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This is what entitled looks like

May 25, 2018

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in England. This picture could have been taken any time in any part of my country and, for that matter, a lot of other people’s countries over the past twenty years.

It happens that I live in prosperous Surrey. Just down the road from my home is the park where I take the dog for a walk. It has tennis courts, a basketball court and a kiddies play area fenced off from marauding dogs. On days like today, the play area is packed with mums, dads and their offspring having the time of their lives on swings, slides and all manner of other things that adults think kids enjoy.

Outside the fence there are even a couple of table tennis tables, sufficiently rugged to defy all but the most determined vandal.

All around the large expanse of grass are people like me taking their dogs for their afternoon constitutionals, bags at the ready to scoop up the poop. There’s an ice cream van, a posse of sub-teens taking group lessons on the tennis court, and another bunch dribbling footballs around plastic cones. Families are having picnics on rugs spread over the grass.

We took my kids to this park when they were young. Later on, when they became more interested in ponies, we went to the nearby stables instead.

Still later, our elder daughter, then in her early teens, returned to the park, this time for the purpose of hanging out with her mates, something we weren’t too comfortable about, but hey, you can’t keep them locked up forever.

Our kids are long gone, and the dog is too old to chase tennis balls, but we still meander through the park at a pace that allows her to sniff hedges, pee where others have peed and occasionally do more than pee. She pays little attention to yappy little dogs who come up to her – just a perfunctory sniff and on she goes.

This afternoon, as we approached the tennis courts, which mark the far end of our customary circuit, I came upon the pile of garbage that you see in the photo above. This is not an unusual sight, and sometimes I collect what I can and put it in a nearby bin, of which there are plenty.

But this was a bit more extensive than the usual mess. Unusually, it included strips of white cloth. You can accuse me of being a crabby old fart who blames our youth for all manner of misdemeanours, but it was pretty obvious to me that a group of teens – just like my daughter and her mates all those years ago – had been there after school, guzzling soft drinks and junk food, and probably sharing a crafty ciggie. I’ve seen kids before with large amounts of trash around them, and I’ve sometimes suggested to them that they should pick it up. They usually do so, although with bad grace.

Why the white cotton strips? Possibly because exam time is approaching, and some kids no longer have to attend class because they’re revising. Could it be that one of them had taken great delight in ripping one their into shreds? This is a time-honoured ritual I’ve come across before, though it never happened when I was at school.

Such a pile of garbage is a source of great delight to the dog, who swoops on the crumbs in a cake packet before I can grab her. Though I’m not sure why I worry about her developing canine diabetes at her advanced age.

Time and again, the same thought enters my head every time I encounter the detritus of a teenage picnic: why not spend sixty seconds picking it up before you leave, and then another sixty seconds putting it in the bin?

But then I remember that this is what entitlement is all about. No need to bother. Someone will pick it up. And someone always does, that someone being a council employee whose job it is to pick up the trash, check the grass for dog poo and empty the bins in time for the next day.

It’s what we – or rather our parents – pay council tax for, right?

And I wonder at what stage do the litter-strewing brats turn into “good citizens” who always clear up their mess. For some of them, perhaps, when they end up in student flats, and the mounting piles of dirty washing, filthy dishes and general grime becomes too much to bear. Some never evolve, and spend their lives complaining about what others are failing to do for them.

Then I get to thinking about the messes I’ve never cleared up. There must be plenty. Emotional stuff, probably things I’m not even aware of. How many times have I not stood up to be counted, and said “enough”? Too busy making a life to worry about other people’s. Too busy ducking, diving, avoiding unpleasantness and turning a blind eye to all the bad stuff that goes on around us.

Too late to do much about all the stuff I’ve let pass. But now? Yes, I suppose I could immolate myself in front of the House of Commons in protest against our politicians who, with their one-eyed approach to Brexit, are arguably blighting the future lives of kids like the ones who littered my local park. And yes, as a slightly less extreme alternative I could go on demos for as long as my knees could take it.

All the same, as I walk back to the house, and as the dog takes a dump outside our next-door neighbour’s place and I dutifully scoop up her offering with a Waitrose bag, I tell myself “not enough”, reflecting on the amount of times I’ve relied on others to do the dirty work.

The sad reality is that it’s not just gatherings of self-absorbed teenagers who consider themselves entitled. With a few honourable exceptions, it’s all of us. If it were otherwise, what a different country we would be living in.

As time goes on, and as those we rely upon become less reliable, less available and less affordable, we might just have to become that different country, even if it’s by accident rather than design. Let’s hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

From → Politics, Social, UK

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