Fainting in Coyles An occasional letter from the
Heart of Euroville
Friday, July 25, 2003
United Kingdom Soviet
Though I sympathise with collective over the fellows over in Samizdata land and wholeheartedly support the concept of White Rose blog living abroad has made much of this rather academic.
However a week in Blighty and specifically in the smoke has opened my eyes.
How can I put this, to a returning native London has the feel of a nascent police state. It is not that there are security cameras everywhere. And yes there are (and they are getting smaller and smaller to the point of invisibility. I would find myself sitting at a bar, say Gordon’s near Charing Cross, a fine and historic place, to consume quantities of Pino whatever), my addled mind was taking in the back of the old water gate when I noticed the “You are being watched sign” stapled to the wall. I spun around and searched for it, and there it was, attached at height, smaller than a fag packet. At every train station I visited the tannoy would hardly have time to burbled out the normal water filtered destinations of the next train to appear before, In clear distinct and robotic tones we would be informed
“Close circuit television is being used in this station for your safety and comfort”
Comfort, yeah right.
But it was the preponderance of advertising that really scared me. Every telephone box, every bus stop, many of the advertising hoardings and worse – and I counted on more than one occasion – more than half of all tube adverts were of some authority or other boasting about the level of surveillance that their customers and fellow subjects were being placed under.
“Say Cheese – London Transport police will get you”
“TV Detector Vans are prowling your area”
“Grass up a friend”
“Community action award sign up here”.
And I remember the glory days when I could read Poetry on the Underground and laugh at slimming tablets. One particular peom has stuck as it spoke of a world so beyond that that I was living at the time,
"Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away...O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done." Siegfried Sassoon
I asked a friend who works for the IEA whether he thought the Government would get away with the all singing, all dancing id cards being proposed. He put his hope in the House of Lords, and the further hope of the policy not being a manifesto commitment at the next election.
He then said something that at least made me smile.
Oh I think most people would agree to carry them, if they were sold as a way to cut down on benefit cheats. But if you told them that they would not cure those ills, then I think most people would be ambivalent. And if you then charged people for the privalage then I sexpect that they would become very ambivalent”.
Now I have to say I like the idea of “very ambivalent”. It suggests classic English understatement of a thorough , and if I were a government, concerning kind.