Monday, January 25, 2010

Appetites and Destruction

As the weather is merely grey today rather than pouring with rain, and the pavements are no longer icy, I walked the Bright-Eyed Boy the mile or so to school today (with the Dog in tow).
It's not a particularly pleasant walk. Many of the houses in our area are no longer family homes, but have been developed by speculators into student accomodation, which is distinguishable by assorted recycling tubs left permanently out, and split black bin bags dumped and spilling out onto the pavements. I don't have a problem with students: they're mainly a fairly affable bunch and polite enough, but their messiness is a bit of a problem if you're having to pick your way through and around it. After the beck (i.e. a stream, which often has supermaket trolleys or bikes poking out of the murky water) the student housing gives way to social housing. The houses are either neat as a pin (mainly owned by over 60s) or fairly squalid (not conspicuously 'owned' by anyone). The latter are characterised by equally overflowing refuse receptacles and the odd rusting car up on bricks in the driveway. The problem we had today was the sheer amount of broken glass on the paths where bottles, presumably from the recycling, had been smashed and left strewn in jagged shards. It doesn't take much imagination to foresee a pretty nasty accident happening, either with a falling child or a misplaced dog-paw. So we had to weave about, walk on the muddy verge to avoid the hazard. I'm probably going to drive again tomorrow: I don't fancy a trip either to A&E or the vet's. The council, although having little Smart-cars with 'neighbourhood pride' blazoned on the side couldn't care less if it's not that area's day for collection.

On the return trip I was wondering in my head about the sort of mentality that would think it was a good idea to perpetrate this sort of behaviour.
But of course, 'think' doesn't really come in to it - it's a sort of knee-jerk behaviour: it's there, so I'll do it.

Is it all about instant gratification? To scratch an itch? Isn't this what characterises a lot of society today (sweeping generalisation there)? Is it symptomatic of a more general loss of control?

It's a commonplace observation that we live in an age of instant access: if we want something, we can generally have it straight away - be it food, drink, sex, communication, a box, press a button and hey presto! it's there for consumption. The message pushed on us by the media is that everything we want is there for the taking and it's ours almost by rights. Why wait? Go get it! And hurrah for credit cards - get a couple!
The idea that it is sometimes better to wait and anticipate is met with incredulity and looks of disbelief. Why on earth would you want to wait? And as soon as the immediate want is assuaged, for many excess becomes the next stop, because humans are hard-wired to continue to want. It's a driving force which, along with curiosity, has made mankind so successful at survival. Why stop at two beers? - have fifteen and a night to remember (or forget, in most cases!). Why only one slice of gateau? - finish it off and we'll get another for later!

As much as I feel a mild aversion to the virtue of prudence (thanks Gordon!), the evidence of uncontrolled consumption and greed is far more worrying. The pools of vomit that dot the pavements after the weekend, the snapped-off wing mirrors, abandoned kebabs, recycling bins full of own-brand vodka empties, puffingly obese teenagers drinking Panda Pops on the school run. Are all these people really made happy by their consumption?

Another thing that I have noticed more of late, and not entirely unrelated to my way of thinking, is people arguing loudly with their partners in the street and parents (usually mothers) shouting, if not screaming, at their small children, unconcerned that they are being watched. The safety-catch on behaviour is definitely off, a message that is no doubt absorbed loud and clear by recipients and onlookers.
But then I reflected that this sort of uncontrolled behaviour in public is almost the flipside of the behaviour that I blogged about in 'Honour Killings: An Unpleasant Look at the Truth' just before Christmas. Britain has lost it's buttoned-up tight lippedness and is letting it all hang out.
It's not a pretty sight, and just as bad in a different sort of way,


Anonymous said...

The Monday before Christmas, my partner and I braved Oxford Street for a bit of last minute Christmas shopping. My partner and I agreed to split up towards the end of our afternoon in the West End. This was so we could get each other’s present and so I could make one last visit to the LSE & KCL libraries before they shut up shop for the holidays. I was making my way up Tottenham Court Road when it began to snow very hard – yukky, wet snow – what I call ‘potato peelings snow’ – big, fat flakes that made the pavements look and feel as if they were covered in wallpaper paste. It was so vile that I threw caution to the wind and got the Northern Line two stops, to Warren Street, to save myself from getting drenched. As I was getting off the train a young woman in front of me stood up to get off – she was burdened with various bags from what appeared to be a vigorous afternoon’s clothes’ shopping. One bag split as she was leaving the train – it was a large paper carrier bag and as I knew what was going to greet her at the top of the escalator, I reasoned the bag would turn into papier-mâché within two blocks. So I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she wanted a spare carrier bag I happened to have in my rucksack. She gladly accepted my offer.

