The bench­mark of a mean world

The Chronicle - - Gary Bainbridge -

It was a mean lit­tle seat in a mean lit­tle shel­ter... typ­i­cal of the mean­ness in the public realm these days

IFELL into my usual Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day trap. Peo­ple who do my job never get a Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day off work be­cause peo­ple like you de­mand a news­pa­per on the day af­ter Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day. I am not blam­ing you, but it is your fault.

Any­way, my usual Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day trap is to for­get that not ev­ery­body is work­ing, and that buses op­er­ate to what is of­fi­cially termed “a re­duced timetable”, a term that is tech­ni­cally true, but does not ad­e­quately de­scribe the full hor­ror of the sit­u­a­tion, like “all-in­clu­sive 18-30s hol­i­day”.

And so I saun­tered to­wards the bus stop on my way to work, the sun glint­ing off my shades, my spe­cial sum­mer shoes on my feet, ap­pear­ing to all who cared to look as a man who finds the hot weather a plea­sure in­stead of the sham­bling, sweaty lump I knew my­self to be in­side.

This saun­ter­ing was cut off abruptly by the gust of wind caused by my bus sail­ing past my face. And the re­duced timetable meant that the next bus would ar­rive far too late for me to be on time for work.

I had only one op­tion, or two if I in­cluded call­ing work and telling them I wouldn’t be in be­cause I had died of good weather – I had to get the train...

The sun beat down on the plat­form, melt­ing the tar­mac. A lizard skit­tered past, nar­rowly avoid­ing a ball of rolling tum­ble­weed. Atop the au­to­matic ticket ma­chine perched a vul­ture, its beady eyes trained upon me. What I am say­ing is it was bloom­ing hot and I am too pale to deal with that non­sense. I needed shel­ter, sharpish.

And there was in­deed a shel­ter on the plat­form. I use the word “shel­ter” in its loos­est form. It was barely big­ger than a cock­tail um­brella, and made mostly of metal, soak­ing up the heat. If I breathed out, half of me was in the sun­shine again.

In­side the shel­ter was a seat. I as­sume it was a seat, it was in the po­si­tion where one would ex­pect to find a seat. It was metal, like the shel­ter, and roughly one and a half times the depth of a handrail.

Gym­nasts would take one look at it and say, “I am not bal­anc­ing on that. What do you think I am, a moun­tain goat?”

But I like a chal­lenge, es­pe­cially when there is no­body around to watch me fail. I at­tempted to sit on it... I am a very av­er­age-sized man. It is a night­mare buy­ing clothes be­cause they have all sold out. I do not have an in­or­di­nately large bot­tom. I won’t lie, I strug­gled to sit on this thing.

Bits were hang­ing off, and if I moved any fur­ther back I risked fall­ing into the gap be­tween the wall of the shel­ter and the seat, with my knees some­where near my chin. I as­sume I would have been able to get out of this sit­u­a­tion with­out the help of the lo­cal fire and res­cue ser­vice, but I didn’t want to take the risk, es­pe­cially with my train due.

I stood up again. It was the worst sit­ting ex­pe­ri­ence I had ever had, and I lived through the “Kevin Parr has got his hands on a packet of draw­ing pins” pe­riod of Sec­ond Year Se­niors.

I would like to think that this bench was an aber­ra­tion, but it is not. It was a mean lit­tle seat in a mean lit­tle shel­ter, and typ­i­cal of the mean­ness in the public realm these days.

At this point, we’re eight years into the Govern­ment’s aus­ter­ity mea­sures. Aus­ter­ity, we shouldn’t for­get, is just mean­ness dressed up as a virtue. This aus­ter­ity has filled our streets with vul­ner­a­ble home­less peo­ple.

And then, be­cause we’re so mean, we block up door­ways and put metal studs on low walls, so that these vul­ner­a­ble home­less peo­ple have nowhere to sleep.

We make shel­ters so tiny and benches so im­prac­ti­cal that they are not fit for pur­pose, just to pre­vent peo­ple who make us feel un­com­fort­able in our mean­ness from get­ting a de­cent sleep. We’re so mean that we’re pre­pared to suffer our­selves just so that other peo­ple can suffer more. We’re even pre­pared to cut our­selves off from Europe and watch fac­to­ries and call cen­tres close and watch fam­ily and friends lose their jobs, just so we can get rid of brown peo­ple. I am not blam­ing you, but it is your fault.

Even a gym­nast would find this seat chal­leng­ing

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