Monday, September 05, 2005

What a load of rubbish!

Whenever there's a big match at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium the amount of booze and fast food consumed and the streets goes up phenomenally, so does the amount of rubbish. When Wales won the Rugby Grand Slam there was ten times the amount of normal saturday litter. Our street cleaning and waste disposal teams are brilliant and mostly the streets are clean and returned to normal again by the time the shops open next day. This doesn't apply to litter shoved through or thrown over the railings into the church yard or church porch. Too poor to afford a caretaker, church maintenance of this kind relies on the goodwill and energy of a few ageing volunteers.

You will have to go down a few steps into any traditionally constructed Parish Church dedicated to St John the Baptist – like going down into the Jordan, I guess – but a porch below street level is a magnet for litter, blown or thrown. Any morning after a match, whoever arrives first has to wade through a sea of paper and bottles, and then clear up to make it safe for others. After a Saturday match, that's my job as first in for the early Eucharist.

Doing this is a kind of ascetic exercise, resisting the temptation to curse those who have peed or spewed over the steps, tossed their bottles, cans, beer beakers, paper and styrofoam food wrappers, promotional flyers, newspapers, cigarette packets, gift wrappings and plastic bags over the fence. Empty sugar packets, cigarette buts, drinking straws and table napkins mostly get blown in. It's the record of a multitude of people's idea of a 'good time', both at their own and other people's expense. It's quite a challenge not to arrive at the altar of God full of anger and resentment at the world God loved so much that he sent his only Son to sacrifice his life for it. The exercise is also good for knocking on the head fancy ideas about the meaning of priesthood in the modern world.

When the Bishop preaches about God being present in the mess of life today, I wonder if he'd like to come and give a hand at 7.45 on a Sunday morning. And by the way, did I just toss God into that black bin bag?

It's a quiet Monday today, nobody chasing after my attention so I have a go at clearing the two smallish gardens opposite the Owain Glyndwr pub on the north side of the church, where people sit and drink at tables on warmer days. Glyndwr was a Welsh warlord of the 15th century who sacked the castle and burned St John's church in 1404. His supporters today would bury the church in a rubbish mountain, if a few conscientious volunteers didn't clear up regularly.

After an hour I have picked up another black bag full of stuff, enough items (including a pair of kid's socks and a broken up bunch of bananas) to suggest that more than a hundred people have deliberately tossed their rubbish over the fence. Often I watch people dumping within a couple of paces of a litter bin, not bothered to make the effort. So little pride in their environment is a symtom, to my mind of poor self-respect and self-discipline.

The city's cleansing department manager told me solemnly over the phone and repeated it in print, that it's city policy to prosecute people dropping litter. It's clearly unenforcable 99.9 percent of the time, so the statement is like a deadpan joke, except you can't laugh aloud for fear of giving offence. Nobody wants to examine too carefully what needs to be done to change attitudes and habits, so that people begin to care about keeping things looking good, and not just leaving it to professionals, who are stretched enough already.

There's so much individualism being expressed on our streets with aggression these days, that few are brave and confident enough to challenge persistent rubbish droppers to use the litter bins, and stop reducing the place to a slum. How is it possible to bring about a wholesale change of attitude, and re-introduce a sense of civic pride and responsibility that is universally accepted?

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