Last weekend I caught the train back to my home town of Stoke-on-Trent after spending a weekend in Manchester. I’d like to be writing about the delights of travelling by train through the hidden back side of one of our great cities or the charmingly British practice of always standing on the right of an escalator so that people rushing for their train can pass by quickly on the left. A rule, I might add, that is enforced by our innate good manners rather than the demands of the station authorities.
I’d like to write about those things, but I can’t because of an incident that showed me a much uglier aspect of life in modern Britain.
After getting off the train I walked out of the station into a busy street, as I waited for a taxi to draw up at the rank I became aware of a dozen or more young men running towards me from the direction of the North Stafford hotel grunting like Neanderthals, from somewhere to the rear of the station came another party of young men, within seconds a pitched battle in which fists, bottles and even a pool ball were thrown with malicious intent had ensued.
For ten minutes or so a street in a civilized town in a major nation was turned into violent chaos. The two gangs of thugs, obeying their own warped moral code, did not deliberately attack innocent bystanders, in fact one apologised for knocking over my suitcase. That, of course does not alter the fact that a beer bottle when thrown is not a smart bomb primed only to hit its ordained target, rather it is a blunt instrument that injures anyone and anything unlucky enough to cross its path.
I don’t usually buy the line sold by David Cameron and his policy advisers that British society is in some way ‘broken’, since I see too much that is good and hopeful about this country, whatever problems we may face at the moment. And yet, having experienced what I did last Sunday it is hard not to feel there is something seriously wrong.
The young men fighting on the street that afternoon did not belong to a desperate underclass driven to violence by poverty you need a disposable income to follow football. These young men had chosen violence and stupidity in the way others choose to study for an exam or to marry and start a family.
They are the ugly, snarling representatives of an arrogant sub culture in which gratifying the demands of their own ego is their primary concern and any challenge to their doing so is a threat to be met with extreme violence. Whoever wins the next election will find the task of teaching such people to respect the property of others and the rule of law as great a challenge as reviving the economy.
Brown’s effigy goes up in smoke.
It is probably an accolade he is less likely to crow over than being named ‘Statesman of the year’, but it is none the less an significant achievement, Gordon Brown is to become the first British Prime Minister to be burnt in effigy within home shores.
The mock immolation is to take place at Ripon and John Richmond of the committee organising the community bonfire explained the reasoning behind it saying, ‘Guy Fawkes did want to blow up the houses of parliament, it was a political plot, so we wanted to keep a political theme with the economic situation as it is and an election coming up.’
Burning, ok only in effigy, politicians at the stake, after the expenses scandals of the past year its something that might just catch on.
Free tickets for our boys in uniform.
I started this week by writing about the ugly violence that spoils so much of British life and does irreparable damage to our reputation abroad; it is a pleasure then to end with something that shows our country in the way we would most like it to be seen.
This week saw the launch of a scheme backed by Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and Johnson Beharry VC, amongst other luminaries; that will allow military personnel to enter a ballot to win free tickets to concerts and sporting events.
Lineker, who visited British troops serving in Afghanistan earlier this year, told the BBC ‘An important aspect for any person in the services is that they feel appreciated.’
The scheme would, he said, show our troops that people at home ‘really do care and respect their sacrifice for our country.’
We are, alas, a long way away from adopting the American practice of spontaneously applauding people in military uniform when they pass through, say, the departure lounge of an airport, but this excellent scheme is a small step in the right direction.