true gripes; Britain in bloomers

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It's nearly over, at last. The early morning visits of the water bowser lugged round the streets by "volunteers" seems to be less urgent, and more and more deadheads are appearing.

Every summer, my town, still full of attractive buildings despite the depredations of Sainsbury's et al, goes horticulturally insane. It takes part in a competition called Britain in Bloom. Organised by the Keep Britain Tidy Group, the contest is to find the best-kept village, town and region, and culminates in an Oscar-type ceremony held in Torquay on 4 October.

Some people think the object is to see how inherently beautiful things, like flowers and good old buildings, can be combined in the worst, most tasteless, crass, and municipalised way

In theory, decorating our surroundings with flowers ought to be wholly satisfying. But this does not take into consideration the deeply vulgar nature of the average man and woman where flowers are concerned. The more incandescent the colour, the better they sell. But if the plants are ghastly to look at, their containers are worse. Cheap and always plastic, they are nailed haphazardly in the worst possible positions and after the summer and throughout the rest of the year, remain, full of long-dead vegetation - like neglected graves.

There are just a few discerning people who are willing to relieve us of the tyranny of the "planter". From time-to-time teenage drunks (unfairly called vandals) have the good sense to hurl a tub of blooms over a wall or into the river. But the other permanent feature of our old towns, the security cameras have made serious inroads into this public-spirited activity.

There is no hope of this frightful visual nightmare ceasing. Britain in Bloomers have an almost masonic grip on local authorities; they perch huge plastic tubs on poles which bear parking restrictions, hiding the information - which is an offence - and manage to flout planning regulations with ease.

In my happiest dreams, when the competition ends and the local paper has published its statutory tongue-in-cheek paeon of praise for the organisers, the plastic tubs are removed from their 10ft-high poles and replaced by spikes. Then the ringleaders of Britain in Bloom are impaled on them until they promise never, never to do it again.