VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
by John Morrison
96: The Rattle of Sabres
The Council Chamber echoes with impassioned debate. The collision of mighty egos raises a fair bit of dust. If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then our elected councillors are a lethal proposition. There seems to be only one issue about which they can agree, unanimously, on a pleasantly mild morning in Milltown. The motion is carried on an enthusiastic show of hands, and a small sum is requisitioned from the Swanning Around on Official Business budget. The rest us may wonder why our local councillors (The Chain Gang, as they're known, dismissively) would even want to wear epaulets. No matter. For a few precious minutes there is concord in the chamber (one size fits all, thankfully), but only until a more contentious item reaches the top of the agenda.
Plans are afoot to install close-circuit cameras around Milltown, to stem what is reckoned to be a minor crime-wave. Crime-wave? What crime-wave? Dope Dealer may be on a shameless mission to corrupt our young people with a pot-pourri of harmless recreational drugs, but he keeps a low profile these days. And, anyway, business is poor. In the old days we'd roll joints on an LP cover; it's not so easy on a little plastic CD case. The teenagers of today prefer to congregate in the park, most evenings, to hoist a can or two of industrial-strength lager.
The landlord of the Grievous Bodily Arms may take a relaxed view of our outmoded licensing laws, but PC Rasher wouldn't dream of interrupting an after-hours session. There's always the chance that some of the regulars will be out without their handlers. Anyway, he's well aware that a lock-in keeps our more disreputable characters off the streets until solid citizens have retired to their beds.
A handful of rogue pensioners are turning to petty crime to fuel their spiralling snuff habits. Having to find £1.25 a week, every week, can make some of our senior citizens a bit twitchy. One old codger was caught, red-handed, demanding money with menaces from a Womens' Institute bring & buy sale. "Come on, punk, make my jam", he'd snarled, unwisely attempting to go cold turkey after a long-term addiction to Old Mill Number 1. It was totally out of character, an aberration. And, once he'd been sedated with a mug of Horlicks, he promised he'd never try to pull a stunt like that again. If this is what a crime-wave looks like, those solid citizens should be sleeping soundly enough.
Security cameras would arguably create as many problems as they'd solve. We might be able to anticipate the arrival of new-age travellers - swarming towards Milltown like a horde of rampaging Visigoths - so we can head them off at the border. Let the Lancashire constabulary deal with them. But, if it's to be any use at all, camera evidence must be continually monitored. Who will be prepared to watch hour after hour of unremarkable video-tape, on the off-chance of catching Town Drunk pissing in a shop doorway? Even the most enthusiastic voyeur would soon get bored. Maybe we could market the footage, in 24-hour chunks, as lost classics from the Andy Warhol school of film-making.
Hoarse from haranguing one another, and eager to get home and find a mirror, our councillors end up fudging the issue. They've gone, predictably, for the placebo option: fake cameras, constructed from shoe-boxes and toilet rolls, mounted in prominent positions around the centre of town. The cost of materials will be minimal: sticky-back plastic, mostly. We live in hope that a battery of counterfeit cameras will deter wrong-doers, especially short-sighted ones.
Wounded Man is unimpressed by security cameras, whether real or sham. Weighed down by the burden of being born white, male, middle-class and notionally heterosexual, he's eager to cast off the shackles of respectability. And he doesn't want Big Brother looking over his shoulder while he's doing it. He's making halting attempts to embrace an outlaw lifestyle. It starts off in a small way: swapping over the stickers and bar-codes in the supermarket. He knows he's doing wrong, but it feels good. So he does it again. He's taking that Biblical injunction to heart, that God helps those who help themselves. If he carries on like this, Wounded Man will soon be a fully-fledged consumer terrorist.
There are plenty of other armchair anarchist in Milltown. In fact they're the only kind of anarchists we have. You wouldn't believe what a hassle it is to get them organised. They won't pay their subs on time, and a lot of meetings have to be postponed, at the last minute, because they can't even muster a quorum. Man the barricades? Milltown's anarchists couldn't man a hot dog stand...
Wounded Man looks on, suspiciously, as Milltown continues to go upmarket. Pubs are becoming ironic pastiches of the unkempt, tobacco-stained dives they used to be before they underwent a series of pointless and expensive face-lifts. We've come full circle; everything can be faked except the patina of age. And instead of grubby little cafés, serving up chipped mugs of tea and buttered barm-cakes, it seems there's a new cappuccino bar springing up every other week. Places where people kiss each other on both cheeks, then sit around sipping coffee with sawdust sprinkled on top. Or some new taste sensation to titillate jaded palates, like herbal teas: pour on boiling water and, just ten minutes later, voila... a satisfying mug of hot water.
Wounded Man doesn't really approve. In his overheated imagination, cappuccino bars have vaguely right-wing associations, along with green wellingtons, Range Rovers, power steering, Barbour jackets, dinner parties, steak knives, conservatories, silk head-scarves and shooting sticks. Worst of all, cappuccino bars attract mobile phone users like flies to a turd. If mobile phones are a menace now, just think what life will be like when everybody's got one. A mobile phone, that is... not a life. Extrapolate the sales figures for these accursed gadgets, and that date looks set to be about a week on Wednesday.
Guys stroll into one of Milltown's cappuccino bars; a mobile phone placed on a table clearly marks out their territory. It's quite a novelty to watch a group of men bragging how small their equipment is. Their phone conversations, by contrast, make for dull listening. Instead of conducting the vital business of the day ("Buy pork belly futures... sell my grandmother...") their calls tend to be loud, ostentatious... and meaningless ("Yeah... just bought it yesterday").
For those who can't afford the real thing, a TV channel changer makes a cheap and effective alternative. It'll do almost everything that a real mobile phone can (make them look a twat and irritate everyone within earshot), while saving on exorbitant rental fees and call charges.
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