I warn you – this column contains filth | Stewart Lee

I warn you – this column contains filth | Stewart Lee

I warn you – this column contains filth

In the week we host Cop26, our outmoded sewage system is causing an even bigger stink

Illustration by David Foldvari of a duck laying eggs through a toilet

Last modified on Sun 31 Oct 2021 15.51 EDT

The majestic shores and tinkling streams of our island kingdom are engulfed by filth. I am self-constipating to stem the tide of sewage, reducing my own filth output by eliminating fibre and water from my diet, and eating only dairy products, and so should you if you are a true patriot. Laurence Fox has already switched to a diet consisting solely of shirred eggs, baked in his own individual porcelain ramekins, while his Reform UK co-face, Richard Tice, has vowed to eat only bar-snack pickled eggs from “a rightwing pub, with free speech and rightwing comedy, and only British food, and no vaccine passports, and no masks”, until the filth tide retreats.

But mass public self-induced constipation is not a long-term answer to decades of chronic underinvestment in filth infrastructure by privatised water companies. I am, however, already seeing massive personal savings on my toilet roll and Toilet Duck expenditure. In fact, my toilet is so rarely used now I am thinking of encouraging an actual duck to live in it, though gathering the eggs might be a challenge.

Normally, a national filth engulfment would be a handy metaphor for political corruption. But we have reckoned without Boris Johnson’s Covid-Brexit government’s ongoing talent for making nightmare reality and puns about “this septic isle” aren’t up to the task of addressing the magnitude of their complicit criminality. I sit down to a breakfast of six coddled eggs and, keen to complete my column so I can prepare a light lunch of 30 blockage-inducing persimmon fruits, ponder the irony of the situation.

In the week we host the Cop26 climate catastrophe conference, on the success of which no less than the future of all life on Earth depends, Johnson dismissed his own government’s recycling policy as useless to a class of bewildered schoolchildren; Shipley’s Conservative MP, Philip Davies, said our attempts to reduce Britain’s emissions are “utterly futile, virtue signalling gesture politics”, drawing emaciated polar bears and dead Northumbrian seabirds into a culture war against the imagined hessian-munchers of north London; a clockwork contrarian called Mike Graham, on the Conservatives’ client radio station talkRadio, appeared to suggest that concrete, like trees, could be “grown”; and 268 Conservative MPs voted to block a Lords’ amendment aimed at preventing water companies from discharging 3.1m hours‘ worth of sewage, based on last year’s filthometer readings, into filthy Brexit Britain’s filth-filled seas and rivers. Was it only in May 2018 that Michael Gove sniffily declared we could have “higher environmental standards outside the EU”? Was it only that year that Johnson stated he was “leading the way in protecting the world’s oceans”? Were they lying? God forbid!

Apparently, Brexit Britain’s broken supply lines mean the water purification chemicals aren’t getting through. But principally it appears that water companies can’t be expected to pay the GBP150bn needed to fix their outmoded sewerage system, which they have run into the ground since 1991 while paying GBP57bn to shareholders, so they have to funnel the filth-spill into our rivers and seas. You don’t have to be Joseph Bazalgette, whose public sewerage system emerged from the Great Stink of 1858, to see that decades of investment, rather than decades of dividends, could probably have averted the problem; you don’t even have to be his great-great- grandson, Peter Bazalgette, who pumped the cultural sewage of the Dutch reality TV show Big Brother into our homes, to recognise the asset-degrading actions of the water companies as evidence of a corrupt kleptocracy; you probably don’t even have to be his other great-great-grandson, Edward Bazalgette, who played guitar on the Vapors’ 1980 sensitively Asian styled song Turning Japanese, to know that the moral response to the filth crisis is to make the water companies correct their neglect and not to pass the costs on to the consumer. And yet the Conservatives’ justification for supporting the ongoing filth-discharge was that as the customer will have to pay for the sewage system upgrade it’s best not to bother with it after all.

I gobble down my persimmons and head out into Dalston high road to find more. Even the most fashionable north London health food shops seem to have no persimmons left, but is it evidence of Brexit shortages or of patriots attempting to solidify their bowels? Hopefully, the delegates at the Cop26 won’t find out about the British filth crisis or Johnson’s latest gaffes. But, given that we recently learned the Irish border agreement, in his oven-ready Brexit deal, was laid down with the premeditated intent of being broken, who among the hopeful international idiots coming to Glasgow to save the planet would trust either Brexit Britain’s words or deeds.

Meanwhile, in September 2020, an unnamed purchaser imported 30,000 tonnes of Dutch sewage sludge, containing Dutch human waste, to spread on British arable land, a process illegal in Holland itself. It appears Brexit Britain’s farmers could become the grateful recipients of millions of tonnes of European excrement. Unlike many moaning Remoaners, I graciously accept Brexit was the will of the people, but we need joined-up thinking to make it the unqualified success it can be. Why are we discharging our own British excrement directly into our British waterways at the same time as buying European excrement to spread on our land? Shouldn’t we just pull over, whenever we feel the urge, and defecate patriotically into our own British fields al fresco? Nothing speaks of Brexit’s sunny uplands more movingly than the image of Ann Widdecombe, with her bloomers round her ankles in a Kent market garden, shatting on to some strawberries. I can’t find any more persimmons anyway and eggs make me sick. Gardyloo!

Rescheduled 2022 dates of Stewart’s 2020 tour are on sale; stewartlee.co.uk/live-dates/ He also appears with director Michael Cumming at live screenings of King Rocker, their documentary about Birmingham’s post-punk survivors the Nightingales, in cinemas in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds in November and December linktr.ee/kingrocker

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