Though John has lived on Gondar Gardens for more than 30 years, he only started his litter picking activities in 2012 when he became ‘itchy’. Itchy? He elaborates: ‘I retired and did various voluntary things, but when they came to an end, I was looking for something else to do. And I loathe litter.’ One day, he noticed that the path between the cemetery and the Green was strewn with litter so he got a black rubbish sack and filled it in a matter of minutes. ‘I was pleasantly surprised to find that the litter didn’t all come back immediately,’ he admits. ‘Litter attracts litter, and clearing it appeared to deter the litterers. Litter-picking is good exercise for me in any case.’ He then expanded his operation to the Green itself: he has a plastic bag permanently in his pocket or finds one that’s been abandoned that he can use. He doesn’t worry about wearing gloves, so he can do the job as and when he wants to. ‘If my hands get dirty, I can come home and wash them,’ he says in a matter-of-fact way. ‘Other people might worry about that, but I don’t.’ For the last 3 years, John has been out there most days, less this last summer for family reasons, but he expects to carry on indefinitely.
The fire exit of the Saga building is also a heavily littered spot – I think a group congregates there at night. This is not intentional on their part I’m sure but it’s amazing how people manage to chuck their litter in places that it’s really difficult to reach with a litter picker!’
John feels that if litter bothers you, you should just pick it up. ‘The council can’t be responsible for every scrap, and in any case, it’s not right to wait for someone else to sort it out for you.’ People will come up and thank him for litter-picking – one man even offered to buy him a drink once. But other people respond in ways he finds surprising. ‘They seem to think that I might be taking someone’s job by doing what I do, that I’m doing someone out of a wage. Or that perhaps it’s not appropriate that I should be doing it – it jars with them somehow.’ But if local people care, and are seen to care, there’s a ripple effect. ‘The atmosphere on the Green is totally different now to the way it was years ago. Now it’s attractive and obviously used by lots of different groups of people, particularly in the summer. Back then [when he first knew it] there were problems with drugs and aggressive youths, to the point where my wife was nervous about walking across it after dark.’
So if he sees someone littering, what does he do? ‘I don’t really want to accost people because they would probably punch me on the nose. There’s a certain authority that comes from being official – wearing a Friends of Fortune Green jacket, for instance – that might protect one from being attacked, and also I think a woman might get a better response than a man – there’s still more of a taboo about punching a woman. As it is, I expect people would just see me as an old codger and punch me.’
John isn’t part of FoFG. He’s just an individual doing his thing, and happy to be that way. Perhaps he’s an example for how the volunteering on Fortune Green should develop: in addition to the organised group activities, perhaps the Committee should encourage individuals to do a little bit extra, like litter picking or weeding, in ways and at times that suit them? There might be lots of people who just feel like doing this spontaneously. Equipment isn’t necessary, though unlike John, I’m guessing that most people would want to wear gloves, just in case. And for those who want to be more official, there’s a ready supply of litter pickers, and possibly even some hi-vis FoFG jackets, available to borrow from FoFG. Anyone interested?
This is the final blog of 2015, so have a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy new year.
- Catherine Allison
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