

The local seafront rubbish bins are frequent but far too small for the summer season; designed to look good but they are not fit-for-purpose. On an average June day the council refuse staff remove 3 tonnes of rubbish from the seafront; on Thursday 25th June 2020 they picked up a staggering 11 tonnes. Social Media went into overdrive, everyone moaning about the appalling lack of this and disgusting lack of that, ‘what’s our society coming to?’ sort of thoughts. The advent of the ‘take out’ and ‘take-away’ has created habits which need changing: if you use a ‘take-away’, take away your rubbish to a bin large enough to receive it or take it home!

I was as horrified as the rest of us but I was certainly not blameless in the past!! Back in the 1970s, when I went sailing we always dumped our rubbish overboard – sans plastic bag (the boiled egg empty shells were, tradition had it, for Davey Jones’ locker!). Empty bottles of gin were thrown high into the air and used tonic bottles were aimed to intersect; the broken glass ended in the sea, without a thought to any harm it might have done.

A house I brought in Battersea in 2000 had a World War Two air-raid shelter with walls two feet thick and a reinforced concrete roof. One weekend, with the aid of a jackhammer and a chum, it was demolished.

PC 186 3

Before, with Tony sizing up the task


PC 186 4

Didn’t take that long – but there was a lot of rubbish!

Most of the rubble ended up in a skip; the balance was put into sacks, fifteen in all, and stacked in the very small front garden to be disposed of later in the week. That night the doorbell rang. “Ev’ning Guv” said Paddy, his broad Irish brogue betraying his traveller roots, “Would yer like me to remove yer rubbish? £65?” I was shamed the next day to find the bags tucked away in other people’s skips only a street or two away!

In the first decade of this century, in company with scores of other dog owners, I walked my Labrador Tom on Wandsworth Common, London, a wide-open patch of grass, copses, lakes, paths etc, bisected with the London-to-Brighton railway line. The common was large enough for the local football league to lay out three pitches and these were well used during the weekends. Traditionally oranges have always been provided at half-time to provide some nourishment and moisture for parched mouths. There was no precedent for leaving the used orange peel, empty plastic water bottles and other player paraphernalia. I asked the referee whether they could take their rubbish home; one of the teams’ Captains came across and told me the Common had council workers who would clear it up! We had a few more words and I continued my walk, shaking my head in sheer disbelief.

Because of Covid 19, the five-day music event called the Glastonbury Festival that started at Worthy Farm in September 1970 is not happening. Last year over 200,000 people attended; the amount of rubbish, brand new tents, wellingtons, sleeping mats, cool boxes, old food etc covering the fields of the site took an army of volunteers a whole week to clear. How could you throw away a perfectly good tent????????

Jetsam and flotsam come to mind when thinking about rubbish: the former items jettisoned overboard to lighten a vessel in distress that have subsequently washed ashore, often to the benefit of the local communities! The latter is simply debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard; an example would be a shipping container half-afloat and a real danger to yachts. I was scribbling some notes for this PC, flotsam included, and that very morning the word ‘flotsam’ came up in one of the word puzzles I complete. You may recall that a number of code words used in the planning for the invasion of northern France in June 1944 appeared in crossword clues in the week before D-Day. Just one of these strange coincidences.

There is often a circular motion to our lives and it simply takes a little observation to notice it. In Wandsworth in London the council ‘tip’ where you could take your old mattress, kitchen carcases, garden rubbish, old broken ironing boards, bottles and other recyclable and non-recyclable stuff was located in Smugglers Way. It was a busy place, particularly at the weekend and queues would form. Immediately opposite was the huge car park of B&Q (originally Block & Quayle) a British multinational DIY and home improvement retailing company. You could watch as drivers left the tip, having disposed of their rubbish, and went straight into the car park to shop for more ‘stuff’ which in a few years would no doubt end up in the tip and ……

I have no space to scribble about oceans of plastic, of fly-tipping, of the buying and selling of rubbish …… but it’s ironic that the generation who protest so much about the need for a cleaner, more environmentally friendly existence don’t care that much on an individual level. Responsibility begins with oneself!


Richard 3rd July 2020

Note 1 Nitrous Oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is often used to fill balloons which are then exhausted causing those near to feel euphoric and relaxed. Currently it is illegal in the UK for ‘human consumption’ – although you can buy them on eBay! If Nitrous oxide is inhaled through the mouth from a pressurised gas canister or in a confined space it can cause sudden death through a lack of oxygen!

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