Posts Tagged ‘services’

man sitting on street

Photo by malcolm garret on Pexels.com

I found a purse, stuffed with cash, credit and debit cards, rail card, various membership cards – everything. You know how it feels to lose something like that? You panic, don’t you? you turn the house upside down, retrace your steps,… when did you last have it? Petrol station? Supermarket? Then you find it down the back of the settee, and breathe a sigh of relief. But there looked like being no such happy ending here, and I could imagine what was going through this person’s mind.

What do you do? Well, there was a name on the credit cards, but no other ID. I asked among friends and family but no one knew the name. What now? In the olden days you’d contact the local Bobby, and they’d hold onto it down the cop-shop. The owner would call in on the off-chance and be re-united with it. But now there is no cop-shop. No local Bobby either. Not much of anything really. Instead there’s a police Lost and Found Website with a million-choice tick-boxes to navigate, and as soon as you mention credit cards it boots you out.

Then there’s this non-emergency police help-line that takes half an hour to connect and, after twenty questions from an operator speaking from a distant city, in which your actual query seems irrelevant, you get a crime number, like that’s any good to you.

All right,… perhaps even thinking of the cops in this instance was naïve, a sort of bourgeois knee-jerk to calamity, but it served to highlight how much things have changed, how much has gone. If there’s been a murder, sure, call it in and the state will see to it. But if you just need a bit of help,… well,… services are somewhat overstretched at the moment, so just use your initiative.

Right now though my glutinous initiative is somewhat slow in taking shape. Finally I go out and Sellotape a note near to where I found the purse: Mrs Suchabody. Please ring,… etc. But that’s pathetic, surely? So I go home and fret. But an hour later I get the call. Purse and grateful owner are reunited, and all ends well.

I wonder if this denudation of local services, local help, local authority, will perhaps in the longer term serve up the grass-roots transformation we so desperately need. Indeed I’ve noticed recently how the despair of neglected communities up and down the UK, since the crash, is now transforming into a rejection of national politics and the “official” support mechanisms of the state because, well, they’re so chronically under-funded, they’re useless.

People are saying, you know, this place is a mess, and it’s been decades, and no one else is going to sort it, so let’s do it ourselves. It’s called social activism and it comes out of the community-centres, the church-groups, the Facebook-groups . It’s what the original socialist movement sprang from – despair and necessity.

So you find a purse on the path. What you do about that is between your own conscience and what’s realistically doable, in the same way as there’s that homeless guy sitting in a shop doorway night and day, and kids turning up to school so hungry they’re not fit for a day’s lessons any more. Do you think the state’s going to sort that out now? No,… it looks like it’s down to the community. What is the community? We are the community, us and the people we know, the people we trust.

“There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour. My meaning, [there is no such thing as society] clear at the time but subsequently distorted beyond recognition, was that society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations.”

Margaret Thatcher said that, as a prelude to winding back the state safety nets. And she was right in what she said, or at least there’s a sad inevitability about it,… in the absence of anything else.

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fire engineMy morning commute was interrupted earlier this week by a lorry on fire. I saw the funnel of smoke from five miles away, a great ominous plume rising thousands of feet into the air. Fire Engines and police vehicles tore past me, and then the motorway slowed to a halt. My heart sank. I’d a feeling this was a big one, a terrible accident up ahead, and we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a long, long time. I switched the engine off, opened the window a crack, settled back and took a deep breath.

To the right of me was parked the great shiny white whale of a coach. The driver was a bulky fellow, shirt-sleeved, leaning forward a little over his wheel. His muscular forearms were perfectly relaxed, resting lightly on the rim, his fingers drooped, his posture empty, his expression impassive. This was a face used to staring out at an endless ribbon of road, in all weathers, day and night. He barely moved from that position until the traffic cleared. Some people are naturally meditative and calm. I admired his stillness, and adopted him as my guru for the morning.

