Not laughing about the litter

Walcot Street is an historic thoroughfare which has been full of small businesses since Roman times. It also once declared independence, has a world-famous and recently rescued real ale music pub and is a part of ‘gentile’ Bath that still has an edge.

Walcot Street
Walcot Street

It’s good to see independent traders continuing to thrive and also great to know the street is still alive with people after dark too. Whether it’s coming in or out of the city, checking into local restaurants and pubs or queueing for the local nightclub’s late opening – it’s all part of the transformation that happens to Bath as these public spaces change from day to night use.

I was young myself once so l am not going to wade in and knock youthful exuberance. Though – based on experience – l would advise going easy on the booze and leave the cigarettes well alone.

I remember those heady days of searching for new experiences. That live and love forever feeling that oils those vital years when the world and all it contains belongs to ‘immortal’ you.

One of the new experiences l am learning about comes via an on-line Guardian article and from the rubbish disfiguring Walcot Street – where visitors may have noticed party balloons and small gas canister strewn across the pavement.

Litter that is no laughing matter for the traders of Walcot Street
Litter that is no laughing matter for the traders of Walcot Street

In the on-line Guardian report from a couple of years ago, Sam Wolfs wrote about a ‘new’ and worrying new ‘get-your-kicks-out-of-this’ trend he witnessed in London’s Brick Lane where  group of vendors not seen before had arrived on the street. They sell canisters containing nitrous oxide. An apparently new legal high you’ll know it better as laughing gas.

‘When I arrive at Brick Lane around 11pm on a Saturday night, there are more than 20 sellers lining the 100m stretch of road between the curry houses and bagel shops. They have colonised the street to such an extent that if you close your eyes, all you can hear is the woosh of pressurised gas inflating balloons, the jangle of thousands of discarded chrome canisters being kicked across road and the cries of “three for a fiver” from these nitrous candymen.

At every turn, there are people huffing on brightly coloured balloons filled with gas. They look like disreputable children’s party entertainers, blowing in and out of balloons till they slump on the floor and start giggling manically.’

 Spent Nitrous Oxide cannisters
Spent Nitrous Oxide canisters

What he witnessed is now happening here in Bath although it seems the recreational use of nitrous oxide dates back hundreds of years. The term ‘laughing gas’ originating from laughing gas parties, where medical students would get high on their own supply.

Using balloons filled with the gas goes back – in modern times – to the 70’s but with the arrival of cheap canisters and dispensers its growing in popularity.

They get around the law by selling it as canisters for catering purposes –  for creating whipped cream – but if sold as a medical product it is restricted.

So it’s a legal high but it can have harmful effects. Though there have been some highly publicised deaths, nitrous oxide is viewed as one of the least risky drugs that young people can get their hands on.

All the canisters and balloons mean extra work for the  road sweeper.
All the canisters and balloons mean extra work for the road sweeper.

However, many local authorities are keen to get it off the streets and argue it’s not only complaints about anti-social behaviour – when people are intoxicated by the drug – but also the litter they leave behind.

Litter is certainly the issue in Walcot Street. Walk along the pavement on a Monday morning and see the mess for yourselves.  Balloons and chrome capsules scattered everywhere in a street where traders who are using all their energies to attract customers  – is no laughing matter.