Picking up litter – New Statesman

I pick up litter. Not because I’ve committed any crimes, or at least not any I am prepared to admit to here. 

I clear the square outside the back of my house, on the council estate where I live in mid-Wales.  I don’t pick up litter because I’m part of some chain gang. I pick it up as service to my community.  

It used to be a playground – now it’s just concrete, covered in decades of leaf-litter from the Maple trees. Oh, and beer cans, scratch cards and crisp packets. It’s where the drug dealers do their shifty little hand-offs, as if they’re fooling anyone.  

To be honest, the mess winds me up. Every time I go out there, I can feel my eyes rolling, the tutting bursting on my lips. I mean it’s not hard, is it, to take your bloody litter home? 

Our little once-upon-a-time park is on the route back from the corner shop. I see them sometimes: it’s rarely kids, mostly grown men, walking along drinking their can of whatever, chucking it in the hedge. 

I chased after one chap, me in my wheelchair and my best teacher voice. 

“Piss off,” he said. He got quite shirty ‘till I wouldn’t back down. Then he marched off mumbling “Bloody nutter,” which, considering how big he was, maybe I am.  

Sometimes, picking up litter feels like meditation. It’s quiet. I chat to people as they take their kids to school, the old boys heading out for their paper. I can see them looking at me like I’m a bit odd.    

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Sometimes I pick up litter muttering that I’m not their bloody mother and it’s about time that they learned to pick up after themselves. 

When I was a kid, my Gran would always be out, sweeping up her bit of the front path, never straying an inch over the neighbour’s side. 

“Next door being no better than she ought,” she’d mutter. “If everyone’d just do their bit.” 

Maybe that’s where I get the muttering from. Passive-aggressive litter picking might just be our thing. 

My kids used to die from the shame. 

“Mummmmmm.” Scurrying away while I picked up cans from the field. I’m proud now though, to see them as adults stop to pick up a bottle from the grass and pop it in the bin.  

And that’s the thing, it’s about pride. When it’s all done, when my little corner is all tidy, it’s lovely. 

See, that’s the bit Boris Johnson missed, you know when he was ranting about making offenders clean our streets.  It’s not the job of criminals to pick up our litter. It’s the job of all of us.  

We can all look after where we live, keep it nice, for our kids, for each other.  

Let that nice man in Timpsons give proper jobs to ex-offenders, the rest of us could do with the exercise.  And if we all did it, it’d be done in five minutes. 

See, I sound like your mother again.  

Maya Jordan is supported by A Writing Chance, a UK-wide project from New Writing North designed to discover new writers from underrepresented backgrounds whose voices have historically not been heard in publishing and the media. You can read work by other writers in this initiative here.

A Writing Chance is co-funded by Michael Sheen and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and supported by the New Statesman and the Daily Mirror. The project is delivered by New Writing North and literature organisations nationally, with research from Northumbria University.

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