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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 12th March 2010
‘The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.
It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.’

Unlike Alice (last week’s Gazette) who went down a hole, here is Mole from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ going in the opposite direction. It’s easy to sympathise. Spring cleaning isn’t half as much fun as spring itself, and living underground must make you long for the sunlight, even when you’re as house-proud as Mole had determined to be.

Yet there is much to be said for a good spring clean – whether it’s of your hole, your home or your city. Spring, even when it is delayed by heavy snow or sharp frosts or floods, does eventually make an appearance each year. And because it comes regularly it means that, as long as we set aside a time for our cleaning, we have set in motion a programme of regular maintenance. Spring is a useful prompt – a time when we might take stock of our surroundings and decide what needs doing.

Apply the principle to Ripon, and two things soon become clear. First, in many places such a regular maintenance scheme has not been put in place, neither by individual owners of premises nor by the authorities charged with maintaining which is sometimes called the ‘public realm’; secondly, and as a result, there is much that need to be done.

It is interesting how perceptions differ. For some people – often the casual visitor who stops in Ripon for an hour, visits the cathedral, walks to the Market Square, then realises that their parking time is up – Ripon is ‘interesting’ or ‘quaint’ or ‘historic’. They will not notice – or they will turn a blind eye to – any of the city’s less pristine areas, though they may notice the dusty windows of the empty shops.

For others, often the regular visitors from a short distance away, the city is a utilitarian place, where they shop and bank (and insist on parking as close to their shops and banks as possible). They have, perhaps, little interest in the fabric of the city, as long as ‘their’ shops remain.

And then there are people who live in the city itself or who come daily to work, to bring and collect children, to deliver goods . . . What do they think? They, perhaps, fall into three groups – and all of them were represented in a survey that Ripon Civic Society conducted in the summer of 2008. Some of them – a small minority, thank goodness – believe that Ripon is irredeemable, doomed to failure and, if they could leave, they would. The second group consists of people who really like the city, but grumble that it has declined noticeably in the last decades, is looking decidedly down-at-heel and believe that there is no prospect for improvement.

So it’s a good thing that there is a third group which, while recognising the city’s problems, can see that Ripon has so much in its favour that, with vision and work, it could become a really attractive, clean, welcoming, go-ahead place. They appreciate that it has problems, but do not see them as insurmountable because they appreciate the city for what it is – a unique place that has so many attractive assets and can stand as a beacon for the surrounding area, if only it is allowed to flourish.

Mole, suddenly scenting his old home at Christmas, months after abandoning his spring cleaning, has much the same feeling, as he confesses to Ratty, ‘I know it's a – shabby, dingy little place,' he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: 'not like – your cosy quarters – or Toad's beautiful hall – or Badger's great house – but it was my own little home – and I was fond of it – and I went away and forgot all about it – and then I smelt it suddenly – on the road, when I called and you wouldn't listen, Rat – and everything came back to me with a rush--and I WANTED it.’ And with Ratty’s help, the old place is soon set to right.

So, for those of us with a fondness for Ripon – who would rather it was not ‘a shabby, dingy little place’ – spring cleaning and regular maintenance, are worth pursuing. Lots can be done easily; regular removal of chewing gum from the streets, maintenance of the obelisk, restoration of the cabmen’s shelter; property owners clearing their gutters, mending their down-pipes, cleaning their windows and giving them a coat of paint; owners of empty shops keeping them tidy and making their frontages more attractive. All of this could be part of a spring-cleaning initiative, and none of it is particularly hard or expensive. It would make such a difference and even the least observant – even those with Mole-like vision – might see the improvement.

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