Behind me, through the rear view mirror, I spied a Mercedes, all corporate black and shiny. It carried a lone occupant, a suited man, grey and of late middle years, apparently talking to himself. Now and then he’d shake his head in vehement disagreement, then drive home his point with sharp little nods and jabs of his fingers. I presume he was using one of those hands free things. It was barely eight fifteen but his business was already running at full tilt, and very important business it appeared too, at least judging by his tense expression. He was an eminent meetings man, no doubt, a finger-on-the-pulse type, dynamic, assertive – all the things I am not, and am consequently quick to notice in others.

To my left was parked a red Ford family saloon, a man and a woman, again middle aged. The woman was very still, the man by contrast very twitchy. His window opened half way and he lit up, releasing a great gasp of smoke. Neither spoke. She seemed withdrawn into a place of deep silence, her eyes inexpressive, resting in the middle distance while he appeared more quick-eyed, prowling and irritable. He was a caged and hungry lion, his patience sorely tested by the interruption of his routine – she a docile rabbit. I felt a tension between them – unspoken and probably imaginary on my part. I felt also a passing and quite peculiar sense of compassion for her – in all likelihood entirely misplaced – but interesting all the same.

In front was another Ford, a small, squat little Ka. Its occupant was a young woman who had the immediate urge to remove her jumper, then comb her hair, then check her face in the mirror, then put her jumper back on, then apply some lipstick, then slide her seat back and recline it, then pull it forward again, then check her ‘phone, then pull her jumper off again, then comb her hair a different way, then check in the mirror to see if she preferred the hair up or down. All this and we’d only been stationary for five minutes – any longer and she’d be getting out to have a walk around! She too lit a fag and a great gasp of smoke leaked from her window. She was indeed a terrible fidget, the little vehicle rocking impatiently on its springs as she wrestled gamely with her restlessness. I tried to remember if my own energy at her age had bucked so fiercely against such imprisonment. I know it had. It was only in my thirties I discovered the damage it was doing and began groping my way back to some sort of stillness.

Eventually, her window came right down and she stuck her head out. Her body followed. I was thinking now she might be trapped and was trying to escape, but then the ‘phone came up and in a couple of little flashes we got the “selfie”. I wondered at the caption. “Me stuck in traffic?” Heavens, love! A little dull?

The traffic began moving again after thirty minutes or so – not a severe delay by any means, and a sterling effort by the emergency services. I was lucky – those stuck at the tail end of it were delayed by a couple of hours, and the motorway was down to a single lane all day. The lorry was a terrible mess, the forward half of its cargo, some 20 tonnes of pet food, all gone and the cab burned to a shell. When the engines of these monsters overheat, they really overheat! The driver was unhurt, but it was a sobering scene all the same.

I carried with me into the day the stillness of the coach driver, but also the memory of the fidgety girl, and her diametrical lack of any stillness whatsoever. Of course for the Facebook generation there can be no such thing as inactivity, with even moments of forced inaction necessitating the reactive “action” of capture and comment. There seems nothing mindful in such a culture; it’s definitely a “look at me” kind of thing, more self absorbed than self reflective, and a little childish. I hesitate to criticise though, because I was young too, once, and remember being more painfully aware of myself with the world as my backdrop, trying to be seen as “cool” and likeable, as I made my first hesitant steps into manhood. Who’s to say I would not have been a Facebook fan, had they had it in the 70’s and 80’s, when, let’s face it, I was trying to attract girls?

Nowadays I think I look more at the world itself, in all its shades, perhaps seeking to catch glimpses of myself reflected in its sometimes quirky, sometimes mysterious traces, but without bothering much about the picture of myself within it. Is that true? Or do I delude myself? Is blogging not the more mindful selfie of the older generation? There I was, stuck in traffic, and here I am now, writing about it. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s about what I’ve written here. Perhaps I should have saved myself the self reflection, joined with the fidgety girl, and taken a selfie, just two faces in ten thousand, the pair of us held up by a lorry on fire.

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