I tell this story, not to blow my own trumpet, but because it struck me, as I made my way to street level, that life would be so much better if we all looked out for each other. I do think by doing such things, the world would be a better place. I find it bizarre that people don’t think about other people and don’t help each other. I suppose the story of the broken glass is a contrasting tale of just what life is like when the opposite occurs (or perhaps I should say, of the norm!).

Last year I was visited a former girlfriend of mine, who now lives in considerable affluence (husband’s a barrister) in leafy far-Headingly; and she mentioned that the house they lived in when they first married, a fine three bedroomed interwar semi in Headingly itself, is now let to students and only one house in five in the area are owner occupiers. On my back into the centre of Leeds I took a detour around Beckett’s Park estate, where she once lived, and was shocked to see what I remembered as neat, middle-class suburbia transformed into quite a grotty area. It is very sad and is the effect of buy-to-let to students (on saying that, hypocrite I am, we were thinking about buying a terrace in Leeds or Huddersfield as buy-to-let a pension investment, so I can’t get too snooty about this). It is, in part the student or young person’s mentality to think only of themselves (which is more a psychological stage of development than a social pathology) and I think it part of our culture nowadays; but it is also the landlord’s failure to keep tenants in check. The house next door to us is let and the owner has imposed fairly strict guidelines on the behaviour of her tenants and we have her phone number in case of problems. However the tenants are 30-something professionals and never cause us any problems!

I sometimes find myself exhibiting strong ‘Victor Meldrew’ tendencies! But I think we need to chivvy people along who can’t exhibit social responsibility. One of my darker fantasies is the return of the stocks, where binge drinkers and people who talk over-long and loudly on their mobile phones would be pilloried in the shopping precinct on a Saturday afternoon. It is a fantasy that gives much pleasure...


Hypatia said...

Zeteo....What fun we could have with rotten eggs tomatoes and the like.....!

On a different note, yes, chivvying works well with students because, as you rightly note, it's a failure of imagination rather than genuine misanthropy. I have had some success in that department, and generally they express surprise and remorse that they have contravened in some way (usually VERY loud music. I'm a some-time rock fan myself, but not at three AM!)
Unfortunately there are a lot of individuals who live around here (not in my immediate neighbourhood thank goodness!)for whom that is NOT the case: they are out to cause deliberate damage and generally be a bloody nuisance. Believe you me, I'm nether brave nor foolish enough to tackle (even verbally) some truant weed-smoking fourteen year-old who looks upon his asbo as a badge of honour!The safety of 'me and mine' must come first. Don't ask where the police are in all this: they're quite good at speeding though the area with blues and twos AFTER any nastiness (recently an arson attack on an empty house), but the only actual presence on the streets are a couple of nervous-looking CPOs who are treated with contempt and verbal abuse from the leering gangs of youths who hang around the Spar shop. This is not hyperbole or generalisation: they are really quite menacing. Fortunately the Boy starts senior school in the Autumn, so theoretically I'll never have to take this route on foot ever again.
The 'police clinic' dutifully trundles to and parks up in the area twice a year, but nothing seems to improve.

In an ideal world we would most certainly bear one anothers' burdens, but that rather relies on everybody having the same ethos and goals. As soon as some guy starts showing renegade, or even individualistic tendencies, there's a gap in the net for the others to cover, and before long too few people are doing all the work - a syndrome you're no doubt more than familiar with!
And of course, sadly, you just can't MAKE some people care....


Anonymous said...
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Hypatia said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this...

Yes, I think it is sometimes difficult to strike the balance of what one wants to say, what in reality can be said and what needs to be said on a blog. Usually I just post ‘my own take’ on a particular issue or thoughts or something wholly subjective that I think is interesting. There is something narcissistic about blogging (or at least in my case) but also it is interesting to read other people’s thoughts and ideas and I have certainly found it helpful.

I suppose part of the problem comes when you write about someone or something that is identifiable. In my posts where I do talk about someone whom I know who is perhaps known in wider circles I tend to change certain details (their sex, age, area where they live, where they went to university, their married status, number/ages of children etc.). However since the monastery debacle I have realised that even this is not really possible with some subjects. I also found that it was pretty easy to find my blog if you know me – just type in a few phrases into Google Blog Search Engine such as ‘faith based organisations’ & PhD and it arrives at my blog!

I note that most of my posting has been done when I should be working and I think this is in part due to the fact I have found the transition from part time work – in a busy office in central London – to 24/7 in a house on a quiet cul-de-sac in a small Hertfordshire commuter town, while my partner works long hours, rather more difficult than I thought and perhaps wittering away on a blog has filled up time and been a means of breaking the solitude. I could better use the time doing something else and I think I need to rethink my daily routine a little. It is only two months since we moved so I am still ‘settling-in’. So I have decided to suspend my blog for the time being – I think my vitriolic ‘hermit’ taught me a valuable lesson.

I will continue to follow your blog and comment from time to time!