#hatelitter, it’s an art

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.

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

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.

Heidi sits on my art installation. Typical.


A handful of compliments

Funny, me?

What if we only said good and positive things to others? What if we allowed ourselves to think we were actually all right and, in a very British way, rather good, if not awesome? And what if we started doing this as children and it lasted our whole lives?

I know, I know, it doesn’t  work like that, we’ve got to tell ourselves we’re rubbish from time to time, beat ourselves up and have a good old pity party, because that’s life, isn’t it? Well it can be, for some of the time at least, but it doesn’t have to be the norm, as I found out.

I’ve just spent three weeks as a volunteer coach (coach, ooo, get me) at a children’s summer playscheme run by the Mini Mermaids Running Club. The Mini Mermaids, which is aimed at girls and the Young Tritons, for boys, is a not-for-profit organisation which runs programmes in schools, focusing on mental and physical well-being. One of the key principles is not to give in to the nagging, waspish internal voice which tells you you’re no good.

I volunteered because as a run leader I was keen to help children keep fit and run. And as a glass-half-full kind of person, I also wanted to support them with their self-esteem and maybe top up my own  which has taken a bit of a knock recently.

The playscheme was wonderful. Exhausting, but wonderful, what with dancing, at least 200 games of dodgeball, legging it up to the nearby park for a run and yoga, it was very active. But at the same time, we helped the children to be mindful, have a positive self-image, admit what scares us and talk about how we can tackle that, to say good things rather than bad things and to be kind to ourselves and others. Not a bad agenda for life, eh?

One of the highlights for me was letting others say something good to us, we find it hard as adults, but children are so uninhibited. It was simple, just draw around your hand, write your name and pass it around, everyone writes something about you and you them. For some reason, the kids thought I was funny! I have kept the drawings beside my computer so from now on whenever that waspish voice starts being mean, I have a reply. Everyone should have a handful of compliments from children!




One-Leg Jam


There’s a new exclusive jam in town and it’s shaping up to be the Queen of Conserves, the Sovereign of Spreads, the Kaiser of Flavour. Lovingly made with blackberries, handpicked at first light to the sound of the dawn chorus, then masterfully mixed with the finest sugar, lemon juice and a knob of butter. And the piece de resistance? I did it standing on one leg.

I’m not very good at admitting to myself or anyone else that I may have an injury. That only happens to proper athletes and those who do lots of training. I am neither, but I have a sore leg, actually it’s very sore and has got to the point where I need to do something about it.

It all started with a calf strain, and not even on a run, I hadn’t even earned it, FFS! We were heading over to the allotment to water around yet again during this long, hot summer we’ve had, and my calf just went ping, but not pop. I fell over, according to Noel it was a good impersonation of an Italian midfielder, I think he was trying to take my mind off being on the ground. The allotment went unwatered that day.

You do soldier on, though, and after a visit to the physio and a rest, it felt like I was all systems go. There were races to run, I’m relied on to bring up the rear. And there’s the goal I’ve set myself for next year, to run an ultra marathon. Who has time to be injured?

However, pain is a good indicator that something should cease. Move it and it hurts? Well stop moving it, then!  So it was off to the physio again, paying for more pain, but coming away with clear instructions to rest, stay off the running, cycling (as if) or even harvesting potatoes and not stand on it for more than 20 minutes to give it a chance to mend. Just ten days while I have an x-ray and a blood test. Ten days? I’ll turn into a statue!

I inherited the fidget gene from my dad, can’t sit still or just hang around, I need to be moving, or at the very least, faffing. There was a wheelbarrow load of blackberries to make into jam and being a Yorkshire lass, I couldn’t let them go to waste.

Jam-making is easy, you just have to be on your feet while it reaches 104C, then funnel it into sterilised jars, maybe an hour in total. Not long to stand on one leg, and it could add that little je ne sais quoi to the jam. After all, where else can you get One-Leg Jam? It’ll be a limited edition. I may patent it. It will certainly be entered in the village show this weekend, though I’ll get Noel to carry it.



