I was born and bred in this city. I learned to walk and talk under a ceiling of toxic black cloud that visited twice a day and only slept when the rest of us did. The local grocer stocked my favourite sweets and I fell in a kind of pre-pubescent man-love with him when he operated a don’t ask – don’t tell policy when I tried to buy ciggies on my twelfth birthday. He coughed his way to an early grave, clocking up emphysema before he gathered a half-century in earth years. He occupies an iconic status in my mind. Only the great die young.
“In my city you can’t take a dump without getting fined.”
Of course, there are other things I love about this place. The City Hall, oblivious to its own aesthetic limitations, has clung tenaciously to quasi-importance for every decade of my life and a few before that, asking little in return except perhaps something in between pity and admiration, like an ageing grandfather on his last legs. The football teams, the Saturday markets, the charity collectors, the kids high on weekend leave, the foreigners running eateries with scents that reach out like beckoning fingers. I’ve grown up seeing something new every other day and devouring every granule of it.
I met my first girlfriend in this city, fell in love for the first time. I drank my first pint, ate my first kebab, puked over another human for the first time. I got my driving test in this city, picked up my first dole cheque, got my first job.
“Somewhere along the line of time individuality died and the council took its place.”
But this city is a changing place. Love can turn to hate. Actually, that isn’t correct, it is people that turn love to hate. Somewhere along the line of time individuality died and the council took its place.
Council is a hard word to define. Look it up and you don’t get the actual truth, you get a sanitised, holier-than-thou interpretation of what some OED editor thinks it should be. I fancy myself as a much more thorough, honest lexicographer. Here’s my attempt.
- – A group of largely unelected, self-nominated pen-pushers, proficient in completion of expense sheets, re-hashing old ideas to maximise ‘revenue streams’ and extracting every single available penny from fearful, law-abiding citizens
- – A body of alleged human beings, supposedly incarnated and employed for the greater good, either under-educated or with degrees in the field of chicken-wire twisting or crayon-testing, incapable of innovation or implementation of policies that don’t cost the taxpayer money or punish contraventions (again of taxpayer) with excessive fines
- – Consisting of life forms that could loosely be described as hybrid mutations somewhere between pugnacious feline bequeathed with an unnatural sense of entitlement and house dog with little else to do but lick its own balls
- – Bunch of tubes
In my city you can’t take a dump without getting fined. I’m not advocating street defection, I’m alluding to the fact that if you miss your rates bill, you can expect your pipes to run dry and your faces to sit where you left them, until you get so sick of the stink that you scurry down to city reception and pay your dues. Not sure what else you get for your money. Live down a lane and you have to wheel your big black monstrosity of a bin to the end of it, with the ultimate aim of ensuring some grumbling git in a neon vest attaches it to a lorry and flips the shit out of it. What, you’re an 80-year-old with a bad heart? Who gives a shit? You’ll be expected to push the bin while your oxygen tank slams back off your big black cargo and against your varicose veins, to get the job done.
“Council can’t even stick to the metropolis. The pies are too many and their fingers are too long.”
You may be an arthritic octogenarian with blood pooling in your lumen but at least you’re one with a roof over your head. The homeless in this city are less street dwellers and more like urban nomads. They get pushed, pulled and moved on, eventually retreating to scale some barbed wire fence for a bit of peace, or climbing on to the roof of a building to avoid being dragged away by council Stasi because they were lowering the tone. Taking some poor bastard to court is much cheaper than investing in any kind of social housing for them you see. I’m waiting on the announcement of a ‘cull’ policy when they will be categorised with zika-infected mosquitos and some poor fucking badger incorrectly branded with the tag of tuberculosis, who never did anyone any harm but wound up getting gassed in his own home on the edge of the marshes. Council can’t even stick to the metropolis. The pies are too many and their fingers are too long.
The traffic system, that’s my favourite. You can’t drive where you drove last week, because some town-planner’s itchy trigger finger ran out of patience and squeezed down hard on the driver. He’s got ‘his men’ to put down some of those blue signs on a road you’ve used all your life. Now it takes an extra hour and a half to travel a hundred yards to the shop because you have to do a tour of the city behind some confused commuter who knows even less about the bus lanes than you do. That said, if there’s a warning sign in place you can count yourself lucky. Sometimes the council rely on the crystal ball method, whereby you instantly know via the spooky phenomenon of electro-kinetic energy that the road you always used is now restricted for half-empty, diesel-guzzling nerd-tanks.
Put the wheels of your precious hatchback in it and you’ll be treated like the love child of Hitler and Myra Hindley. You’ll get demands, red-letter-warnings, court summonses. If you have the temerity to challenge your indiscretion you’ll be subject to a kangaroo court of circus proportions, masquerading as some kind of neutral process where the adjudicator is supposedly non-partisan but in actuality is shagging your local council exec silly. Don’t misconstrue who will end up getting screwed here.
Do not cite impecuniosity after the council’s decision on your guilt is ratified. You’ll be dragged off to some dark hole where you’ll have to fill your time by using sheets to write rants in your own blood. Here in this dungeon you will stew until you can gather up enough cash to unlock your shackles. Meanwhile a council member will procrastinate on whether or not he has the legal authority to fit all the public toilets in the city with coin-activated turnstiles so they can squeeze a few quid off you while you spend your pennies. A new way for the councils to make your city flush.