Tuesday, March 22, 2005

slush fund

one of the projects I'll never get round to is researching what they have in common, these areas that the local drunks hang around in. churchyards figure prominently, I've noticed. some atavistic survival of a memory of tolerance, forgiveness, charity, alms, perhaps, although there's an equally lively countrywide tradition of the local stocks being sited at the church gates. the local churchwardens resorted, a few years ago, to re-erecting the decorative wrought-iron fence that got pulled down, like so many others, for melting down and re-casting as howitzers and shells during the first world war, and keeping the gate heavily padlocked except for services, but they still congregate on the benches outside on the High Street and sneak in whenever they can.
that fence was very expensive. it was partly funded from the rental charged for the erection and establishment of an Orange microwave relay mast inside the belfry. the church authority organised that without public consultation and refused to bow to local pressure to have it removed. they said the government said it was safe. we parents of children at the local primary school adjacent - so close that the procession from schoolyard to church for regular services is through a gate in the common wall - begged to differ. the doomed campaign was mostly organised by phone. mobile phone. good reception.
no-one who had the power to choose would choose to spend their time hanging around on the High Street like this keeping the cold out with a can of Fosters. each one of these guys has a story about how they came to this, a story that will never be heard except here, in this familiar group of a dozen or so similarly swollen burst-veined faces sharing that loose, loud, slightly swaying camaraderie of sozzled destitution. several dogs. one woman has an oversized mutt the size of a small pony which probably eats more than she does. they attract sniffy disdain from us straight locals, but are never quite rowdy enough to attract more than the mildest of now let's be moving along nows from the local mr and ms plods, and anyway they only move along from one bench to the next, settling down opposite the discreet yellow sign on the lamp-post that advises, humorously, that this is an alcohol-free area and that flouting the law will invoke a maximum fine of £1,000.
'maximum'? I know I'm picky, but that wording does seem to imply that, so long as you've got a thousand quid to spare, then no worries, mate. perhaps that's what it does mean.

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