Thursday, 15 May 2008

"I didn't even know there could be such a thing as 'passive drinking'..."

I was in Manchester yesterday amidst the throngs of people who descended upon the city to watch what I understand was a rather large footballing event: the UEFA final between Glasgow Rangers and Zenit St. Petersburg. 200,000 Rangers supporters and several hundred Russians crushed the city under a wave of dark blue and a slightly lighter blue. At 12 noon yesterday almost every person I saw on the streets of Manchester wearing a blue top had a drink in their hand, fully prepared to wait seven hours and drink for seven hours.

Yesterday I wasn’t particularly perturbed. It was strange to hardly be able to move in Piccadilly but I generally thought it was kind of sweet – just like it is sweet to see birds travelling in tightly-knit herds and sheep following one another across a field. It was nice in a way to see the camaraderie and excitement that this sporting event caused even if all the stirring of emotion was caused by something so amazingly pointless and banal. I didn’t begrudge them their simple happiness although I will never understand the mentality that causes someone to travel hundreds of miles (thousands in the case of the Russians) to watch a sporting event that you don’t even have tickets for and you could easily watch from home.

This morning I was not so tolerant. Piccadilly Gardens looked like a rubbish dump; broken bottles were piled in every corner, plastic bags blew across the pavements, bus shelters were damaged and bent, the smell was disgusting. The air itself had the smell of stale alcohol like the constant stench of a pub and when you breathed you could almost taste it in the back of the throat. It was noxious and foul, exacerbated by the piles of rubbish that surrounded your every step. The concrete pavement itself felt sticky like the floors at the cinema. More than once I saw blood-encrusted tissues strewn over the roads. According to the local newspaper’s account of what they’ve called (rather dramatically but I like it) “the Battle of Piccadilly”, the giant screen in Piccadilly Gardens broke down leading to riots. Deprived of their entertainment the mass of football supporters proceeded to shake about the bars of their crib and wail plaintively. Fights broke out, riots broke out, and the city wept. This video shows animals as far as I'm concerned.

Manchester was left in a horrendous state. I recently read “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman in which he concludes that the world by and large would not miss us and that life would go on in the manner it always has done. Plants would recover the urban areas, megafauna would return, and our legacy would be our nuclear waste dumps. Having witnessed yesterday’s particular aspect of human nature and the unfathomable behaviour of the masses in this instance, I can fully endorse his conclusions and his radical solution of one child only per human female until the population is a more reasonable size. When we are left with 250,000 tonnes of refuse after a simple sports game, something is desperately wrong with the species. There is no plastic that is biodegradable: having only been around for less than 100 years, the material is simply indigestible by microbes. The best plastic labelled as ‘biodegradable’ is only able to break into smaller and smaller pieces which then linger in the ecosystem for years and years. The remains of the plastic in Manchester will haunt the environment for centuries.

Due credit must be given to the Mancunian clean-up teams. I entered Manchester at 9am this morning, stared open-mouthed from the bus at the carnage inflicted on the city, and then was inside a building until 12 noon. By then most of the rubbish had been cleared; an impressive achievement for the dozen or so clean-up people I saw working.

Still, I’m once again reminded that the term ‘human civilisation’ is a misnomer. The planet really would be better off without us.

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