Two officials letters arrive this week. One is a first but the other is all too familiar and depressing.
The former being a summons for Jury Service duty, at the Old Bailey no less. Completing the summons (online) I felt a sense of civic duty, upstanding tax paying member (although not this year) of the community that I am. I like the idea of duty and there is some pride too in stating that I’ve never been convicted of a crime and some relief that I have never been detained under the mental health act. Not yet anyway which brings me to my second letter.
Yet another PCN – penalty charge notice – which arrive with increasing regularity. How to avoid them? The new 20mph speed limit the latest cash bonanza. This one though is a bus lane infringement which Mrs H claims immediately. It might be more economic if Nikki retrains and becomes an actual bus driver but I don’t suggest this. I just cough up, literally.
Where we live, our council kindly provide a parking scheme (£80 a year) albeit with too few parking bays and too many wardens on patrol. A cynic might think it’s designed to raise revenue with fines almost inevitable when residents and visitors fall foul of the deliberately opaque rules. And their frequency will increase with the newly installed and fiendishly complicated meters. With more keys than a piano, anyone over the age of 35 is likely to struggle. No cash. No ticket. Use your phone. Shit, what’s my car reg?
Purgatory for the residents too in trying to acquire visitors permits. Gone are the scratch cards we could dole out. It’s all online now. So handy! Our council has established a labyrinthine process worthy of Indiana Jones for its residents to negotiate. Scan and upload being two words to traumatise and this is assuming we have a gas bill to hand.
It’s the same process now to attend the local dump, to enjoy this cathartic process of getting rid of crap. But gone are the days of doing this on a whim. When we snap at a draw that refuses to open. Filling the car to the brim and rocking up at the dump. It is now guarded by online guards. A little like those spikes that police lay over the road to stop car thieves.
And while I have the guile (just) to get through these hoops to access services I have already paid for, my ire is piqued for my fellow residents who are not so capable. Those people without broadband or a smart phone. You know, people who are less capable than the majority. People who might be forgetful or infirm. Visually impaired or just frightened of technology and life more generally. Like OLD people. The people most in need of services and support.
People like my mum – a widow at 83 and on her own, she has all the modern kit and yet she is completely incapable of scanning and unloading anything and she is anxious and fearful of ever being in trouble. There is no chance of her deciphering these online forms so that a visitor can park at her house without being fined. Lucky then that she has kids to help her but what about the elderly people not so fortunate?
That councils can migrate the provision of services online in the name of progress is laughable and it is compounded by making it almost impossible to phone and speak to an actual person who can help.
Like many companies nowadays, my council deliberately discourages phone calls from its customers. Any phone numbers are buried so deep within their website, they have to be rooted out like truffles. Instead, they prefer we use the handy links and click buttons which is not so handy for the person living on their own and without a computer.
Some people will welcome much of this. There is much glee in motorists being fined. Car’s being all-evil it seems. Speed kills. Exhausts kill. Cars kill. Get out of your cars you on lazy bastards…
I note this week that pollution levels are up since the halcyon days of full lockdown – and in some cities (Brighton), air pollution has even increased a further 20% from pre-pandemic levels. I wonder if this is because cars are now hemmed in and stationary on roads having to accommodate deserted bike lanes that have sprung up like spring daffodils. If so, then this extra pollution is a cruel irony.
Never before have our administrators had so much control. What we can and cannot do. How much? How many? How far? When? Where? Who with? Until what time?
It’s all pretty wearying.
Recently I dashed to my mum’s (90 mins round trip by car) because she was frantic over a cardboard build up. I retrieved her waste and deposited it at my local dump facility, which is probably a crime these days. And having confessed, if they come for me and secure a conviction then my new criminal record might preclude me from the jury service that my country has called upon me to provide.