Ten years to decompose #hatelitter

Calverley Cleanup #litterheroes

Ten years, up to ten years, that’s how long it can take a cigarette butt to decompose. All those plastic fibres and the nasty chemicals they trap are lying on the ground in my beautiful village because smokers either chuck them from their cars or just drop them as they wait at the bus stop, or as they walk along in their smokey fog.

Along with a handful of fellow villagers, I’ve spent the afternoon picking up litter as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Cleanup. I’m definitely obsessive when it comes to litter, there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t pick up something or other that’s been chucked or dropped, either accidentally or deliberately and then put it in a bin. Then there’s plogging, I can’t go on a run without picking up litter, though I draw the line at poo bags.

Usually I just do it myself, but when Keep Britain Tidy announced its month-long campaign and invited communities to host a litter pick, I responded. They put it on a map and publicised it on their website, which was nice, though I wasn’t expecting to be swamped with volunteers. But just in case, I bought quite a few chocolate biscuits to reward anyone who turned up.

Actually, I thought it would just be Noel and my mate Bev, which meant lots of chocolate biscuits just for the two of us as Bev is gluten intolerant! As it turned out, there were eight volunteers, armed with picky-uppy grabby things which saved us the trouble of bending over.

Everyone returned an hour later with their Leeds City Council bin bags bulging. Over coffee and biscuits served at the allotment hut, we discussed what we’d found and who was the worst offender. It was like a chorus as we all said ‘smokers’. Yes, there were a few wrappers and bottles, but cigarette butts were everywhere, as a group of non-smokers, we were disgusted. Why do smokers think it’s OK to pollute the atmosphere with their smoke, then pollute the environment with their detritus?

It takes up to ten years for these butts to decompose, yet according to research, most of it in America, smokers don’t consider their butts to be litter or to have an impact on the environment. Come on, smokers, if you can’t kick the habit, at least keep your habit to yourself and dispose of your butts and fag packets properly.

#hatelitter, it’s an art

Me
Artist at work installing on site

When someone drops litter, they’re telling you they don’t care. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about me, they probably don’t even care about themselves and they certainly don’t care about the environment.

The mentality that drives people to chuck stuff out of vehicles, cast packaging and wrappers aside while strolling along, talking loudly into their phones, or collect poo from the backsides of their pooches, bag it up and leave it dangling from a tree branch or on a wall for others to find is beyond me.

This reckless behaviour results in our paths, parks, woods and roadsides rustling with wrappers and discarded plastic bottles. At best, it looks terrible, at worst, it’s a danger to wildlife who may eat it or get trapped, or humans who will eventually find a diluted version in their drinking water, for some, they’ll be getting their own back, but unfortunately will have given it to the rest of us too.

A couple of years ago, Leeds City Council started a #onepieceoflitter campaign. The idea was to challenge people to pick up one piece of litter a day. I liked the idea of that, everyone can do it, everyone can make a difference. The more I picked up, the angrier I got about the thoughtlessness of litter louts.

While I was out running, I started picking up litter, bringing home anything I could sensibly carry then disposing of it in the recycle bin wherever possible. I didn’t know it at the time, but there already was an international litter-picking-up movement, known as plogging, which started in Sweden. I’m now proud to call myself a plogger.

I knew that sooner or later I’d have to make some sort of protest, but the usual mechanisms such as writing to my MP, or signing a petition don’t have impact on people’s behaviour and that’s what’s needed. It’s already an offence to drop litter, so the threat of a fine isn’t enough to deter people. So I thought about art, I love art, it reaches the heart and soul, it challenges, it provokes and it looks good. That’s it, I said to myself and the cat sleeping on my computer, I’ll do some rubbish art.

I usually run off-road and love my local woods in Calverley, they are beautiful woods, managed by Leeds City Council and including West Wood, an ancient woodland owned by the Woodland Trust. So why the hell do folk drop litter – and worse? It’s not over-run with the stuff, but there’s enough to spoil it for the rest of us. I plogged many a bagful.

I’d just completed a mosaic for the bedroom fireplace and wanted to do more, it’s very satisfying to make your own jigsaws with coloured glass, though no-one can go around the house barefoot any more. My first thought was to use bits and pieces from my plogging hoard in the mosaic, but that seemed to be saying that the litter had some sort of aesthetic appeal in itself and that’s just not true. Plus it’s stinky.

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The last time these nine mosaics will be seen together! L-R, cigarette butts, plastic can holder, plastic bottles, poo bag hanging from a tree (seriously), #hatelitter, poo, drinks can, food package, drinks bottle

From there, I hit on the idea of producing a series of nine pieces representing litter I’d plogged, or as in the case of dog poo, just tutted at. I’ve now hidden them in the woods, where they may or may not be found, a bit like the litter they picture. Someone may find them and take them away – great, I hope they pick up some litter too. Someone else may see them and ignore them, do they do that when they see litter? Others may destroy them, I don’t mind, so long as they clear them away. I’m going to visit them from time to time and then remove them in a year, just so I’m not leaving litter.