Sometimes it’s all about the journey, not the destination. The thrill, the anticipation, the excitement, getting there rather than being there. Because sometimes the destination, or the end result, is a disappointment, or as in the case of cucamelons, a bitter disappointment.

It’s National Allotments Week, the time of year when we allotmenteers show off the fruits and veg of our labour, more importantly, we get to harvest it and eat it. It seems so long ago that I was poring over the seed catalogue in front of the roaring fire, musing over the summer to come. Little did I suspect that it would be a long time in coming and not before a cold, rainy spring.

I’ve been writing a monthly column on my allotment year for the West Leeds Dispatch and looking back, it’s hard to believe that the sun-baked soil with cracks that seem to go all the way down to Australia, was a quagmire so waterlogged that I couldn’t plant anything until late May, then it was a flurry of weeding and digging before ever any planting could take place.

But I had the hope and expectation of good things to come, an exciting journey down Vegetable Road. I’d chosen the staple crops, potatoes, onions, cabbage, peas and beans, but also had a hankering for something a little more exotic. The picture of the tiny cucamelons seduced me, looking like beautiful little mini watermelons, the catalogue promised a crunchy bite of cool cucumber with a hint of lime. The catalogue lied. I’d planted the flat seeds edge-on as recommended on the packet so they wouldn’t rot, nurturing them in the greenhouse, lovingly planting them outside, whispering encouragement, picking them up off the greenhouse floor after they’d been knocked over by the cats, I think the cats were trying to tell me something. I should have listened.

In my enthusiasm for the exotic, I gifted cucamelon plants to my friends, I don’t think they are my friends any more. I even took some of the fruit to the kids at the playscheme I’m volunteering at, I understand the parents want a word with me.

Noel can eat anything except black pudding and andouillette, a kind of French poo sausage. He’s made of strong stuff, but took one bite of the cucamelon and pronounced it a snozzcumber and refused to eat any more, which is a shame, as we have quite a few. So it’s the end of the road for the cucamelons. Thank goodness for chutney.

The train took the strain

Unstressed in Italy

Ever since 9/11, flying has been a nightmare. We’ve to set off at stupid o’clock to miss the motorway traffic, followed by an orienteering exercise to find the car park, a weight-lifting session to get the bags to the shuttle bus which goes all the way around the car park, in the dark, twice, before picking anyone up. Then the check in. Oh the bloody check-in.

Bags just a bit too large, or too heavy? That’ll be £lots extra per kilo, thank you very much. Oh and stick the airline labels on too, using the self check-in booths, just to add to the stress, making sure you don’t unpeel the little tab at the end. Oh, you unpeeled it? Ah well, start again. Tick tock, tick tock, the time’s passing and you haven’t had chance for a wee, a coffee or a second breakfast, in that order. And there’s security to go through, with the promise of shuffling queues and the warm aroma of stocking feet, accompanied by the sound of  the snapping on of latex gloves.

It always seems to come as a surprise to the person in front of me in the queue first of all that we are at an airport, secondly that they are standing in front of an empty plastic tray and thirdly that they need to do anything about it. They usually have multi-laced shoes, four belts and an overcoat over a jacket over a jumper, which all have to come off, very slowly and go into the tray. Then there’s the watch, phones, yes, there’s more than one, computer and… oh my goodness is that a knife? After a short interlude involving lots of shouting and us all hitting the floor, our hapless passenger confesses they’d forgotten it was there, and it was only a pen knife so surely it was OK, wasn’t it? No, they’re told, it’s not OK and the object is confiscated. I hope I’m not sitting next to them, I muse…You can guess what happened there.

Once we’re through, avoiding the strip search in which our friend in front is invited to partake, then there’s the hours and hours of waiting, drinking over-priced coffee, eating eye-wateringly expensive food and practically begging for water bottles to be filled, we can get on the bus to the plane. A bus, to a plane, we can’t even use our own legs, but at least we’re not charged for the privilege. Yet. The 90-minute flight has already taken six hours and we haven’t even landed.

