It was depressing enough to watch Three Kings on video last night, discovering how America: * can never fight a war for justifiable reasons; * can never properly win one; * always leaves behind a bigger mess than there was before, usually involving the deaths of more innocent people. But after it finished, we accidentally caught the end of A Life Of Grime on BBC1, one of those identikit docusoaps that invites you to marvel at how awful other people can be (rather than how awful you yourself can be). This one follows environmental health inspectors from Sheffield City Council (what’s left? council tax accountants?) as they gratuitously handle dog poo, dead rats and domestic waste. This episode focused on a Mr Springfield, an elderly tenant who had, for reasons known only to himself, chosen to fill his house from floor to ceiling with bags of rubbish. So the men from the council politely asked him to tidy up, for the sake of his neighbours and before the local mice population overdosed on all the cholesterol. They popped round several more times to ask again, but always found him out. So then they broke in to take photographs. And finally, they evicted him - on to the streets - while a smug Jobsworth from the council reiterated over and over for the cameras how it was not “normal” or “healthy” to furnish your house in wall-to-wall litter.
Well, he’s right there, even if he hasn’t quite figured out the implications. For my part, I don’t follow Sheffield City Council logic. If a man is so badly disturbed that he actively prefers to live in a rubbish tip, he’s hardly likely to comprehend or entertain a request to tidy up (and indeed, Mr Springfield told them loudly to “fook off”). Nor will he have much truck with legal notices (he claimed they were using a “bent fooking court order” as he walked away along his new residence - the pavement - with three carrier bags). Making him homeless hardly seems likely to address his psychological issues. And they say many homeless people are mentally ill - was that before or after?
Is this the only course of action available to the council? They have the legal power to forcibly enter Mr Springfield’s house and evict him, but not to forcibly enter, tidy the place up (which has to be done anyway before the next tenant can move in) and provide some proper help for him?
Oh well, I assume he will be less of a burden now on the council’s (likely minimal) homeless shelters than he was on their environmental health department. And home help services are so expensive to provide, as we all know…
Mr Springfield, with his grey bristles and grizzled jaw, reminded me strongly of our local action hero, Reg Temple. Reg is also a pain in the side of the local council. Every man needs to find a hobby once he retires, and Reg has decided his will involve hounding members of Trafford council to the grave and beyond (most probably, theirs’ and his) over every local development issue. That’s when he’s not proposing to remove Sale, Timperley and Altrincham from the borough altogether. (“I am not a political man,” says Reg.)
Reg is a key member of several local action groups, such as the Friends of Brooks Drive, Save the King George Pool and Campaign for a Free Timperley (OK, I made the last one up). One suspects all these groups share a common address, committee and, indeed, member - one “R. Temple of Timperley”.
Oddly, the local rag seems to be conducting an obsessive love affair with Reg. Indeed, if he were female and forty years younger, he would be open to the suspicion that he must be sleeping with the editorial team. Reg seems to be the equivalent of a naughty bit on the side for the paper, because normally it is busy rimming the council’s arse.
It is rare that a week goes by without at least one article on Reg and his latest campaign. On one memorable occasion, readers were greeted with a front page photo of Reg sitting in a meadow, looking like nothing so much as the grizzled elder of a tribe of chimpanzees. On another, a long letter from Reg described his epic battle to force the council to clear up some illegal flytipping. Ordinary mortals such as the rest of us might timidly ring the Trafford 2000 helpline (if we ever gave a toss about life beyond our garden fences in the first place) but Reg goes straight for the man at the top when it comes to waste disposal - council leader David Acton! But suddenly he is thwarted as “up pops Geoff Marsh”, the Head of Environmental Services (them again)! Thrills! Chills! Snores!
Council members have perfected the art of giving interviews to the Messenger regarding Mr Temple’s outbursts with a fixed grin on their faces that somehow carries into print. It is quite conceivable that David Acton has a wax doll of Reg on his desk, into which he violently jabs long needles while issuing a steady stream of bland assurances to his victim over the phone (he may also be planning to Ascend into demon form and devour the residents of Trafford).
One issue that particularly occupies Reg’s attention is Brooks Drive or, to give it its full designation, “historic Brooks Drive”, a bridlepath running from a roundabout on the A560 near Baguley to…nowhere much. Once (in 1860) it was a granite paved, 25 foot wide, tree lined avenue; now it is a muddy track where people only go to dump rubbish.
Lest we sneer at Reg’s petty provincial concerns too much, let us remember that Trafford Council’s idea of environmental improvement is to encourage Tesco to build a new supermarket three miles away from an existing store and 300 yards from a large branch of Sainsburys. Truly, we get the enemies we deserve.