I hope people who find them enjoy them, but most of all, I hope it’ll make them think about the impact of litter on everyone’s lives.

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Plogging along

PloggingALong
Plogged in the sports centre car park.

It may be my age, but I’m getting more than a little grumpy about litter. What is it with people just dumping stuff out of the car window as they drive along? Or dropping bottles and wrappers because they can’t be bothered to carry them home after consuming their sugary contents? And dog poo bags. Don’t get me started on dog poo bags and the baffling habit of dangling them from tree branches.

I wept, long, deep sobs with real tears, as I watched the last sobering episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2. You know, the one where we’re killing the planet with all our plastic and making the Disney movie Wall E  a prophecy.

I’ve been plogging for some time now, picking up any litter I can carry while out on my runs, the bending down and standing up is now part of my workout, plus it’s great exercise for the facial muscles as I turn my nose up at the smell and dirt and in general disgust that people can be so thoughtless. It’s not much, but if we all do it, then it’ll make a tidy difference to our world.

Plogging is a real environmental running movement, and we have the Swedes to thank it, they even carry plastic bags, gloves and grabby-picky-uppy things. I guess being from Yorkshire and a rock climber, I’m not squeamish about a bit of muck, so it’s bare hands then soap and water for me.

I do most of my plogging in the local Calverley Woods, where there’s not a great deal of litter, so any that is dropped is noticeable. The main culprits seem to be drinkers of Red Bull and softer drinks in plastic bottles, along with fast food wrappers and, of course, dog walkers and their poo bags, empty and full, cold and warm…

The other day I even plogged in the sports centre car park on my way to circuit training. Empty screenwash bottles, 20 metres from the bin. They’d topped up their washer bottle then just left the container. Unbelievable.

I am so outraged, I’ve made a plogging-themed mosaic art installation, which will be launched soon to Noel and Heidi and no critical acclaim. Heidi’s fellow feline Socks Akers has declined the launch invitation, he has some serious sleeping to do. Heidi is only coming on the promise of treats. Watch out for the arty news soon, in the meantime, I’ll carry on plogging.

HeidiArt
Heidi sits on my art installation. Typical.

 

Can you dig it?

allotmentAnne

It’s the time of year when I always leave the allotment a couple of inches taller than when I arrived. The layer of compressed mud and clay clinging to my shoes doesn’t fall off until the next time I put them on. Obviously there’s no question of me actually cleaning them, the very idea.

Year four as an allotmenteer and I still feel like a complete novice. The purple-sprouting broccoli which grew so tall and promised to keep us well-stocked with these tasty brassicas throughout the winter was sacrificed to the Wood Pigeon God after I failed to cover the plants with netting.  Who knew those big birds could do so much nibbling? Actually, it seems, everyone else on the allotments apart from me and the new people who hadn’t managed to plant anything at all. Fortunately I’m not a total ingenue, we still have sprouts and cabbage, as well as the potatoes harvested in the autumn. And if you want to talk raspberries, I’m your woman, the freezer’s full of them.

Currently the ground can only be described as dull, brown and sticky, with occasional puddles. Everything is dormant, apart from a few hardy weeds and a cheeky dandelion which had the audacity to flower, I soon sorted that out. All I can do is dig in readiness for planting and that’s when the fun really starts. Seeds have been ordered and potatoes and onion sets are at the ready, but not too ready.  Some folk plant their onions in the autumn, that would require having cleared all the old stuff out and preparing the ground well in advance, another allotment lesson, everything is long-term!

Winter isn’t anything like over yet, there’s cold to come and those seeds will just have to stay in their colourful packets. In the meantime, allotmenteering is hard work and fun in equal measure and there’s lots of mud, a bit like running, but I don’t get as far.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four – million!

Potato

It seems like an age ago that the little, wizened seed potatoes with their weird white sprouts and spooky rootlets were carried down to the allotment in their cosy egg-box homes and planted in the cold, dark soil.

That couple of dozen of the ugly little lumps were left to their own devices and the Calverley elements. Though after last year’s potato paucity, I was taking no chances and offered a prayer to the weather gods and made a ceremonial sacrifice of one of their number to Blighty, the Blight Destroyer, which involved robes, candles, chanting and a sharp spade.

It’s year three of our allotment, and it’s fair to say lessons continue to be learned. Who knew that dwarf beans weren’t just small beans, but small plants and didn’t need a splendid wigwam of two-metre-high canes with artistically-arranged strings? And what were the odds of pigeons pecking the tops of everything that wasn’t covered? And just how much damage could a badger do to a seed bed?

With my artist’s head on, I’m telling anyone who’s prepared to listen without bursting into hysterical laughter that the wigwam is a feature in the allotment, adding balance, depth and sound, with the breeze making gentle hissing sound through the string. The pecked leaves are fractals, each unique, yet ephemeral. The neat rows of seedlings re-distributed by the digging badger are a metaphor for the world of 2017, unpredictability and chaos, yet still with hope that something will grow somewhere……No-one has believed me so far.