So Noel did some sums and spreadsheets, he’s good at that. He worked out that we could go by train from Leeds to Turin. Yes, it would take longer, but the journey would be more relaxing, less hassle, and we had the option of stopping off in Paris on the way. Even the cost was comparable, especially if you put a value to stress, or lack of it. There was the bonus that we could book straight through to Paris from Leeds which was bizarrely cheaper than if we’d booked from London. Seriously.

Travelling by Eurostar is like a present to yourself. Yes, there is check-in, yes, there is security, but nothing like the fiasco at airports, and it’s so much more comfortable and relaxing, with freedom of movement and toilets, lots of them, always a blessing at my age. And of course it’s a much lower carbon footprint than flying. Yes, we’ll do THAT again.

What about the light switches?

Left-handed drawing

What happened to the light switches? And the TV controller? And how about closing the blinds. Come to mention it, where’s the proper alarm clock that goes tick tock and scares you to death with a loud clang in the morning?

Granted, the stylish bijou room at Citizen M near the Gare de Lyon in Paris was smooth and spotless, no hard edges in sight and almost clinical in its whitetty whiteness. I thought I’d stepped through a wormhole and ended up in quarters on the starship Enterprise.  The bed filled the entire wall under the window and the giant screen pulsed with the message ‘Bienvenue, Noel…’. We had no idea how to turn it off.

To one side of the room was a floor-to-ceiling pod in opaque glass, not the transporter, but the shower and toilet. There were no switches in the pod. Even the litter bin was beautifully curved so it fitted neatly into the allotted slot. But where was the light switch? And the bloody TV remote? The welcome message was getting on our nerves.

Siting prissily on the curvy shelf was an iPad, with the same welcome message, only smaller. This was the TV remote. It was also in charge of the aircon, blinds and scarily our mood, we suspected it might have something to do with the lights.

Noel, being the designated techie, pressed, swiped and pinched the little screen and managed to sort out the lights, there were a lot of lights. But then he found the mood setting and asked which I’d like, listing the options. ‘Business’, I said, more out of curiosity than anything else. The lights came on, brighter than bright, stirring music , the kind to do deals to, spluttered from the speakers. Maybe not, then.

‘How about party?’ he asked, hoping I’d say no. I said yes. The lights turned red, blue, green, yellow, a weird shade of orange. The shower pod lit up like a Dr Who prop, the screen jumped to life with what looked like hallucinogenic images,  spinning smileys, the music throbbed and thrummed, I could feel a migraine coming on.

‘Agh no….let’s go for relaxing!’ One prod of the iPad and the lights dimmed, the screen became rolling countryside, birds sang, water flowed and splashed, which necessitated a trip to the pod. But it was good, we relaxed enough to want to sleep, if only we could find the light switch.

Noel thought he had the answer, a ‘go to sleep’ icon. I braced myself, fully expecting a Monty Python foot to come down from the ceiling. We were plunged into darkness as the blinds clanked shut.  I wanted to read. I couldn’t.

Noel had managed to set a wake-up alarm with the magic iPad, we had no idea what to expect. We certainly didn’t expect, at 7am, a female voice to break the rhythm of Noel’s snores (definitely him snoring). ‘Quatre-vingt dix-neuf, quatre-vingt dix-huit, quatre-vingt…..’ Oh my goodness, the room was counting down, we really were on the Enterprise. I wasn’t going to wait until she got to ‘un’ and grabbed the iPad, swiping and prodding like a woman possessed. The counting stopped, the blinds lifted and the shower turned itself on at exactly the right temperature, actually I made that up, but I’ll bet there’s an app for that.

One day, all hotels will be like this, intelligent, responsive, hip, with efficient self check-in and a key card you can keep as a luggage tag. I’ll go back to Citizen M, if they’ll have me, but in the meantime, can we please have a bloody light switch?!