Gerry Farrell: Lightbulbs and litter don’t mix

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Take a trip into Edinburgh city centre and marvel at the gaudy festive glamour. A hundred feet in the air, excited thrill-seekers spin in circles next to the Gothic rocket that is the Scott Monument.

Meanwhile at the top of the Royal Mile, the Street Of Light arches spectacularly over the heads of awestruck shoppers. No expense has been spared to make Edinburgh look like an entrancing Christmas destination.

But when the daylight returns for a few meagre hours it reveals the truth. We live in a dirty city and down in Leith, the problems with litter and dog mess are getting worse, not better.

At Leithers Don’t Litter, we are doing our damnedest to change local attitudes. A month ago, as part of our work with local teenagers, we kicked off an anti-litter project in Leith Academy. The class we worked with had the brilliant idea of decorating the Christmas tree at the Kirkgate with decorations made from rubbish to ram home the message that “Nobody Wants A Rubbish Christmas”. Edinburgh council reps made enthusiastic noises. The tree was already in place and illuminated, so there wouldn’t be any extra expense. The schoolkids got on with the work of turning the drinks cans and crisp bags they’d collected on litter-picks into tree decorations. Just as they were finishing up, the council got back to us. “We’ll need a cherry-picker crane to get the decorations on.”

Santa didn’t bring us a cherry-picker, though. They were all too busy elsewhere – possibly putting up more lightbulbs in the city centre. I spoke on the phone to a very nice chap at the council. He said they could get us another tree, a three-metre one and bring it down to the Kirkgate for the kids to decorate. A few days went by then on Monday the bombshell dropped. The nice chap at the council had been given a quote for putting up a tree at the Kirkgate and then taking it away again. Now, are you sitting down? Make sure you have a cup of hot, sweet tea to hand, I don’t want you dying of shock. The cost of getting this tree would be . . . £2550. Not twenty five quid. Not two hundred and fifty quid. Over two-and-a half-grand – just to deliver a three-metre tree then take it away again!

So we’ve had to abandon our schoolchildren’s stroke of creative genius. Maybe we’ll try again next year. But we won’t be taking the pressure off Edinburgh City Council any time soon. We were delighted by the response to a survey we conducted with Leith residents into the amount of litter and dog mess in Leith. In October, the council hinted that things were getting better in Leith. Our survey tells a different story. Our 217 respondents, all of whom actually live in Leith, told us that the problem in Leith was going from bad to worse. It rankles with me that millions of pounds are spent turning the centre of Edinburgh into Blackpool over Christmas and New Year. But when we ask for basic services like dog waste collections and more environmental policing in Leith, the council simply shrugs and blame budget cuts.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Getting rid of persistent dog-fouling in Leith isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a must. Dog waste is a health hazard to children and a nightmare for parents with prams and pushchairs or disabled citizens on mobility scooters. So tonight at 6pm in the Drama Theatre at Leith Academy, we’re holding a public meeting to present our survey findings and discuss the way forward.

If you’ve ever had a moan about the problem yourself, you’ll know that moaning changes nothing. We need to turn those words into action for change. So please join us in Leith Academy tonight and lend your support to our cause.

No comfort and joy on the train this time

I HAVE a wee ritual when I get on a train in the morning. First I buy the Evening News and The Scotsman. That done, I queue up at the Bagel Factory for a coffee and my favourite bagel – smoked salmon and cream cheese on poppyseed with black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Oh the joy when the train pulls into the freezing platform and I can jump on board and find a window seat with a table facing the direction of travel. I snuggle down in the warmth and spread out my purchases, lick the melted chocolate from the underside of the cappuccino lid and sink my teeth into hot, savoury dough.

But today my pleasure only lasted until Haymarket. When the new passengers came on, a well-groomed twentysomething said to me “Can I be a massive pain in the arse and ask you to move across to that other table so me and my friends can sit together?”

My coat was off, my coffee was half-drunk, my bagel was half-eaten and my newspapers were open. My reading glasses were on and my bag was on the floor between my feet. The last thing I wanted to do was move. The guy who had asked me to shift for his benefit was being, as he so rightly pointed out, a massive pain in the arse. He was also being rude and charmless in forcing the point to get his own way. So how did I react? I should have said “I’m terribly sorry but I’m perfectly happy where I am, as you can see.”

Instead, I’m ashamed to say that I said okay, got all my stuff together and moved. At which point he began to shower me with fake appreciation. “Oh thank you, you’re a total star”, that kind of insincere nonsense.

This made me even grumpier than I already was, having been manipulated into doing something I didn’t want to do. My huffy body language must have been a treat to observe. I felt stupid too, for being so crippled with British politeness that I was unable to give my tormentor an honest answer.

And what was so important that these four just had to sit together? X Factor. They yammered on about X Factor and its winner, Louisa Johnson, (“Oh my God, how good was she?” and “Oh my God how rubbish was he?”), all the way from Haymarket to Markinch.

Let’s talk about SEX

I’m going to a SEX party in Leith today. It happens once a year at The Shore Bar and Restaurant. There will be around 30 hairy and somewhat overweight men and a few glamorous women (including my own lovely wife) to add a little sparkle. We’ll have a few bevvies then sit down for a bite to eat. After that, the fun begins in earnest. That’s the SEX party Grand Christmas Auction, all profits to St Columba’s Hospice with magnificent lots to bid for, like a day in a Platinum Seat at Tynecastle (I thought the only precious metals at Hearts were in the players’ knee-caps). What about all the sex, you cry? Oh, we’re all far too old for that sort of nonsense. In our world, SEX stands for Self Employed Xmas.