6.45 am – looking out of my sixth floor window of the Carlyle Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York – still not yet adjusted to American time. The city is just waking up. A few taxis racing by but no people walking, which is why one elderly man has all the time in the world to jet wash the pavement. Like most little boys I love playing with water, especially with a hose.
An elderly man looks like he is taking great pride in cleaning the pavement outside of a hotel restaurant where shortly tables and chairs will be laid out for a business breakfast on the side street.
Yesterday I saw another younger man walking the same street pushing a bin on wheels and emptying all the static bins at every street corner. In spite of 9/11, in the city that lost 3,000 people in the collapse of the Twin Towers, they still have rubbish bins everywhere, which is one reason why New York feels cleaner than London. Observing the street cleaning from my privileged lofty perch, I can see he is taking real care with dust pan and brush to collect up every cigarette end and all the discarded scraps of paper. A much more effective job than the privatised street cleaning lorry with its battery of rotating brushes that occasionally attempts to clean just one foot of the roadside kerb around most UK streets.
Now come the “professional” window cleaners pulling up in their white van, roof adorned with every type of lightweight steps, telescopic ladders and even sections of tower scaffolding. As well as 57 varieties of brush, squeegee mop and extending pole. The two specialists emerge from the van with rags and sponges hanging from every pocket. Aerosols attached to their belts like six guns and knee pads. They look like skateboarding scarecrow cowboys, ready for a showdown at the shop front window.
No George Formbys here. No time for cheeky eyes to peer at ladies through the glass panes. It’s all over in a few seconds – if you know what I mean. Quicker than you can say “draw”. Showdown on Madison Avenue.
Makes me think back to another holiday – 40 years ago cycling on the English South Coast with 3 school friends. All the way from South Wales via the Aust Ferry across the River Severn – no bikes strapped on the roof of cars in those days. When we arrived at the seaside town of Lyme Regis, we were fascinated to see the rubbish collection cart with a team of bin men all wearing top hats. I am sure I didn’t imagine it.
So what’s this all about? To suggest that old people are consigned to cleaning the streets would hardly be greeted with enthusiasm even if they were paid a minimum wage for doing it. Neither would it be very politically correct to require all the young graffiti artists, chewing gum chewers, street corner hoodies, long term unemployed and petty criminals on community service to wear high visibility clothing and spend 8 hours of every day very publicly spring cleaning our towns and cities.
There is the germ of good idea in there somewhere; if only we stopped long enough to think it through and extract the good things:-
Pride in doing a good job
Giving back something positive to society
Flexible hours working
? a tax free paid service to the Community
The old and the young working together
A pristine Britain in Bloom. The flowers are the next step.