About a week ago I visited my sister, who now lives in Switzerland. I had a fairly standard preconceived idea of the place I suppose: images of fondue (which, as it turned out, could not be obtained in the region I was visiting, and “was invented for the tourists and promoted by the Swiss Cheese Union”), snow and mountains. However, after a short stay, I found that what was most striking about Switzerland, or the area I was staying anyway, was just how sickeningly clean everything was. The mountain streams were glitteringly clear and blue, birds and butterflies seemed to emerge from every angle, and (slightly strangely) nuns were seen to wander at ease everywhere I went. The small towns, huddling in between the peaks and strewn around the shores of Lake Maggiore, appeared Disneyfied. The flower filled window boxes, neatly stacked woodpiles and picturesque little churches seemed to be systematically placed to create a perfect landscape. Even when I was walking through what my sister described as the “scummy” end of Locano, an area of Brutalist architecture on the outskirts, there wasn’t a piece of litter or supermarket carrier bag in sight.
Sadly, being a bit of a cynic I couldn’t just enjoy the place and say “oh isn’t this lovely”. What was on the forefront of my mind was that Switzerland basically makes England look like crap. What must the Swiss think when they come to our country, and see the mucky coloured River Wear? What would they think of the regular occurrence of “pavement pizzas” on the Bailey or Claypath during the early mornings, or the roadside hedgerows full of plastic and crisp packets? Switzerland has one of the best environmental records in the world, being one of the first countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol, part of the Environmental Integrity Group, and heavily active in recycling (66–96% of all recyclable materials being recycled) and anti-littering regulations.
Finally (in defence of Britain), even though Switzerland was very beautiful, I can’t say that I particularly felt “at home” there. Beside its immaculately dressed, skinny residents I felt slightly inadequate. I also found, as I always do when I have been away, that as my plane descended towards British soil on my return flight, the patchwork of green fields was deeply soothing, perhaps because of their familiarity or just because of some innate loyalty I have and obligation to like the place of my birth and upbringing better than everywhere else. I would compare my feelings about Britain to those about my own home in Durham. My house is a concrete monstrosity next to a chippy with a yard full of mouldy chair, empty beer kegs and dubiously obtained roadsigns and a living room full of Xbox and washing up. Greasy chip smell seeps through the walls of my bedroom and the window seals. My home is disgusting, but I love it. It is full of friends, and nowhere do I feel more comfortable. I’d choose this (at times mucky) environment over a plasticised perfect landscape any day, because in my personal opinion, a bit of mess makes a place feel like home.
This view that England is deficient in comparison with this landlocked European country is probably overly negative though (from my record of articles on the Bubble, it is likely that you have gathered that I LOVE to write about gloomy environment related things). England isn’t doing half bad though in terms of recycling: in 2011 recycling rates in households across Britain reached 39.7%, a 2.1% increase since 2008/09. Switzerland also has the advantage of incredible affluence. Additionally to count against the region’s flawless image, I found (through some exploration) a number of pieces of graffiti in Locano. There was a wall behind my sister’s flat coated in the stuff. There was the standard large erect male appendage, the insults against the police, oddly written in English, and even more oddly a picture of a pony. HAHA! I thought! Even in Switzerland there are teenagers who think it would be awesome to deface a wall that no one really sees. Not so perfect are we now Locano?