Terribly urgent business involving a punt and a smoke machine dragged me (kicking and screaming, of course) away from Glasgow over the weekend. I returned on Monday afternoon after a tolerable train journey, largely spent considering the three fallacies in the phrase “Try our mouthwatering meal deals!” that adorned adverts for the train’s buffet. Down south the weather had been changeable but largely pleasant, and with a conservatory tacked onto the house I was staying in, breakfast felt more like petit déjuner in the south of France.
Scotland, however, remains a bit parky, and there was still on snow on the ground south of Glasgow. The chill in the air welcomed me back to Scotland, and the mountains of domestic waste that had been dumped on the pavements of Govanhill welcomed me back to Glasgow.
These scenes might not seem unusual to a born and bred Glaswegian. But they are to me. They’re nothing short of shameful, in fact. While I accept that my neighbourhood (Govanhill) might not be the most attractive or affluent parts of the city, in general Glasgow is a monstrously filthy city.
I mean, downright sickeningly dirty. I have lost count of the number of people I have seen (of all races, ages and appearance, before any Daily Mail readers get hold of this rant) who openly hack and spit onto the pavement. Littering seems to be a Scottish art as well: carefree hands offer elegant flourishes as empty bottles, cigarette packs, wrappers and even (I kid you not) entire newspapers are thrown from the windows of moving or stationary vehicles.
But what gets my relatively tolerant back up the most is the city’s casual tolerance of street dumping. It’s quite acceptable for residents to haul outsize waste to their own kerbside for free collection. Almost any bulk domestic refuse – including furniture and white goods – can be left on the pavement for collection once a week. Everything gets picked up by a team of city cleaners and thrown into a refuse truck that crushes it in preparation for landfill. A few weeks ago a largely undamaged three seater sofa was dumped on the pavement across the street from my apartment. It was unceremoniously lifted in a rubbish truck and crushed for burial outside the city.
As far as I’m aware, no other city in Britain tolerates or encourages residents to dump on their own pavements. And while it’s true that no self respecting Glasgow hipster does not own (for example) a perfect 1950s telephone table that they happened to find while out walking, most of the stuff that’s dumped is just waste, often with no regard for the conditions for collection (nothing over four feet in length, nothing dumped loose on the pavement).
And because the city willingly cleans this up, residents continue to haul junk out without consideration to the cost or implications of its disposal. While I can see the logic in defending a system that allows other citizens to save bits of furniture before they get collected, this act is technically illegal, since household waste left for kerbside collection is technically the property of the council once it hits the pavement.
But here’s the irony. It’s legal for residents to expect uplift of ‘bulky items of domestic waste’. But it’s illegal to ‘fly tip’ … i.e. dump domestic or commercial waste, normally from a vehicle, in a public place.
I’m confused. So it’s legal for someone to dump their own waste on the pavement outside their apartment, but illegal for someone else to come and dump it there?
Here’s a subtle little urban observation for you. This is a pedestrian crossing on Argyle Street in Glasgow. While I lived on the hip and trendy Avenue du Mont Royal in Montréal in Canada, the city installed coutdown timers on a busy intersection near the Mont Royal metro station. The idea being that there would be fewer pedestrian / vehicle conflicts if crossing pedestrians knew how much longer they had priority. That’s because In North America the countdown ticks away on green, telling you how much longer you have left to cross. But here in Scotland, it ticks down on red, telling you how long you have to wait until you can cross.
What does this say about the Scottish people, as opposed to North Americans? I’ve never seen a countdown crosswalk like this one anywhere else in the UK. As far as I know it’s the only example of its kind in the country. Could this be the one and only example of a countdown pedestrian crossing, and also the one and only example of a misunderstood technology?
In my eyes, it’s the wrong way round, but it suggests an alternative appreciation of the dangers at the crosswalk. It doesn’t warn you that the lights are about to change and that you shouldn’t start to cross… quite the opposite: it placates you by telling you that you don’t have long to wait until the green man reappears.
I noticed a similar tactic during a cross country drive today. The A66 is a major east-west road that crosses from the M6 at Penrith to the A1M at Scotch Corner, linking the two north-south axes of Britain’s motorway network. It, however, is a partially upgraded A-road, and is only partially dualled, with many long sections remaining as regular two lane road. There are a number of four lane dualled sections, where faster traffic can pass slower vehicles (namely caravans, at this time of the year). Naturally, traffic tends to clog on the two lane section, because with only one lane in each direction and precious few passing opportunities, just one slow vehicle can affect the entire flow of traffic.
A few miles in advance of the dualled sections, however, road signs advise you that there is a dual carriageway ahead. What purpose do these signs serve, except to persuade you not to risk a dangerous passing on a two lane road? Patience, they implore, you’ll be able to sweep past this tractor in just a few miles.
Patience, the Scottish crosswalk implores. You can cross in thirty seconds. But like in Montréal, no-one pays any attention. They cross whenever they themselves judge it safe to do so.