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Dirty Work: My Debut As A Litter-Picker

April 15, 2013
Come to Mamma. One of many cans of cheap beer I scooped into my plastic bag.

Come to Mamma. One of many cans of cheap beer I scooped into my plastic bag.

This weekend I debuted as a volunteer litter-picker. Seeking and disposing of litter is one of my duties as an Environment Champion for the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

I headed straight for Woolwich Common because I love it, and also because its owners, the Ministry of Defence, appear to be too busy with soldiering and whatnot to find the time to do the job themselves. And as it’s not council land, the Royal Borough won’t do the work either.

I attacked the low-hanging fruit first, the detritus near the paths. Being me, I coudn’t help inventing back stories for the rubbish. I pulled the remains of a kid’s kite out of a blackberry bush. I hope he or she got to enjoy it for a good while before some impish zephyr suddenly made off with it. I hoiked discarded beer cans out of the scrub. How pissed were you blokes? Did you stumble across the common after a big night? I can imagine you grabbed a couple of cans of Grolsh and Stella from the co-op to slake your thirst on the walk home. I gingerly removed a sodden pullover from the undergrowth. Long ago, someone had tried that on in a shop and admired themselves in it.

Some of the stuff was mysterious. A clump of strange cardboard cylinders, appearing from a distance like a cache of Cuban cigars. A cluster of beer can tops: just the tops. Did the cans themselves simply disintegrate and sink into the earth?

A small dog scampered yappily up to me, tennis ball in  mouth. Did he think I’d use the litter-picker as a ball-thrower? His owner asked me if I did this for a job. Er, no. But as an editor of other people’s prose, I guess I am a professional litter-picker of sorts. I pick up and dispose of the untidy, the out-of-place, and the extraneous, cleaning up paragraphs as I go.

I filled a bag in about 40 minutes. The undergrowth had wrapped its tendrils lovingly around some of the bright plastic flotsam, but my litter-picker and I prevailed. I was rewarded with a few scratches from twigs and branches and I narrowly escaped drowning my shoes with the dregs of a can of Skol Super.

I won’t sugarcoat it. This is dirty, difficult, back-stiffening work. Much of the common’s litter is not easy to get at. It lurks in the dense undergrowth or is entangled in scratchy bushes. There’s a shed load of it around the hospital carpark on Stadium Road, including a disgusting bright purple mattress that has been taunting me for about 12 months. I really don’t know why the hospital hasn’t done anything about this vile tip. Crap also lies scattered along the western (common) side of Academy Road. By dazzling contrast, the other side of the road is kept clean by meticulous and thorough council workers.

Soon, I plan to harness the powers of Twitter and see if I can get together a band of merry pickers to attack these particularly bad areas. It would be great to give the place a thorough clean twice a year. At least it would be better than nothing, which is all that has happened until now.

If you want to find out more about being an Environment Champion please visit

Woolwich Common deserves a little love.

Woolwich Common deserves a little love.

From → In Woolwich, Reviews

  1. Geraldine Moore permalink

    I’ll commit to a day of picking when I come over Julie.

  2. Happy to help! I’m @gabbywain on twitter – have just come across your blog. As a relatively new Plumstead resident, I’m learning a lot I didn’t know about my local area, so thank you 🙂

  3. gecooper permalink

    Reblogged this on Drop by Drop We Fill the Pot and commented:

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