A couple of days ago, an advert encouraging people to call the police if someone was behaving outside prescribed limits was banned. Longrider caught the story.
The police wanted to hear about anyone in your street who does not behave in exactly the way you do. In my street, from my point of view, that's all of them. They get up early and go to bed early, they drive, they have children, they socialise, they work with other people, they are often sober and many of them don't even smoke. Round them up, officers, they are all odd.
Of course, it's not my point of view that counts. I'm one of those the ad demonised. Even so, in this small dead end of a street there are few who would be immune to that advert. Opposite is a single man who runs a joinery business. He lives alone, goes out early and comes back late, doesn't smoke, rarely has visitors and is somewhat on the shy side. He keeps to himself and is working like a demon. His retirement nest egg must be of a size that would tilt the Earth on its axis if it was in coins.
Next there is a family who never open their curtains. They go to work in the early hours, long before it's time to open curtains, and when they come back they just leave them closed. I think they just like their privacy. Nice people, I see them once in a while. Then there is the night worker along the road. Hardly seen, he works most nights as a security guard and sleeps all day. Further, the gap-toothed boozy smoker (not me, another one) who had a reputation as a hellraiser in his youth and with whom I have spent an occasional evening smoking, drinking and talking rubbish. He knows Man with a Van too.
Next door on one side is another self-employed man with his family. They sometimes have late parties which don't bother me because I'm up late anyway but the police are there so often I wonder why they don't just send an invite to the station. We all know who complains.
On the other side are the prats. The ones who work nine to five for someone else and who believe the law should be what they say it is. The Righteous. When they first arrived, Pa Righteous smoked cigars. He went outside to smoke them. Long before the ban in pubs, he went outside his own house to smoke cigars. He stopped a few years ago. Ma Righteous evidently put the boot in. They have two proto-drones they call 'children' but if these are the future of the human race, I don't want to be there to see it. They are so dense they bend light.
They have a dog. We hear it but nobody has seen it. Mustering all their accumulated imagination, they call it 'Fido'.
Pa Righteous is, I gather, involved in health and safety. Say no more. Ma and Pa Righteous and Things 1 and 2 are Superior and don't talk to any of us odd ones. Since people are all different in reality, and don't conform to the British Standard Human as defined by the BMA, that makes everyone odd.
These are the people the ad was aimed at. These are the people who are expected to report their neighbours and these are the ones who will do it. For anything. Most of all, for spite. Tell them it's suspicious that their neighbour's curtains are closed, that people working odd hours might be hiding something, that people they don't like the look of might be terrorists and they'll wear the '9' off the phone.
For the record, those Righteous curtains are always closed but... not all the way. In all rooms, there is a gap in the curtains and a darkness beyond, from which Stasi eyes watch.
And yet, they are the ones on the database. I've met the local police because I took some photos in the street and the Righteous reported it. Their house and car are on Google Earth for all the world to see yet they think taking photos in the street is illegal. I once made some noise at noon and they reported that too. The police here are obliged to respond (not necessarily immediately) but they know these Righteous, they know the depths of stupidity they can reach so they come round for an amicable chat and I explain their latest petty annoyances. I've never been arrested. The police are always pleasant but then the EU insists they watch naughty bloggers and find out who they are - and I'm not hard to find. It is likely I am filed under 'potentially awkward bugger'.
The way things are going, nobody will be hard to find. In that last link, JuliaM recounts the surprise of officious idiots when she refused to give unnecessary details. It reminded me of something I read yesterday in the Telegraph.
It wasn't so much the demands for address and phone number (Maplin keep doing this even though I have been a customer for so long my customer number has five digits) nor the annoyance of every pompous ass who thinks we should hand over those same details the banks tell us to shred before putting in the bin. No, it was this -
By now the whole salon was staring at me and it was tempting to turn on my flip-flopped heel. However, I felt my position was reasonable and I wanted my hair cut.
It was a hairdresser asking for personal details. The only thing my barber needs to know is that I have hair, I want to have less of it and I want it to look vaguely human. Oh, and it would be nice to be able to see. A barber asking for a customer's address and phone number is absolutely ridiculous and yet the other customers were not annoyed at the hairdresser. They suspected nothing while handing over the same details they'd burn or shred before binning.
No, they suspected the one who did not conform. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. He's a hairdresser, not an identity thief. Thieves look different. They have tails and horns and acne, everyone knows that. His computer is secure, because hairdressers are experts on viruses and phishing and keyloggers. Still want to hand over your details?
This is the Stasi society. Do as everyone else does or you are Wrong. You thought smokers and drinkers were having a hard time? Try buying a DVD player in a supermarket without giving your name and address 'for TV licencisng purposes'. It's not a TV. It's a DVD player. It does not receive, it does not transmit, it just sends pictures down a little bit of wire. You don't need a licence to do that. Yet refuse to hand over your name and address and there's hell to pay. You must be planning to do something heinous with this thing, like ram it sideways up your local MP's backside and yes, that has occurred to me but DVD players don't have sharp enough corners.
Still, there's a derelict house in a nearby town which is host to all sorts of phantom electrical gear now. I expect there's a TV detector van permanently stationed outside. One night I'll put one in there just to brighten their day. I do have a battery-powered little analogue one somewhere that will be worthless soon.
If I get my hair cut, the barber has no need to know anything more than how much I want cut off. If I buy electrical goods that need a licence, getting the licence is my problem, not the seller's. If I buy electrical goods that don't need a licence then the seller has no business being even remotely interested in anything other than my ability to pay. It is not cause for suspicion to pay in cash. Nobody accepts cheques any more and every supermarket has a cashpoint outside. I don't want a crippling credit card debt so I don't spend what I don't have. Why is that weird?
If I am asked for my details by someone with authority to ask, my only options are to give the details or refuse. if I am asked by a till operator, I can lie with impunity. They have no authority to demand my identity so they won't get it. They'll get an identity, but they won't get mine.
If anyone ever buys that derelict house with a view to restoring it, they'll need to shovel away the tons of junk mail that must have piled up behind the door by now.