I would like to begin this piece with a confession. I am not a bad person. There. That’s it. This entire post is hopefully going to prove that but it will also see me admitting to one thing; I do have bad thoughts. Demons, if you will. I hope that, by being honest in my opening confession, you can find compassion in your heart and not judgement in your mind. I shall explain just what demons live within in this very post.
I like to think that, on the whole, I am a good person. I have never stolen anything, driven whilst under the influence or raised my hand to a woman; except when answering questions at school when asked to by the teacher (to be honest, I rarely did that anyway). Don’t get me wrong; I’m not claiming to be perfect. I probably owe a parking fine from the early naughties and I once got out of a library fine by emailing them a made up story about having to visit an ill friend. I know, I know. Actually, I am tempted to confess that last one and send a cheque for the 80p I still owe them.
Today, however, inner demons rose within me that I haven’t known before. Here’s how it unfolded.
I stayed over at a friend’s last night in my quaint hometown of Beverley where I was raised and where my parents still live close to. (5 miles away, to be exact.) Despite the wind blowing with much gusto, it was both warm and comforting so I decided to walk the 5 miles back from my friend’s house to the house where my parents live. I like coming back to the place I grew up because it’s in the middle of the countryside and I can go for walks to just get lost in my thoughts. It’s escapism at its best, I think. Heading through the town, I made the spontaneous decision to get a coffee before walking down the country roads and back to see my Mum and Dad. I was unaware of the monumental impact this choice was to have on me both as a person and… no, actually just on me as a person. Before I share the events that were to shake my beliefs to their very foundations, let’s enjoy a written coffee break, shall we?
I am going to digress a little in order to share something about Costa coffee which bemuses me. Nipping into Costa on my way through the town centre, I ordered a large cappuccino to take away and was asked if I’d like chocolate sprinkles on top. “Go on then; it is Sunday after all,” I replied in a way that, even now as I type it out, makes me want to slap myself in the face with an over-sized Bourbon biscuit. So the barista, as he appeared to be called, filled my cup, reached for the metal stencil, sprinkled chocolate on top thus creating a pretty depiction of coffee beans, and put a lid on before presenting it to me. Just to reiterate: He drew a picture on my coffee, in chocolate, and covered it up immediately. That happened. Up until writing this, only that very barista and myself knew that there was a picture of coffee beans in chocolate atop my frothy cup of caffeinated goodness. I am not sure I like sharing a secret with a man whose name I don’t know and who’s job title is questionable in its very authenticity as an actual job title. Anyway, I feel a little easier having shared that with you. Thank you. By the way, this coffee is an integral part of the story. I shall continue…
Having left Costa with the dirty little secret clenched firmly within my grasp, I took the opportunity to begin listening to Richard Herring’s “Talking Cock” podcast. (The podcast is available to download now on iTunes. I don’t know why I’m advertising it as I won’t get any commission. Nor will I for the shameless promotion of Costa coffee. I guess sometimes we just do things to be nice, don’t we? Still, a free coffee would be good… from either source.) So, with the warm wind enveloping me in a comforting manner akin to how I have heard heroin addicts describe their choice of opiate do, I set off into the countryside with a coffee in my hand and an admired comedian in my ears. I was wholly looking forward to enjoying both with no thoughts in my head or distractions in my face.
Relaxed from a night of fun and laughter and looking forward to a satisfying productive week, my cares were free as the familiar sight of rolling hills and sprawling countryside welcomed me. I listened to the podcast, laughing openly and heartily with the hustle and bustle of town disappearing behind me. Unfortunately, this was the last time everything would be so easy.
I drained the last of the secretly decorated coffee from the cardboard cup and looked around for a bin. That’s the thing with the countryside; lots of fields but no bins. Towns, on the other hand, are breeding grounds for bins. I have noticed bins littered throughout the town which is both helpful and ironic. The countryside though, with its lack of package selling outlets, doesn’t have anywhere near as many bins. Or, in the case of the countryside where I grew up, the countryside doesn’t have any bins at all. I had walked through 2 miles of bin strewn town with a full coffee cup and now, with no bins to be seen, I faced the task of walking 3 miles with an empty coffee cup. I suppose if the journey was longer and I didn’t have the enjoyment of a comedian talking in my ears then this coffee cup could potentially become the Wilson to my Tom Hanks. I wasn’t a Castaway though. I was a man with an empty coffee cup. This is when my character was tested. This is when I found out about the person I truly am. This is when I discovered I have a demon within me. That demon’s name is Litter Bug.
