People are angry. Not just on the internet, not just on the blogs and forums, but everywhere.
You meet them on the street where they point their faces in any direction other than the one they are moving in, just so they can bump into someone and vent a little anger on them. In the supermarkets they angle trolleys across the aisles just to get in someone else's way, so they can huff when asked to move it. They get really huffy if you just shove it aside but hey, they're looking for someone to be angry at so I'm just being helpful.
At the checkouts, more and more try that psychological trick of taking small steps closer and closer to you to intimidate you into packing faster. You have never seen anyone take such care over arranging items in a bag as I did this evening. They never learn.
If there is more than one bottle of whisky in your trolley, the hiss of indrawn breath follows you around the store until you start wondering if they have a snake aisle. So I didn't mention to anyone what Eyebrows plans to do to booze prices next week. I'm sure it will make them all very angry indeed. Let them enjoy themselves.
I'm not going to drink it all tonight, in fact I won't drink any of it tonight because I have a meeting tomorrow. I'll get there with the help of an angry bus driver and in the company of his angry passengers. I'll wait for the bus, smoking, just upwind of the 25% enclosed bus stop I'm still not allowed to smoke under and let the smoke drift onto the angry people waiting there. It doesn't matter if it's raining. I have a wide-brimmed hat with a brim that matches the length of a roll-up. It's green and battered and has a tiny enamel Welsh flag on it. Somewhere, there might be a raddled old harridan surfing the net whose fingers are even now leaving an impression in her keyboard. Yes, you old bat, that was me.
I met this one at Tesco. I had the offer of a lift there and back so I thought I'd stock up because I wouldn't have to carry it home. My shopping was quick, my lift's shopping was not so I sat on the bench outside that's some distance from the doors and is beside one of those bins with an ashtray in the top. And, given that description of the location, it's obvious what I did next. Inevitably, everyone who passed made the fake coughs and waved their hands in front of their faces and I was enjoying the show so much I lit another one.
Then the old bat, with what I presumed was a grandchild in tow, stopped and angrily demanded to know what I thought I was doing.
"Sitting on a bench," I said. "Thank you for taking an interest."
"You know I don't mean that. Would you mind not smoking?" She hadn't gritted her teeth by this stage so it was game on.
"I don't mind you not smoking at all. You carry on."
"You can't smoke here." She really wasn't grasping the situation at all. Outside, not even near the entrance, and sat next to the biggest ashtray in town.
"I can. I'm doing it now. See?"
"There are children present!" She pointed to her pet chimp. "You can't smoke in front of children. What will it do to their health?"
"I am not smoking in front of children. I am smoking, and you have placed a child in front of me. Quite deliberately, you have forced that child to stand there while I smoke. That is a form of child abuse and I feel I must report it to the proper authorities."
That's when she gritted her teeth. If I'd had a stick I'd have made a notch in it. She disappeared into the shop without saying any more. I have no idea whether she went to find a staff member to be angry at but I'm sure her blood pressure must have been brought to dangerous levels as a result of the smoking sinner she had just encountered. Anyway, my ride home arrived before any officials did. Next time, maybe.
Tomorrow's meeting is at the hospital, full of angry staff and patients and angry drivers circling the grounds with the evident aim of drumming up business for the casualty department. There will, as always, be at least three more cars than there are parking spaces available. They arrange those appointments to make that a continuous feature of the place. It's a kind of modern art display and it guarantees a high blood pressure reading when those poor buggers finally get into the place and have to wait another two hours because they are running late. They are not running late. They call you in early so they can crank up that blood pressure and sell you pills. Anger is good business for the medical quango. Real illnesses cost them money, but created ones are profitable.
Everyone is angry all the time. Daily Mail readers are angry because Labour have ruined the country and Guardian readers are angry because Labour might not get the chance to finish the job. Photographers are angry at police harassment and police are angry because whenever they catch a real criminal, the courts let them go. The military is angry at the lack of support their government shows them and at the lies told to cover up that lack of support. Radical Islamists are angry because that's their job. Everyone is angry, all the time.
The thing is, most of the angry public don't know why.
They think they are angry about John Terry or Tiger Woods playing those one-on-one away games. They think they are angry because something called 6 Music or whatever is to be closed down. They think they are angry at having to wait in a traffic queue or supermarket checkout even though they are in no actual hurry to be anywhere else. They are, in fact, angry because they are frightened.
