Situated on a T-junction, with only a few streets between it and the gusts of the English Channel, our house tends to get a lot of litter blown into its front garden. Over the time we have lived here, I have got used to picking up crisp packets, drinks cans and chocolate wrappers that have careened down the road facing us to end up on our path.
In March, this changed. For a number of weeks after the UK went into lockdown, our garden remained fairly clear. With the exception of deposits from a few local cats (welcome in so far as they seem to be keeping at bay the rats that have apparently been invading homes in search of food as many restaurants and takeaways remain closed), there was little to tidy up.
This is no longer the case. As the government continues to relax restrictions and the national coronavirus threat level is reduced, the litter is back. It looks rather different, however. Although wrappers and cans still feature, they no longer dominate. Instead, discarded face masks are the item I most frequently find myself picking up. (By the sound of it, east Folkestone is by no means unusual in this respect: one environmentalist has claimed that there could soon be more face masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean.)
Interestingly, after several months of being confined largely at home, old habits seem to be returning. Whether consciously or not, a significant swathe of the population has reverted to the practice of dropping objects they no longer need on the pavement.
Unprecedented though it may have been, lockdown has not proved a significant enough disruption to rewire certain behaviours: now that they can get out and about once more, people are acting much as they always did. Although the profile of what they are discarding has shifted, the behaviour has remained the same.
Odd though it sounds, it strikes me that there is cause for hope here: human nature is resilient and old habits die hard; it may be that we lose less about the way we used to live than seemed inevitable when country after country shut down earlier this year.
But, of course, there is also cause for pessimism in this renewed slew of rubbish: human nature is resilient and old habits die hard; it may be that we improve less about the way we used to live than seemed inevitable when country after country shut down earlier this year.
As some of the people on the other side of the sea a short walk from my front door might say, ‘Plus ça change.’