Thursday, August 26, 2010

'Scribblings from the Surf' - Devon Life 9/10: Extreme litter-picking

The fifteenth in a series entitled 'Scribblings from the Surf'. For more information on Devon Life, click here. To read the article, see the text below or click to enlarge the pictures of the original article below that. To see the whole series, click here


Barrister and writer Tim Kevan tells the story of his father’s inspirational efforts to clean up our countryside

Okay, once in a while you hear a heart-warming story that inspires you to go out and do a little better each day yourself and I’ve got one of those to offer this month and it just happens to involve my Dad Robin Kevan. You see after around thirty years of being a social worker he woke up one day in his little Welsh village of Llanwrtyd Wells and decided that he still wanted to be helping people and improving their lives even though he was now retired. But where to start? Well, the most obvious place was his own back yard and he quietly starting getting up very early in the morning and cleaning up the litter in his village. Not for any other reason than to make the place a nicer place to live. Eventually just as the milkman was called ‘Hugh the Milk” and the postman ‘Ken the Post’, he came to be known as ‘Rob the Rubbish’ and he took on a yellow gillet emblazoned with this catchy name.

But whilst he continued to keep his village clean, the pleasure he got from this meant that slowly he started spreading his wings and bringing in his passion for the countryside and in particular for the hills. So when he heard that Scotland’s highest mountain Ben Nevis was absolutely filthy, he drove right up there and spent two days cleaning it up. So, too, with Wales’ Mount Snowdon and England’s Scafell Pike and slowly he started to become a little well-known making his way up those mountains with a black bin liner and his trusty pick-up stick. It also meant that the people responsible for cleaning up these beautiful places were forced to sit up and take note and it led to meetings with the likes of the John Muir Trust and a local aluminium plant in Scotland which has definitely improved local practice and it’s undoubtedly the case that there’s a lot less litter around in these places than when he started out.

As word spread the media picked up on his work. Richard and Judy did a profile and when Griff Rhys Jones followed him around on Snowdon he was given a gillet with the name ‘Griff the Garbage’. The Daily Telegraph described him as “the unlikely new hero of the environmental lobby” and The Independent said that “Mr Kevan thus follows in the footsteps of others who have decided something must be done and done it. One thinks of Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, Bob Geldof, Diana, Princess of Wales...”. Oh and he even featured in a book called One Can Make A Difference alongside the likes of the Dalai Lama and Paul McCartney. All from picking up other people’s rubbish! He also entered the debate about litter on programmes such as The Jeremy Vine Show and despite the fact that he clearly didn’t like rubbish, he also steadfastly refused to get angry about it. There are lots of reasons people leave litter as far as he was concerned and although he hoped to inspire (or even shame) them into not doing so, he simply said “I just pick it up”. As he explained: “If litter offends you and it’s there then pick it up and it’s won’t offend you any more.” There’s a kind of hunter-gatherer element to this and also a great satisfaction as he says in seeing that “everything behind you is so much better than everything in front of you.”

This simple message spread around the world with people contacting him from as far away as China, the Middle East and South America and telling him that he’d inspired them to clean up their own local mountains. It also led to Terry Crosby of Travel and Trek taking him on trek to Everest Base Camp and helping to clean up that well-trodden path. Now this is no mean feat even without a pick-up stick but there he was in his sixties and setting an example to trekkers and locals alike.

However, the one downside was that whilst he got to the little village of Pheriche which is over 14,000 feet above sea level, he didn’t quite make it as far as Base Camp itself and this is where I came in. I’d already been inspired by his efforts and supported the likes of Mikey Corker and Surfers Against Sewage and their work to keep the beaches of North Devon clean. But then I was given an offer I simply couldn’t refuse. Former Braunton-resident and at the time five-time Everest summiteer Rob Casserley runs a company called Trek 8848 (named after the height of Everest in metres) and he offered to take me on a trek to Base Camp. An incredible opportunity in anyone’s books to be given a true insider’s guide to the Khumbu Valley by Rob and his Sherpa friend Ang Nuru Sherpa who had summited with Rob back in 2003. But all the more so when I was able to finish the job my Dad had started. So it was that a new yellow gillet was put emblazoned with the name ‘Tim the Trash’ and I brought out my own pick-up stick and black bags and took on my own share of litter-picking from Namche Bazaar through to Pengpoche, Pheriche in the footsteps of my Dad and then eventually to Everest Base Camp at 17,500 feet and even to the mountain just above it Kala Patthar at around 18,500 feet. It was undoubtedly a great feeling not only to follow in my Dad’s footsteps but also to be able to finish what he had started as well as to be able to share such an incredible experience.

These days my Dad can still be found cleaning up both his local village and surrounding hills and seeing it very much as something which gets him out into his beloved countryside. In the meantime, it’s also worth mentioning that Rob Casserley entered the record books this same Everest season by summiting twice more to bring his total ascents of the world’s highest mountain to seven. In the process he also became the first Westerner to summit the mountain twice in a season in two different seasons. Two inspirational men called Rob who bring to mind the following words of William Blake: “Great things are done when men and mountains meet; This is not done by jostling in the street.”

Robin Kevan on Wikipedia
Travel and Trek

Please note that the beautiful lead photograph is the copyright of photographer Howard Barlow who also sells iconic images of in particular seventies rock stars such as the Ramones and Blondie on his website here. He also has a blog here

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