When Did Dialogue Die?
This blog has got to the point now where there are so many rambling entries that I can refer back to earlier ones. This entry does refer back to a comment I made a few days ago but I'm not linking to it because it isn't hugely relevant and it's one line in a long entry. The line was to the effect that nightfall imbues urban areas with a beauty and delicacy they rarely achieve in daylight. The horrors of concrete and 1960s architecture are darkened and most of what is visible is illuminated into ghostly splendor. Lights, streetlights, traffic lights, Christmas lights. Driving home from a mate's house I found this to be true even of my home town. Ah, the lies of the night. The following is a true story…
My parents moved their young family, one daughter (4 1/2) one son (2), to Cheshire to give them a chance in the cleaner air. The toxic fumes of growing up in London warp and damage. Lead on the brain and all that. They wanted a garden for the kids to run around in, a quieter place where they wouldn't get run over or bullied or harmed. They chose wisely at the time. A beige commuter town, a bitch-town to the Mancunian desire for more workers to fuel the north west's long delayed return to relevance. Small and nondescript.
In 16 years this place has fallen into a terrible state. Not that you'd know it to see it. It looks, if anything, better, more vibrant, more open. Newer, bigger, better shops, more restaurants, the classy wine bar where no trainers are allowed. The pubs were refitted to make them nicer. They built huge housing estates to accommodate new families and retirement flats for the elderly. A new surface turned the precinct from a chewing gum stained mass of concrete into a nicely bricked plaza. They expanded the doctor's surgery. It looks great. It all looks great, especially at night, lit up by the modest but pretty Christmas lights.
But behind the prettiest face can lie the darkest of hearts. And being here, you can see this darkness even as the casuals miss it all.
We were not alone. The late eighties brought a generation of baby boomers with their own children to the conclusion that their cities were not right to bring up children. There are hundreds of people my age, my brother's age, and slightly younger. And young people have many habits, one of which is growing up.
The town these days is split into three distinct groups. The baby boomers are still here, in the 40s and 50s, working in Manchester and Crewe and other nearby towns. They don't really see what's happened to the town. They aren't, in the main, responsible themselves. Not directly anyway, except in some cases. The problem groups are the other two: The elderly and the young.
The elderly are the late comers. The retirement flats and the new housing estates attracted them in droves. I guess it makes sense. For the same reasons my parents thought the quiet, semi rural life was better for young children, so the elderly quite sensibly equated this life with being good for the retired. There were, obviously, some retired people here beforehand. But the new ones were different.
The young have lived here their whole lives, or close to. They are growing up properly now, becoming aware of the quiet and wishing that there was something more to do. They are getting into fads and crazes and wanting to have a drink.
Conflict is inevitable. The new plaza in town is perfect for skateboarding on. So the kids did. And this upset the elderly who complained to the council. The problems were boiling over. A sign went up declaring skateboarding violated a bylaw and is forbidden. It was vandalised within days. And replaced. And vandalised. And replaced. For over two years this has been the case and it will not stop anytime soon. They put up the CCTV. Teh kids wore hoods to avoid detection. The shops issued "No hooded tops to be worn in this shop" signs. No one paid attention.
A perfectly sensible compromise, to build a skatepark was proposed. I was delighted. I don't skate but even I could see the way things were was insane. The skatepark was NIMBY-ed. NIMBY. Not In My Back Yard. The wreckers. The people who didn't want the young around them. They complained that it would encourage drug taking in the area near their houses. Drug taking being of course a way to alleviate the boredom of having no where to go without being thrown out or chased away by 'bylaws'. The bloody kids take drugs anyway.
I despaired and I still do. The only NIMBYing I supported was when they proposed to knock down the hotel in town and replace it with more old people's flats. The hotel provides some of the little employment in town for the young. A new block of flats would be fine if these jobs were to be replaced but they won't be. Also the existing block of old people's flats isn't full. They can't even sell what they have already got!
I am not ageist here. The old people are not all a problem, hell, one of them is one of my best mate's dad. But there's no communication. The original block was built next to the youth group building, one of the few places to go for the young. Within a few months the residents were complaining about the youth centre and trying to get it closed. They failed, thankfully. That's one of the few things left from 16 years ago and I can't believe the gall of these newcomers.
I can't believe though that no one has tried to talk about it all. No town meetings, no attempts at dialogue, nothing. The community police officer has all but given up. It's a terrible situation when the old and the young don't talk and it's possible to paint both as victim and as transgressor. I had to leave there. There was nothing and those who stayed were going no where. Are going no where.