Saturday, 14 August 2010

Who are you?

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.


Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I've encounter this many times. However the more that get shirty and walk out or make a fuss the more shops will stop doing it.
I'm not adverse to leaving mountains of shopping at the till and telling them to stuff it.

Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

Perhaps the Righteous Ones will wind their necks in if you start harassing them back.

Never seen the dog? You should call the RSPCA. Children thick? Clearly a case for the SS.

Anonymous said...

Indeed harass the righteous (no caps).

If they ask you for unnecessary information politely, but firmly decline.

Point out to them that they are probably in breach of principle one, schedules 2 and 3 of the Data Protection Act. If they still persist inform that that you will be forced to report them to the Information Commissioner's Office.

Those that live by the sword should indeed die by it.

Jiks said...

"I'm not adverse to leaving mountains of shopping at the till and telling them to stuff it."

I do that too. I refuse politely once, if they still continue banging on about it I simply walk away and do not return. Handing over cash in these situations is just rewarding bad behavior.

Frank said...

I'm with anon and jiks. I take great delight in saying no politely. If they ask again I say nothing more and just walk away.

Smoking Hot said...

Storming the Stasi HQ after the wall came down has caused rifts, resentment and hatred that has still not healed. The files held by the Stasi showed many of their friends and neighbours had been informing and spying on them for years. Sadly, it would be no different in the UK.

Atleast l'd know who was with me on the lists ... all you lot for a start!

Woman on a Raft said...

The bit about the curtains got me. It tells you something about the antique mindset of the police that they still have this idea of a world where women get up and wash the path so the water on the pavement is joined-up by coffee time.

Note to ACPO: although I'm imminently expecting a net curtain revival in the interior decor magazines, for the moment it hasn't happened. The upshot of this is that curtains tend to stay closed.

I can see ACPO won't be happy until we are back to the eighties with swag-top window dressings revealing whore's drawers muslin and voile inner curtains. Those rotten things tend to get full of dust and dead flies (the curtains, not ACPO).

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, if i can be arsed to, I'll pop one lot of junk mail into another junk mail free post envelope and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Baz said:

Gee, what an interesting blog.

I hope nobody minds me starting to post here soon.

I know I will have a lot to say.

Leg-iron said...

The collection of every little detail doesn't seem quite so endemic in this part of the country, but all the large chains are at it. So far, the barber I have visited for years has not so much as asked my name. She doesn't care and the only reason I know hers is that it's written on the sign over the shop.

It hasn't permeated the little shops here yet.I hope it fails to.

Sometimes I don't open the downstairs curtains. Some days it's bed - bathroom - kitchen - out. Any room I don't go into doesn't get its curtains opened that day.

WOAR - I remember net curtains and pelmets. My grandmother used to have layers of material over the windows, but it wasn't so much about fashion. Single-glazed windows let out a lot of heat in winter.

Net curtains might make a comeback but I doubt all the rest of it ever will.

Leg-iron said...

Welcome, Baz.

Comment away. You might find things here are a little different to what you've experienced elsewhere.

PT Barnum said...

So ACPO are planning on criminalising a whole new group - migraine sufferers. Can't wait for when they come round to police my closed curtains and I can throw up on their boots...

For some reason, an elderly and remarkably foul-mouthed old woman took exception, at one of my previous working away from home residences, to any interference by me with a special gravel strip she was obviously having some unnatural relationship with. Letters to me from the Residents' Committee outlined her complaints about the dislodging of precious gravel by my plebian feet. Some people were born to be state-sponsored numpties.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I lived in a (totally) totalitarian country, where anyone with a grudge could report to the 'intelligence' agency that his neighbour spoke negatively about the President, for instance.

I.e., on just one someone's say-so, you could be investigated, or even 'disappeared', whether innocent or guilty. The more so, if your accuser has some clout.

This is the slippery slope.

Paul said...

The local supermarket (this is a small, regional supermarket - not a multinational like Asda or Tesco) asked us for our postcode when we used our 'money off' voucher. What for? Why would they need it? So we lied.

Paul said...

I should also add that if there's no good reason to give personal information out to jobsworths, lie. Make something up. It's good for morale. Oh, and saying 'no' is something I get huge satisfaction out of doing these days. Do it right and it's a gift that just keeps on giving.

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