by Theodore Dalrymple Daily Telegraph
When I visited Nottingham recently, I thought at first that very large snowflakes had settled on the streets, and this was distinctly odd, because the temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn’t snow, of course, it was chewing gum, pressed into the pavements by thousands of pedestrians. I had never seen anything like it: the monstrous regiment of chewers of Nottingham had managed to insinuate their gum even into the road-crossings.
I don’t blame the council for not having removed the gum: it is very expensive and time-consuming to do so. Here, then, is an example of the people, or a significant number of the people, being to blame, not the Government. Thousands of citizens in Nottingham alone must have acted in a debased, uncouth and anti-social fashion, for such an accumulation of gum could not have been the work of one or a few, however devoted to the cause of public squalor he or they might have been. Nottingham is the worst I have seen, but it is not alone.
Who among us has not experienced one of the most unpleasant of all urban sensations, that of unhardened, freshly-deposited chewing gum stuck to the sole of his shoe? It is impossible to ignore it, like toothache; you have to do something about it straightaway. Whatever is on your mind, even if it be the destiny of the whole world, is supplanted by thoughts of the goo on your shoe. To remove it becomes imperative, you cannot rest until you have done it. Shakespeare said: “There was never yet philosopher, / That could endure the tooth-ache patiently.” Similarly, no concentration, no absorption in the world’s affairs, can survive chewing gum on the bottom of a shoe.
Yet it is by no means easy to get it off. Gum does what it is supposed to do: it sticks. You scrape and scrape with a growing feeling of revulsion, and still you cannot get it all off. You begin to despair, not only about the gum and the sole of your shoe, but about the state of the whole world. However happy you were before the gum stuck to your shoe, you are plunged instantly into depression.
There is even worse (there is always worse). Not long ago I was on a bus and my knee happened to touch the underside of the seat in front of me. I experienced a horrible sensation and knew at once what it was: gum. However difficult the stuff is to remove from the sole of a shoe, it is easy by comparison with removing it from a trouser leg. The first is but Latin, the latter ancient Greek. You spend the rest of the day conscious of the stain from which – even worse – a faint smell of peppermint emanates. It is unutterably disgusting.