As the potatoes sent up their stalk, leaves, flowers and faux tomatoes, yes, potato fruits are like tomatoes, though not to be eaten, the rest of the allotment burst into life. The broad beans just keep on giving, the strawberries were fantastic fresh and live on as jam, and the second harvest of golden raspberries is nearly ready. Broccoli, sprouts and cabbage are on their way, beetroot and onions keep on giving. The dwarf beans are disappointingly small.

Fun though the rest are to harvest, the most rewarding of all is definitely the humble potato. In the intervening months, those wizened seed potatoes had cast off their scruffy jackets and transformed into not just one, but dozens, possibly millions, of potatoes. I claim a little artistic licence here. It’s not like onions, where you plant a little mini onion and it grows to be a bigger onion, potatoes multiply like Hydra’s heads. In goes the fork, our come the potatoes, it’s so fantastic that I have to exclaim and chuckle with every potato I unearth. Noel tends to wear noise-cancelling headphones at potato harvest time.

And there we have it, two piles of potatoes, one perfect, the other with feature holes and other insect nibblings. But never fear, the perfect ones go into our magic black keeping bin for consumption right through the winter, which if the current weather is anything to go by, starts next week. The holey ones become chips for freezing, slices for Lyonnaise, little cubes for roasting, or just mash. Happy, happy days.

The Day of the Tomato Triffids

tomatoy
Yellow tomatoes, just as it says on the packet. And the green haze of tomato plants in the greenhouse

Year two as an allotmenteer and year one as a greenhouser, and we’re one step nearer to organic self-sufficiency in a niche area of cabbage, onion and tomato-related cuisine. The healthiness of our respective constitutions will know no bounds and I foresee a future when the cats will take the blame for any gaseous expulsions.

The greenhouse was a great hit with the cats, who loved the warmth and jungle-like qualities. I imagine it brings out all their big cat hunting instincts, that would explain them trotting into the house with assorted rodents and chasing them around the lounge for their own amusement. Bless.

With not much room available to grow our bumper tomato crop, I had a cunning plan. If I doubled the number of growbags so the roots would delve deeper, I could double the number of tomato plants. Simple. Cunning. Foolproof. Couldn’t see any problems with that at all.

Tomato planting started in earnest, I chose three varieties, red, yellow and stripey. I’d visions of gliding into the greenhouse, my floaty dress billowing behind me, straw hat nodding in the breeze, wicker basket primed and ready to be loaded with plump, ripe fruit, looking like a page in the Sarah Raven catalogue.

Instead, there was a green haze as the plants grew together, competing  for space. At times, I’d to fight my way through with a machete just to water them, I wasn’t wearing anything floaty, there was no straw hat.The cats abandoned the greenhouse all together and the tomatoes just kept on pushing, triffid-like, yellow triffids.

The picture on the seed packet, showing shiny red tomatoes bore no resemblance to the yellow plums ripening on the vines, someone in the tomato factory must have thought they’d have a jolly jape and swapped the seeds, oh how I laughed. So I had double yellow and stripey tomatoes, a lot of foliage and bulging grow-bags full of roots. Yes, definitely triffids.

Meanwhile down on the allotment, there was a serious case of over-planting of cabbage. Not that I don’t like cabbage, but you can have too much of a good thing, especially when they are all ready at once. Cabbage soup anyone? Thank goodness onions store well, we’ve more strings of them than a Francophile fancy dress shop.

So looking ahead to next year, them theme will be ‘less is more’, though in the case of cabbage, nil. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make the Sarah Raven catalogue.

stripeyt
Tomatoes of great stripeyness

It’s starting to look something like

After
Be gone, couch grass and creeping buttercup!

Two years ago and I was seriously thinking of applying for PhD funding to research the complex root system of couch grass and creeping buttercup. I considered I was well on my way to becoming a leading expert in the two, particularly in methods of extracting them from the ground intact. I could see a future of lecture tours, stop-overs in luxurious hotels in countries where couch grass and buttercups are unknown. Maybe a book, possibly a movie, certainly an interactive game with dancing roots and nodding flower heads.

My then new allotment was central to field research. When I say ‘new’, I mean new to me, it had a previous owner who must have planted the offending weeds, how else could they have proliferated? And more importantly, why? Apart from a couple of blighted potatoes and one weedy raspberry cane, the couch grass and buttercup flourished, so clearly they planned to do something with them, I just couldn’t figure out what – maybe something else for my research bid.

But as with all research, after a while, you begin to question why you’re doing it. Day after day of pulling and tugging those tenacious roots and I changed my mind about the damned things, in fact, I never wanted to see them again. Clearly, that was never going to happen, I just had to make sure there was no room for weeds by planting lots of lovely vegetables.

Ooo this allotmenteering, it’s not something that can be rushed. Two years. Two years of forking, digging, pulling and tugging those weeds. But now, it’s starting to look something like.

Before
The start of the research – two years ago