A few weeks ago I was at yet another funeral. Oddly enough I find funerals to be rather uplifting affairs, bringing together a family and giving everyone a chance to reflect on the brevity of life and the limited time we have to do something really meaningful with it.
For me, a lifelong atheist, nothing throws this into sharper focus than the 30 minutes or so spent in a cold church, muttering hymns at my shoes and shuffling uncomfortably as the vicar tries (and on one splendid occasion failed repeatedly) to remember the name of the person he’s paying tribute to. For me the church, at least as a physical building if not an institution, is full of well-meaning folks who are completely wasting their lives talking to the sky.
I’m a liberal sort of fellow and have no objection to anyone doing whatever they wish with their time, within the bounds of not harming anyone else. Standing there in a cold church listening to a vicar none of us had met and an organist who couldn’t play I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony. Life is not everlasting. We can do good things with the brief time we have. The vicar and the organist were clearly ‘good people’, but to my mind they were great examples of how easy it is to waste it.
In the current snowy conditions, with all the relevant agencies and motoring organisations warning against non-essential travel, Twitter is alive with the sound of people moaning that their bins are not being collected. It is a collision of two great British media obsessions – the weather and bins. I haven’t yet seen the Daily Express weave Princess Diana into the picture, but perhaps they are working on that angle right now.
The most striking aspect of all this Twitter-talk is that most of the people complaining seem to be at home. I imagine it is far too dangerous for them to attempt to drive their small hatchbacks along the street, let alone walk to work. And yet they are aghast that council managers are not willing to send out 26 tonne (gross weight when full) wagons down ungritted residential roads, where children are rightly playing (because teachers clearly cannot open schools) to pull heavy bins along icy pavements.
Let’s put it in perspective. If the council don’t collect your bin, it will have to stay full for a few days. Most councils are relaxing their side waste policies so they can catch up next week. Your life won’t be blighted for too long. Store the waste in the garage, in your recycling bin or perhaps in the boot of the car you can’t drive.
The alternative is that a 26 tonne truck may just slide straight through your garden.
It’s a small complaint. In a world where people starve, kill each other and worse, this is going to sound like an absurd middle-class whinge. Which it is, but here goes anyway.
It rained yesterday. Not just the ordinary rain that we get on a regular basis, but the really heavy stuff that bounces off the pavement, runs down the street and overwhelms the gutters. I’d rather have 2 hours of that than the usual 3 days of drizzle but it came right at the time of the school run. So by the time I’d walked up the school drive, through the flooded playground and back down to the car park I was pretty soaked.
The school car park was a mass of three-point turns and kamikazi parents in family cars. As I manoeuvred out of the car park my stress levels were up, but I made it out and set off. Taking a deep breath and relaxing, I accelerated over 10mph. In a BMW that is the point at which the car decides you are properly moving. Accordingly, the doors locked and the parking sensors switched off. And the little sensor that knows whether the doors are shut properly decided to tell me that the back door wasn’t shut properly.
It had known this from the second I closed it. Before I got into the car. Before I started the engine. Before I engaged first gear. Before I released the handbrake. Instead of troubling me with this crucial information whilst I was in the car park, stationary and able to rectify my mistake, it waited for me to exit a junction and enter a one way street with no safe place to stop. That, it judged, was the perfect time to tell me that my toddlers door wasn’t closed properly.
If anyone from Munich, or indeed anywhere on Planet Earth, can tell me why that is a good idea then I’d love to hear it. Right now it has pissed me off enough to put me right off the blue propeller for good.
Sitting this morning in one of Barnsley’s recently refurbished park play areas with a coffee and a twix I got to pondering just what I get for my council ta (which for the record is just north of £100 per month). More to the point I thought about how it stacks up against my other monthly bills.
TV and broadband costs about £50 per month, and for that I can have as much conversation and telly as I want. I can also do all sorts of interesting stuf on the Internet.
Gas costs about £100, a bit more if you include the service contract. For that I have a warm house and occasionally (and briefly) clean children. If the boiler breaks I get it fixed.
Car insurance – both cars together are about £150 per month. If one gets bent they straighten it for me. It was very poor value until about 12 months ago when I recouped about 17k of my investment…
So, what do the workshy idiots in the Council give me for my £100 per month?
Unlimited use of large areas of well kept parkland
Empty bins every 2 weeks
Street swept every week or so
If my house catches fire they send someone round to put it out
They educate my children
They exercise a degree of control over the pubs and clubs in my area
They check that the local chippies and takeaways are ‘broadly compliant’ with health standards
They check that the buildings being built in my area won’t fall down any time soon
Unlimited loans of books and other media from the library
Enforcement of parking laws to ensure the roads keep clear
And probably a few more I’ve overlooked.
So when the direct debit fires again in a few days and takes me that bit closer to skint I wont begrudge it. The system could be fairer (ability to pay shouldn’t be measured by the size of your house) but local government spending is not unreasonable.