Wednesday, 4 August 2010
For example, a new kitchen. For many people that's great; can't wait. O.K. may be a mess for a while but it'll be amazing - new everything. Designed to my own specifications and I'll be able to do all those cooky things I've always promised myself I'd do.
See, hugely upbeat, seeing past the short term difficulties: like dust, microwaved food for weeks on end, dust, exposing your serious lack of cleanliness to strangers, dust, interminable comments from builders "Don't know who did this, but what a mess. Lucky you're not dead", dust - that sort of thing.
Me, I focus on those short term inconveniences. Money - even if I can afford it, I worry I can't. Alterations; if they have to remove a brick the wall will fall down - more expense. People, I hate strangers traipsing around the house. Water turned off, I am attached to my loo - lose that and I'm totally neurotic (OK I am anyway). Pessimism, it might look OK for a while but in no time it'll be as bad as what we have now so why go through all the hassle. Laziness, if it's new I'll feel obliged to keep it clean and then when I stop I'll feel guilty. I've all the bases covered.
This "precautionary" approach to change is rather debilitating. More importantly it is totally unrealistic. Since my experience is that things are never as bad as I imagine them to be. As you know we recently had a veranda installed. Makes us look like a railway halt circa 1952, but it is a real benefit. We can sit outside when it rains, except since it was erected we've had no rain. And the disruption was bearable.
Now while at a personal level my approach is not to be recommended, at the governmental level it has much to recommend it. There are far too many new initiatives, new policies and "step changes" to bright new futures. Politicians (and policy makers) appear to have the sceptical gene missing. They get carried away with a new idea (the equivalent to a new kitchen) but somehow don't see the disruption or work through the consequences.
(In the new kitchen example these may be limited but equally serious. A loving partner of either sex on entering their new domain changes into a celebrity chef. Your sweet Nadine becomes a Nigella, or your gentle George is reborn as the Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr. This can have serious consequences for your relationship and waistline - all because of an over zealous approach to change.)
Our Council have introduced Alcohol Restriction Zones in the borough. The main alcohol free area is the town square and arcade site. In the past, passing through the town square one would have to tip toe carefully over broken and empty bottles of British Sherry, Triple Strength Cider and red plonk. This manoeuvre was made more difficult because there was usually a drunk attached to the bottle, either vomiting, singing or pissing or performing all three simultaneously.
Such was the public uproar that the Council joyously leapt at a popular solution. Ban the drinking of alcohol from the area. This would solve the problem in a thrice.
Up went the signs; the local papers carried the news and posters were plastered all over the place announcing this new initiative.
If you're found drinking or carrying alcohol in the zone you could be asked to desist, have the stuff confiscated and if you were so pissed none of that made any difference, arrested and fined up to £500.
Applause for our Council. Coming down hard on drunken behaviour. Except, the Council appeared not to have thought this through.
The first sign that things weren't working out as planned was complaints from the police that their cells were now full of alcoholics and drunks unable to pay the fine. The second indication was complaints from residents that their previously quiet and respectable streets were now home to groups of drunks who would carol throughout the day.
The original problem was caused by a few alcoholics who congregated in the Town Centre. We had very few if any drunken yobs that the alcohol restriction zone policy was designed to address. When the new restrictions were enforced the only ones caught were the alcoholics. None of whom could/would pay the fine and ended up banged up for a day. In fact, I understand the new restriction zone encouraged other alcoholics to move into the area because they knew they'd be arrested and saved the trouble of finding food and lodging for the night.
Other drinkers simply moved out of the area into neighbouring streets. Where once there was just one alcoholic "black spot", there were now five or six.
So what has been the result of this new policy?
Quite sensibly the police now turn a blind eye. They don't arrest the drunks and the drunks now don't disperse into the neighbouring streets. Except of course the new regime is still in force and many residents seeing drinkers sitting and drinking under "No alcohol" signs wonder what the hell's going on. After raising expectations the Council are once again seen as useless and toothless.
And it's their own fault.