Sunday, February 26, 2006

The depressing thing about Kilcullen

I took one of my regular early morning walks through Kilcullen today.

God, it was depressing.

The town was filthy. Vomit, spit, gum and litter.

Well, it was Sunday morning. As if that makes it alright ...

Truth is, the place is a kip every morning. And not just the main street. From February on I'm in the habit of getting in a walk every day as early as the daylight allows, around a number of routes that enable me to clock up close to five kilometres on a session.

A couple are town walks, taken partly because some of the country routes are a bit dangerous for walkers when people are driving to work. But I do stride around Sunnyhill, sometimes Old Kilcullen, more often down the old Carlow Road and then back down along McGarry's Lane and in by the New Abbey Road to the town.

Come next month, because I'll be out early enough to beat the traffic, I'll probably add a Mile Mill loop to those latter.

Thing is, all of those routes will be more or less filthy with the detritus dropped by my fellow Kilcullenites, or by people passing through.

Sometimes in cars, I suspect. Otherise, for example, how can a McDonalds Big Mac box and its related bag and serviette wrappings appear on the verge footpath in from New Abbey?

And along Sunnyhill, how can so much concentrated rubbish stuff find itself under the winter-bared hedgegrows of that high-traffic road?

I don't think that those locals who walk my routes are the kind of people who bring their plastic bags of garbage to dump while they get their excercise.

But ...

Yes, but. But most of what is dumped on the streets and sidewalks of Kilcullen itself has to be from those who walk those sidewalks. Ergo, local.

The stuff is often recognisable for source, sometimes specifically like the boxes and occasionally parts of their contents from the take-away food providers in Kilcullen itself. Or the crisps bags, sweets wrappers, soft drinks cans and plastic bottles from the several shops which cater to those who 'graze on the hoof'.

In no way do I complain about the providers of those foods and snacks. They are not the people who dump. Those who do so are their customers, and you can't blame the seller for what the buyers do.

We're just a filthy race.

I say that with some knowledge of other countries, especially across Europe.

Not all of those others are pristine. Nordic countries, certainly, are very conscious of their living environment and treat it accordingly. Germans too, of course ... they even provide litter bins with three compartments, to recyle even more. The Austrians too. The Swiss, in some parts, surprisingly aren't great in the litter stakes ... Geneva can be scruffy. The Spanish are less than good. And parts of Italy where I've been are, at best, bad.

But nobody seems to be as generally filthy as we are, certainly in what is now described as the Greater Dublin area. I say that because I've found that the villages and towns of the midlands, and of the middle south, are quite seriously clean.

This last Sunday morning I cleaned up the litter on the bottom end of the small road where I live. It came to around half a plastic sack. Which wasn't bad: my neighbours did it two weeks ago and took a sack and a half. Thing is, none of it was from the residents of our road.

But we've not had the Cross & Passion College kids up the road for the past week, during mid-term break. They're back now, and I expect the situation will go rapidly downhill again.

This has been a long-running problem, with -- a very small number of, admittedly -- CPC students spending their lunch hour smoking, snacking, and dropping the related rubbish on the footpath, in the foliage, and sometimes tossed over the nearby hedges.

What gets me is the attitude. The CPC kids are a microcosm of a macro situation that is a national disgrace. Why do they, and those others locally and nationally, feel they can, or have to, drop litter in public places?

Back to the CPCs again: because of who they are, they are deemed intelligent, are being educated at second level, and so presumably are already part-educated, and come from families where, presumably, parents have some level of pride about where they live.

All of us have problems with our kids at home in terms of tidiness; I expect that this is a rite of passage, that our children's rooms are disaster areas at some point in their growing up.

But I don't know of any parents in my circle of friends, over the years that we raised our kids, who didn't discourage them from littering outside their rooms.

I'm still the kind of person who looks at the half-full glass of wine with anticipation rather than seeing it half-empty. So I presume that most parents don't want their kids to litter. and train them so.

Thing is, again, most of the litter that I see in my walks through the town, especially on weekend mornings, is not the fault of kids still at school. It is their parents, aunts, uncles, and maybe older siblings, all on their way home from the pubs and takeaways.

And then, as I said earlier, there are those throw-outs from cars, which in general teenagers in Ireland don't get to drive. I have to believe that it is parent-level people who do the throwing into the ditches.

So, where's the fault? Who is responsible for our national attempt at turning the whole country into an unlicenced landfill?

It's not as if the state isn't trying, God knows. That gardener guy, Gavin whoever, is doing his best in the 'reuse, recycle' ads.

Maybe though, they should have teenagers in a positive role in those ads? The pleasant but mature 'I'm saving myself for you, Gavin' lady character isn't exactly a role model for the CPCers.

I actually think we'll never, at this stage, win the generation which does the night-time litterbug thing.

But maybe the effort should be centred on making it cool for the kids to be keeping the ground around them clean?

It has been done before: young people who eventually get driving these days don't generally take their cars to the pub if they want to have a drink themselves. They've grown up with the idea that they use taxis to and from the pub.

Maybe we can't fix the litter thing for now. But we could fix tomorrow if we go about it the right way.

In my own personal experience, no parent has ever been able to instill a 'cool' attitude in their children. The notion is an impossibility.

But outside influences, especially peer pressures, can result in changes. And that's where we have to work at it.

I don't expect that I'll still be walking through Kilcullen when the change occurs. But it is nice to think that my grandchildren might.

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