I said at the start of this rambling (don’t excuse the pun; I like it) that I am not a bad person. I would like to extend the list of examples that offer proof of this to include the fact that I am NOT a litter bug. I don’t throw litter. I love the beautiful countryside and I detest people who ruin it in any way (apart from the people who build roads, obviously). I don’t think fly tipping is fly at all. I think it’s whatever the slang opposite of “fly” is. Dissy, perhaps? That said, I was really looking forward to my relaxing walk and getting lost in the words of Richard Herring; a fellow East Riding of Yorkshireman. I was now going to have to carry a cup that didn’t contain anything. It was a soulless shell. I had become stuck in my own, distinctly less funny version of Weekend At Bernie’s (although probably still more amusing that Weekend At Bernie’s 2). I just wanted the simple pleasure of not having to carry rubbish for 3 miles.
I thought about it in a way that seemed justifiable. Cardboard is biodegradable, isn’t it? If anything, casting aside an old cup into a country field would help the soil, somehow. Not casting aside the cardboard cup, that would be selfish. Crops need nutrients and as cardboard comes from the very trees that grow in the fields I was contemplating making the cup’s new home, I was probably helping some starving people somewhere in the world. Maybe.
Of course, you only really justify something to yourself if it doesn’t feel right, don’t you? Still, I had done just that. I’d already spotted a tyre and several crisp packets; I’d even spotted a United biscuit wrapper and I didn’t think they even made them anymore. I was going to do this. Just as soon as the car that was approaching had gone. And the one behind it. Then the one coming from the other direction. This was not going to be easy; maybe not even possible. Cars were certainly becoming the Big Brother of this scenario. How would I get the chance to… Ah. All of a sudden, when it looked like the window of opportunity had shut firmly in my minor criminally suggestive mind, fate opened it and invited me to toss a used cardboard cup through it.
I paused the podcast. Silence. No cars were to be heard or seen. If I was going to cast aside this weight from around my neck – by which I mean the coffee cup from my hand – this was when I was going to do it. I was going to join the fraternity of minor criminals. I’d probably get invited to Lord Archer’s house where we’d discuss how we broke the law whilst sipping brandy with only a small feeling of remorse resting upon our slightly guilty shoulders. Littering the beautiful British countryside was undoubtedly selfish but, well, I wanted to enjoy the rest of my walk. I’d already missed out on a lot of what I was listening to as I’d been focused on plotting my daring yet cowardly move. I’d scoped out various places I could toss my used cup. There was a road sign I could rest it against; a tree stump I could lean it on; a bridge I could cast it off; and as many bushes as a grown man could dream of. It was silent. Nobody would witness me. I was going to do it. I was going to litter. I was going to do it now. I was.
I didn’t. My conscience got the better of me. I had been presented with an opportunity to be the guy who smoked at the back of the bus at school or who had facial hair when they were only 14. I had been offered the chance to smell of leather jackets and bourbon and take a sultry gal into the distance on the back of a Harley Davidson. Here, in the silence of the Yorkshire countryside, I’d been one drop away from being James Dean, Frank Sinatra and any guy from any aftershave advert ever, all rolled into one. I could have been a contender. I could have been; I wasn’t. Instead, I felt like I’d bottled it. Instead, I was the guy who went into the chemist for condoms and came out with a packet of throat sweets and a toothbrush. I wasn’t a Rebel Without A Cause; I was a cold man with an empty coffee cup. To add insult to injury, I looked across the road and saw this mocking me. Whoever had thrown it there was probably having passionate love fun with the very girl who worked in the drive-thru he bought it from.
I walked home, my head mixed with feelings of both shame for not being more of a rebel and pride at being conscientious. I am glad, really. The countryside is beautiful and that shouldn’t be ruined because of a devil-may-care attitude. I wouldn’t throw an empty coffee cup in a beautiful girl’s face or at a teacher asking me a question in a classroom. No. Actually, I had rebelled against the peer pressure of the rebels. I was cool. I was a rebel but a rebel with a cause; the cause to Keep Britain Tidy. Yeah. I am going to go to McDonald’s tomorrow, I am going to go up to that drive-thru and I am going to tell the very girl who works there that I fully intend to dispose of my empty coffee cup in the agreed and respected manner. I’m not going to drop litter; I’m going to let her drop her clothes. On the floor. Or fold them and put them neatly on a chair in a bedroom. Or something vaguely sexy sounding that the guy who threw that roadside cup would say.
So, Here’s What I Have Learnt Today… it’s good to confront your demons. Then, and only then, will you find out whether or not they like the countryside as much as you do. Oh, and I also learnt that it is possible to listen to a podcast and still laugh heartily when you have an empty coffee cup in your hand.
“And what happened to that coffee cup?” I pretend I can hear you cry. Ah yes. The alluded to coffee cup. Well, when faced with his demons, sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.