Reclaim The Pavements
You can say what you like about capitalism, globalisation, bankers and the like, but my pet hate at the moment is people who let their trees and shrubs grow unchecked and thereby block our pavements - sidewalks if you prefer. Even partial blocking is intolerable.
I was thinking about this yesterday, and had a sudden realisation. Why wait for the local Council to take these idiots to task and send them a warning letter? We're supposed to be a Big Society, aren't we? Clearly direct action is the answer.
Therefore I'm proposing a Reclaim The Pavements movement, whose members carry a pair of secateurs in their pocket or their bag and simply snip off the bits that grow across boundary walls and fences, which annoy passers-by.
To begin with, it shouldn't be necessary to do a wholesale pruning job. Just taking off a few bits of privet or buddleia or whatever ought to send the right message to the idle sod who can't be bothered to keep their garden in check, especially if the debris is left lying on the ground as a mark of shame. Seeing the cuttings and the debris (and the snipped shrubs) would also give encouragement to fellow RTP activists, who would know they're not alone.
But what if the offender is shameless, or has gone away, or is too old and feeble and poor to do the pruning themselves? In that case, I reckon we should carry a standard supermarket plastic bag and fill it with snippings, prior to disposing of the bag in a dustbin or recycling bin - or possibly just leaving the bag in the offender's garden.
Last night saw the start of a new series on Channel 4 -
A thrilling and raw four-part drama about young lives lived on the edge in east London - an honest and gripping rendition of inner-city drug and gang cultureIt's worth taking a look at the Top Boy website, and maybe watching it on 4oD if you missed it.
Personally I find this kind of stuff almost unwatchable - like a hyped-up and even nastier version of EastEnders - but it's better to have writers and programme makers dealing with these sorts of subjects than just ignoring them. Entertainment it isn't. (I feel the same way about "We Need To Talk About Kevin" - it's important to think about psychopaths and the nature of evil, but I personally don't want to see the film.)
There's plenty of evil on show in Top Boy. One of the nastier highlights concerned the use of a pair of secateurs to cut off the finger of a rival drug dealer in order to demonstrate to a drug supplier (baron!) that the new boy on the block is capable of such snipping - such ruthless and psychopathic violence. There were plenty of guns and knives on show and in use as well.
I guess the point of Top Boy is to show how young kids become corrupted and ruined by gang culture. We already know well enough that gang culture exists, and gangs run the trade in drugs in our cities and towns. We certainly need to do a lot more to protect the children in our neighbourhoods - to give them decent supervision, support and housing would be a start. To lift their lives out of poverty would also help.
By themselves, however, these things are not enough. There's a brand new block of flats near where I live, which is now populated by at least a couple of dozen teenagers and their families. I see these kids hanging about on the streets. Yesterday one of them actually lifted his bike from the position where it was lying on the pavement to allow me to walk past their group. "All right, boss?" he said as I passed. "Thanks," I said.
Politeness, respect, consideration, civility. To recognise you're blocking the pavement, and then do something about it.
We need to talk about the Kevins of this world - the psychopaths as well as the mere teenagers - and we need to address their actual needs, if our societies are to function and thrive. There's no point in just telling them what to do - it's in the nature of a 'normal' teenager to be a rebel and a non-conformist. It's in the nature of a psychopath to just do whatever they're going to do, regardless of the feelings or wellbeing of those they damage.
Psychopaths clearly have no 'better nature' - they have no capacity for empathy, and their concern is only for themselves. They seek only power, pleasure and personal gain. With teenagers it's different, and they're capable of developing personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligence, if we only care to show them how . . . if we only know how to educate them. Preferably beginning a long way before they even get to teen age. How come we're not doing it? - or not doing it well enough, in the majority of cases.
As for Hackney - bottom of the bloody 'league table' for the speedy adoption of kids according to news bulletins yesterday - Top Boy could be yet more bad publicity. [Is it necessarily a bad thing to take time over the proper placement of kids with adoptive parents? Maybe the 'bottom' in this case could actually be the top? I speak as someone who likes to take time to do things properly and thoroughly.]
Although an article in Sunday's Observer which pre-viewed Top Boy banged on about Hackney, it wasn't particularly noticeable from the actual programme that it was set in Hackney. The estates and the streets could have been in almost any of our cities or districts - obviously the poorer parts.
For those of us who live in Hackney, we won't recognise, for the most part, the characters and the activities depicted in Top Boy. Day to Day life in most parts of Clapton, Dalston, De Beauvoir, Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill, etc, is decent, civilised, courteous and polite. People of all backgrounds, skin colour, religions and ethnicities don't just 'tolerate' one another - they enjoy living together and befriending one another, even when life is hard and it's a struggle to survive.
That said, I fear for what may happen in the years ahead, as council budgets are squeezed ever harder, as provision for the poor and the needy becomes ever scarcer. I still have strong memories of life under the Tories last time around, as mass unemployment hit the poorer communities that already had little enough, and people found it ever harder to buy decent food, clothes and household items. People who have nothing have nothing to lose - as Bob Dylan reminded us all those years ago.
Last time around teenagers found new ways of making money - such as mugging, 'steaming', and stealing car stereos. There was also a huge increase in tried and tested ways of getting money, such as burglary and shoplifting. In recent years these forms of criminal activity have seen a marked decline - in Hackney and elsewhere.
Meanwhile corporate kleptocracy increases at a phenominal rate. Yesterday Barclays announced massive multi-billion pound profits for the year so far. And this is a bank that contributed hugely to the financial crisis that's still continuing. What's more, the profits announced yesterday weren't from merchant banking - from the banks' casino operations. These are profits from the 'High Street' - from ordinary punters, like you and me. Do they think that people still don't realise they're being ripped off by the City, by the banking cartel? Those profits are OUR money. As are all their bale-out funds, which saved the entire financial system from collapse.
The only people they're not making profits from are the already-rich (who do their banking differently, let's say) and from those who have no money to begin with.
More of this in the next blog.
Incidentally - the main fault with Top Boy is that the actors - as good as they are - all look too nice. They look like decent, pleasant, intelligent individuals - which of course is exactly what they are. Just like the majority of people out on the streets - like those who cleaned up Clarence Road after the riot. Just like the majority of those who took part in the Pembury/Clarence Road riot, in fact, and haven't been involved in violence or wrong-doing since the riot took place.