Our lives are confettied by litter. So much taken for granted. Every age an age of waste.
My street is a tunnel of litter and will remain so until the brick houses collapse into themselves and revert to mounds clothed in earth and briars. In the meantime, plenty blows through.
Sweet wrappers on pavements, stirred like leaves shed by the breeze. Aero. Snicker. Yorkie. Boost. Ripple. Discarded lures, the bunting of their gaudy plumage torn by teeth and usage.
Chewing gum melded into the pavements, like knots in fossilised wood turned to stone. Stray twists of silver paper. Once, a full, unopened packet of Fruit Gums, provoking squeals of delight from my toddling sons. I wouldn’t let them unwrap their treasure trove, afraid of strange germs. Afraid of strangers. Little wonder they cried and sulked at my firm Dad knows best absurdity. Don’t shopkeepers and deliverymen have germs? Parental fear distorts like tabloid arguments.
Pigs give birth to litters. Humans to litters of berths: and each house dutifully offers up plastic crates of recycling to ease its guilt (conscious or unconscious) at our wastefulness. Parade the pavement on a Thursday night and much is revealed. One house pyramids cans of budget lager, another tinned pulses. Both are windy houses. Some crates contain fallen henges of wine bottles, others neatly erected jars of dish-washered organic condiments. Don’t ask what makes up the bulk of the glass in our own crate: we’re frequently loaded high.
Though no trees grow on our terrace street, a few autumn leaves always visit us; small, scratty spearheads, no good for scrunching. The top of a thin, larch-like tree is visible through our bedroom window, rising from behind the opposite terrace. Maybe the little leaves come from there.
Last winter, an orange Sainsbury’s bag snagged on the topmost bare branches of the larch and fluttered there for days. I lay in bed one Sunday and watched the bag twist, rest, puff up, deflate, struggling for freedom like a snared dream or an escaped kite eager to be off. Its struggles fascinated me, a baffling conundrum. The next morning it had gone, blown to another street and fate.
Some litter is barely visible. Specks of dust or grit, hairs and seeds, fumes from car exhausts and stereo systems, breath steaming on an icy Trick-Or-Treat night when diminutive ghosts gather to suck sweets from amenable houses, their parents flapping round them like benign bats. More wrappers are tossed on the pavement as the beastly ones gorge jelly skulls and chocolate fangs. All the while, unnoticed and unnoticeable to mere humans, yet more dead skin, hair, steaming breath is relinquished and dumped on the street. New skin, hairs, oxygen promptly fill the vacancy. Call it what you will: renewal, cause and effect, cycles of life. It’s still litter.
By the way, my sons once found a full bottle of Fosters Ice lager outside our front wall, cap on, the male adult equivalent of their Fruit Gums. I stuck it in the fridge and drank it with alacrity. Such is the hypocrisy of the parenting kind, though I meant well in the small matter of the Fruit Gums. I’ll make it up to them, one day, if I can. After all, they are the finest recyclable litter a man could leave on earth.