Brian Viner: It's a rubbish way to die, but I can't help myself

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The golfer Sandy Lyle has reportedly incurred the wrath of Highlanders by closing his estate to ramblers because he doesn't like finding rubbish on his land. This story was presented as an example of a rich man's meanness of spirit, but I'm with Lyle all the way.

I think of myself as a reasonably mild-mannered fellow, as indeed is Lyle, but if one thing moves me to rant in the manner of Victor Meldrew, it is litter, or, at any rate, the act of throwing it.

In fact, although I have no plans to die a violent death, if I do then I wouldn't mind betting that it will come at the hands of a recalcitrant litter-thrower. I might get generous odds, too, on the basis that I would not be around to collect my winnings, but in truth the odds should be relatively short.

Twice in the past month I have accosted people throwing litter, and on the second occasion the culprit, a man with an attractively tattooed neck, threatened to "do" me.

He was sitting in a parked car at the time, from which he tossed out two empty cigarette packets. I picked them up, saying that as he couldn't be bothered to put them in a bin, I would do it for him. "*@*<**@!" he roared, or symbols to that effect. Then he threatened to "do" me. I walked on, as coolly as possible under the circumstances – the circumstances being shaking hands, a sweaty brow, a powerful sense of queasiness and rapidly loosening bowels.

I am not, in short, a particularly brave sort. Nor do I see myself as some kind of social crusader. In a Marks & Spencer store recently I saw a young man in the act of shoplifting but I didn't have the slightest inclination to tell a security guard, let alone to confront the fellow myself. I shared a train compartment a few months ago with two lads who were mistreating their pugnacious-looking dog. I looked away.

But litter-chucking, for some reason, makes me metamorphose, briefly, into Mr Fearlessly Indignant. My friend Will is the same. When he saw chip papers being jettisoned out of a car window, he picked them up and stuffed them back into the car. The driver got out and a nose-to-nose barney ensued. The man didn't apologise for polluting the environment. They never do. It won't stop him; in fact, it might make him worse.

It is tempting to think that a propensity for dropping litter might be bound up with poor education and social deprivation, or that a chap who chucks an empty beer can into a hedge might be on his way home to smack his wife around. But litter-dropping, like wife-beating, cannot be so neatly categorised.

Some time ago I met up with an old university friend, a cultured, affluent man. We stood by the side of a playing field drinking coffee out of Styrofoam cups, and then he dropped his empty cup onto the grass. Oddly, and disappointingly, I found myself unable to say anything.

Instead, I made a point of chucking mine in the nearest bin, bade him an affectionate farewell and went home profoundly troubled by the thought that he has three children who, presumably, are being brought up to think it is acceptable to drop empty styrofoam cups on the grass.

I don't know why this riles me so. It's certainly not as if I live in a beauty spot, nor do I agonise about the amount of litter already flying around the mean streets of North London. It's seeing people wantonly dropping it that gets me, because it's so unnecessary.

Shoplifting might be anti-social, but it's not unnecessary. Not necessarily. But a confrontation over cigarette packets, as I say, might yet propel me to an early grave.

Upon which will be inscribed a simple epitaph. "Here lies Brian Viner. No Litter, Please."

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Comments