Giving as good as you get

I simply couldn’t let the “Alice Arnold” episode pass without comment this month. For those of you who may have missed it, Alice Arnold, a newsreader at Radio 4 and Claire Balding’s partner, stopped at some traffic lights behind a car out of which a plastic bottle was thrown. She got out of her car, went and picked up the bottle and posted it back in through the car’s window.

Even Alice Arnold was taken aback by the ensuing media storm. Alice, you would think, is a lady not unfamiliar with the media but doubtless less used to being in the spotlight than Claire.

I think that this episode highlights various key issues that often rear their heads in the litter world.

First – and a point well made by Alice in her Guardian article the Saturday following the incident – Alice is female, white, middle-aged and “fairly small”, so a reasonably safe demographic. But even Alice says that she would “hesitate to recommend my actions to anyone because of all the terrible stories I have heard”. She also stresses that she did what she did in broad daylight with many other cars and people around. I think that is a very sensible piece of advice – I always think that, unlike intervening when someone is being subjected to life-threatening violence, a piece of litter is simply not worth risking physical violence for.

But there is another interesting point here – and that is about keeping the litter issue in the public’s mind and maintaining that constant pressure on people to stop littering. Why does it take someone famous to do something like this to bring the issue of littering into the public eye ? And, to my mind, while I in no way wish to detract from the courage and moral determination that Alice Arnold showed, many, many people the country over do things just as heroic on a daily basis and go unnoticed. For that reason, I found it a bit over the top when Alice’s colleague and friend Corrie Corfield said Arnold deserved a damehood for her action. What about all those people who collect litter regularly and often suffer abuse and are sometimes threatened with violence for sticking their necks out ?

Well, I think that answer is that we’re all human. We react positively to famous people doing things and we often entirely overlook ordinary people doing the same thing. It’s the similar syndrome, I guess, as that which says that when a dog bites a man it’s not news, but when a man bites a dog, well that’s another matter.

So I think that we all just have to be thankful for Alice Arnold and what she did and recognise that she has, even for a few days, brought littering up into everyone’s consciousness and that she will have made some difference to some people in terms of their future littering behaviour.

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