Frightened that Gary Glitter will steal their child away. They see him everywhere, all the time, in every stranger's face. They are frightened of escaped lunatic murderers who could be anywhere. They seem to escape to conveniently coincide with awkward moments for the government, don't they? They weren't frightened enough when Jon Venables was alleged to have been in a fight, so now he is alleged to be a child porn merchant, an accusation that is levelled at so many these days it's a wonder we have any children left at all. Everyone who gets arrested for anything has their computer confiscated and there's always child porn on it. I'm beginning to wonder if Microsoft puts it in with the operating system.
They are frightened in case they do something illegal without knowing it. Very easily done these days. It's now actually illegal to be a smoking ban denier and soon it will be illegal to be an EU denier and a climate heretic, if it isn't already.
They are frightened of the police. They don't tip their hats and say 'hello' to the bobby on the beat because the police don't look like Dixon of Dock Green any more. They look like Robocop. They look intimidating and all too often, they act intimidating too. People are learning to be extra-careful towards the end of the month because arrest targets must be met and wearing a loud shirt in a built-up area could be enough to attract attention.
They are too frightened to protest, they see nowhere to turn for support because the officials they expected to protect them are the ones they are frightened of and that makes them angry. The reason that woman scarpered instead of continuing her harassment of me smoking perfectly legally and in nobody's way had nothing to do with her realising she was wrong. She still doesn't realise it now. She left because I mentioned bringing her child (grandchild, shaved chimp, whatever it was) to the attention of the authorities. She was frightened. Far more than any fear of imaginary secondary smoke, she was terrified of letting the social workers know of the existence of her child. Exposing that child to a smoker would cause her a lot more problems than if the child said a bad word.
I very much doubt she complained about me to the store staff because in the back of her mind, she knew what I might say to them. Sure, it was nasty of me, but if people are conditioned to react in Pavlovian ways, is it any surprise that some of us will make use of that conditioning in our own defence? Especially if those people are nasty to us for no sensible reason.
Is there anything they are not frightened of? They are not frightened of the country's debt because those kinds of numbers just don't fit into a human head. I can't imagine that much money and I read about it all the time. Al-Jahom has compiled a handy list of things people don't seem too concerned about and most of it is because they can't conceive of anything that bizarre being real. They are indeed frightened of front-line officials of all types but they don't link those officials with those who control them. That's why they keep voting the controllers back into power.
They are frightened by the news they read every day because every day, someone's been stabbed or burned or beaten up and it reads like it's happened just down the road. Lately, a lot of the horror stories have to be read in full because some way down the page you'll find it actually happened in Idaho or Alabama or Brazil or in the booze-addled mind of a reporter with a morning deadline. The headline and opening paragraph often doesn't make it clear that it wasn't a UK crime at all, and many people will skim those stories. They'll see the headline, read the first few lines and think 'Something should be done'. Something has been done. You, Joe Public, have just been conditioned.
If you're looking for the source of the conditioning, it's in the news. The BBC is a bit obvious about it, but it's in all the news, all the time. The four horsemen roadshow is coming to town and you'd better fit in, you'd better conform, you'd better not make a fuss or you'll be noticed and then they'll get you. What for? Who knows? Labour have introduced so many new crimes that it would take a whole firm of lawyers twenty years to learn them all. The police don't know them all. No individual possibly could. So they treat any deviation from drone compliance as suspect because there's probably a law against it.
I don't blame the police. They're all frightened too. Targets must be met every month and the continued application of common sense could put their jobs at risk. They have to have those arrests. Eventually, in that situation, they will all start to think of the public as nothing more than a source of check-marks for their monthly score card. Just as the public are conditioned to be sheep, the police are conditioned to be sheepdogs.
The news teaches us to be scared of the police, the courts, the social workers and children, and it teaches the police and social workers and all the rest of them not to be scared of us. There are consequences if they miss targets but no consequences if they get it wrong and ruin lives in the process. The people are scared of the officials, the officials are scared of their managers, the managers are scared of their area managers, and so on up this one-way line until we get to the top, where the Brown Gorgon is scared of Count Mandelstein, his creator. Is Mandelstein the top of the fear tree? No, it grows ever upwards to the land of the goose that eats golden eggs, the EU. Even Herbie Remploy-van is scared of someone. Mind you, that could well be Mandelstein too. If he was on one side of the road and a gang of fifty hoodies were on the other side, I'd risk passing the hoodies.
