Litter louts strike at heart of our British towns

When we used to drive home to Wetherby from holiday, we all loved coming round the bend in the A1 and seeing the town nestling among the trees in its little hollow ahead of us.

Even the buildings of what I still think of as the Turnpike looked inviting.

Unfortunately, since the A1 upgrade, you no longer get that same view.

You just have to concentrate on not missing the turn-off (and, in my case, not getting too annoyed about the massive signs for the service station and still no brown sign for our historic market town).

However, at least now when you get past the police station, there are the pretty lights on the bridge to welcome you into the town.

We drove home last week from three weeks in France.

When you leave the ferry, you are immediately into the hurly-burly of the traffic around Portsmouth.

It is quite a shock after driving on the French motorway system – which, admittedly, is expensive, but so quiet when compared to our motorways.

Obviously, in the peak summer season, the main motorway down to the Mediterranean is pretty packed at a weekend, but on average, there is a fraction of the traffic we have to put up with.

It brings home to you the fact that France as a country is twice as big as the UK, but with the same population.

The other thing I always notice when I come home is litter.

Now I know that I have written about this before, as have both the Mayor and my fellow-columnist, Roger Bealey, but it is still shocking when you have been driving around in a country with very little litter of any description.

My mother-in-law was never interested in going abroad, because she said it was dirty.

How wrong can you be! You stop at a lay-by in this country and the grass is covered with chocolate wrappers, plastic bags and other rubbish.

You go to the toilets at a service station and, in spite of posters proclaiming that they are cleaned every hour, probably by some poor soul on minimum wage, the floor is littered with paper.

As you drive along, there are plastic bags festooned on bushes and trees and litter all over the side of the road – presumably thrown out of cars by people who couldn’t be bothered to take it home with them.

I wonder if one reason for the lack of general litter in France is because the American habit of ‘grazing’ hasn’t caught on yet?

In fact, on most food adverts on French television, there is even a sentence advising viewers against eating between meals and to make sure that they eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

The same applies to cigarette ends. France has the same laws as we do against smoking in public places (although in some cases, I have to admit that they are interpreted rather more loosely than in this country).

However, in spite of the fact that more French people smoke than we do, I have rarely seen the ground littered with cigarette ends as I do here.

It used to be one of the things I hated most when I had my shop – sweeping up the cigarette ends (as well as the half-eaten pizzas and burgers) before opening up every morning.

Why can’t smokers either use the bins provided or just take their cigarette ends home with them?

When we stopped at a service station on the M1 yesterday, I noticed when we came out of the main door that the paving slabs were covered in marks from chewing gum.

On a visit to China some years ago, I found the male habit of constantly spitting in public difficult to deal with – to me, spitting out something which you have been chewing for hours is just as disgusting.

Not long after the beautiful stone slabs had been laid in our Market Place, it was noticeable that chewing gum marks very quickly appeared and if you look now, the slabs in some places are covered with them.

I used to keep a can of gum removal spray handy – it freezes the gum so that it can be scraped off carpets.

My customers were not on the whole gum-chewers, but unfortunately, gum has a nasty habit of sticking to shoes!

Although people can be fined for dropping litter and dog-fouling (at least they can in principle), there is nothing to discourage people from spitting out their gum.

It sounds as though I’m not glad to be back.

Not true – it’s just that I wish that the litter-droppers, gum-spitters and dog-foulers would start to take a pride in their country in general – and in our beautiful town in particular.