The decadence of chewing gum removal

I was stressed out this week by a series of improbable statements that I was expected to believe. You try it:

  • Costa Ricans planted 7,007,323 trees in 2008
  • Winchester City Council removed 450,000 pieces of chewing gum from the pavements
  • the proximity of the British and French nuclear submarines that collided in mid-Atlantic was a freak accident

I’m not a conspiracy theorist but the submarine story has to be nonsense. It will take a lifetime for the Ministry of Defence files to be released but I’ll wager that this was a deliberate rendezvous let down by some rusty grappling irons.

My incredulity at the City Council performance is more to do with the choice of undertaking than the stamina of the contractors. Officials explained that local businesses putting up cash for extra services had decided that gum clearance was the priority.

My suspicion is that it had more to do with the award of 0/10 for a visit to a Winchester pub by the irreverent website, Chewing gum on the pavement was cited as a headline offence. The pub concerned is owned by a big national chain with corporate clout over humble municipal authorities.

I first spotted the pavement cleaners on emerging from the station one day in early autumn. The Council boasted that it would take several months to complete the scheme in order to change the “look and feel” of the City. Indeed it continued until mid-December.

In a period that saw the humiliation of Scottish banks, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the bankruptcy of Iceland, Winchester’s worthy spray-gun contractors advanced from City Road to The Square.

The scheme is infectious. This coming week business owners in Southampton will vote on similar proposals. Eager to outperform the Winchester count of 450,000, they plan to leapfrog contractors and purchase outright the miracle machine which performs the task.

How could I explain this to the shopkeepers that I knew in Trichy in Tamil Nadu? They were thankful if the local authority provided electricity. And they swept their own pavements.

In the City of Gonaives in Haiti, layers of mud still cover the streets and many houses months after a series of hurricanes struck in August and September. The task of clearance has been left largely to the residents themselves. The UN appeal for disaster relief was underfunded.

These are shaky parallels with the minutiae of Winchester commerce but our affluence does sometimes lead us up the aisle of the absurd.

And we mustn’t forget the Costa Ricans and their enthusiastic participation in a que sembras un arbol (bet you will plant a tree). It’s the detail of 323 that inclines me to believe the claim of 7,007,323.

Costa Rican schools, businesses and the cantons vie with each other to meet the targets. How can we persuade our cities to compete on tree planting rather than discarded chewing gum?


this article was first published by OneWorld UK