Everyone is scared, and everyone is angry about it because being scared when you can't see who you're scared of is frustrating. Where is the bogeyman? When you can't see him, you start to think he's everywhere.
Everyone suspects everyone else of being the bogeyman. If you happen to be 27 years old in the UK, everyone suspects you of being Jon Venables even though everyone knows he's currently in jail. If you're around sixty, everyone suspects you of being Gary Glitter. If you buy a bottle of booze, everyone suspects you of being a wife beater. If you say you're not married they'll assume you buy Polynesian wives to beat or nip next door and beat the neighbour's wife to save him the trouble.
If you have a dog, everyone thinks you train it by giving it child-sized dummies stuffed with mince to savage. If you have a computer, everyone thinks you spend all day looking up porn and playing World of Wasteoftime. Actually, I know a couple of folk who do. Straight porn, nothing nasty, but I have felt obliged to point out that they could buy the entire top shelf at the newsagent's for far less than a computer and a broadband subscription. If you have more than one cat you are a witch. No question. That's an old one but it still works.
If you have a car you are polluting the planet even though only six of those container ships produce more pollution than all the cars in the world. If you have a filament light bulb you are killing the polar bears whose numbers are increasing. Good job we're killing them then, or we'd be overrun and they make huge holes in skirting boards. If you are extravagant enough to heat your home to the degree that there's no ice on the inside, you are melting the polar ice caps that are increasing. Iceland will thank you for it one day.
If you are a smoker, well, you are the Antichrist personified, here to spread war, pestilence, famine and death among the masses with your Little Sticks of Devil-Leaves. You are the most evil thing ever to have walked on the Green God's earth and don't you think it's about time you started acting like it? Get out there and terrorise someone. They are expecting it of you. Don't disappoint them.
It's all fear. Why are we battling the Taliban? They might be loonies but they are someone else's loonies. The invasion of Afghanistan was to catch the Bearded Binliner but he left there a long time ago. The Taliban were and are no threat to this country and given their minimalist approach to life, never could be. Neither was Madman Hussein, who could not have fired a missile at us with 45 years' warning, never mind 45 minutes. He's dead now. We're still there. As long as we are there, the threat of Islamic reprisals remains. Fear. The Islamic scary boys don't need to do anything to terrorise us other than pop out from under the bed and go 'Boo - in the name of Allah' and we'll collectively shit ourselves. They know it. They aren't the real bogeymen. They make use of our conditioning the same way I made use of it with the antismoker harridan earlier, but they didn't do it. Our government, and not just this one, did it.
Which brings us to - why? Why does our government insist on pursuing policies and releasing news that helps nobody other than underwear manufacturers and high-strength washing powder sellers?
Think back to when you were little, you didn't want to go to bed and there was school the next day. Remember 'You'd better be asleep before the bogeyman comes because he takes naughty little children away and boils them up'? You did as you were told because you were scared of an imaginary terror who might crawl out from under your bed.
Second hand, third hand, hundredth hand smoke.
Muslim scary boys.
Having your photo taken in the street even though you are continuously on CCTV.
Hoodies with knives and guns.
Footballers and golfers shagging someone else's girlfriend. Yours next?
Rapists and bullies on Facebook.
Fat people eating your taxes.
Thugs let back onto the streets no matter what they do.
It's Bogeyman control. With a whole army of bogeymen.
When you were a kid, the bogeyman your parents threatened you with wasn't real.
This time, he is, but he's not in that list. He's invisible and you can feel his breath on your neck right now. You can't see him. He could be anyone. You can't trust anyone, just in case. You can't confide your fears in anyone, just in case. So you hold the fear inside and try to live without catching Bogeyman's eye. It's frustrating. You want to confide in someone but you dare not because the Bogeyman might be listening - or that person might even be the Bogeyman. How can you tell? Look for traces of underbed lint on his clothes? He might have brushed it off. There's no way to tell who can be trusted and who can't.
No wonder everyone is angry.
It's enough to make an Englishman say 'tsk'.