Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 01/08/06

Playing Silly Buggers

There are more and more manifestations of official stupidity with every passing day.

Take this, for example. In the English town of Halesowen, West Midlands Police have gone flying in, size 12 boots first, to upbraid a group of children for 'anti-social behaviour'.

The nature of their hideous offence? Playing hopscotch in the street, and leaving the grids marked on the pavement in chalk.

Goodness! How positively heinous! I say throw them into Belmarsh without charge or trial!

I do apologise for the crudity, but what the fuck is going on here?

I'm sure Halesowen, like many a similar town, has more than its share of burglaries, muggings and other crimes. I've no doubt also that, when the perpetrators can't be apprehended, West Midlands Police plead shortage of resources as the reason why they can't do what they're supposed to be there to do. And yet they can find the time to harass a group of children engaged in one of the most innocent and amusing of pastimes.

I speak with experience, having been a highly proficient player of hopscotch in my time: indeed, I was holder of the Argoed and Ffordd Owain All-Comer's Championship for so long that everyone else forgot to challenge me, and the trophy (a square, red ceramic tile known as 'The Super Slidey') remains in my possession to this very day.

As we had nowhere else to play, of course we chalked our battleground out on the pavement. This was usually outside my gate (so as to gain maximum home-field advantage), and the smooth surface was ideal for maximum efficiency when wielding the slidey. It was only in later years, when beastly Progress led our idiot Council to resurface the pavements with wretched tarmac that our contests were brought to an enforced end.

It wasn't just hopscotch grids, though. The few square yards of path between my front gate and the corner by Auntie Ada's also played host to an ever-changing layout of streets, junctions and roundabouts, as my chalk (in reality, the broken edge of a piece of sandstone or similar) traced the most interesting series of lines and circles seen outside of the world of the Nazca. What possible harm could come to me as I guided my Dinky and Corgi toys along straight boulevards or hurtled them, brakes screeching, around ridiculously tight corners? It was good training for the adult world, as I realised perhaps earlier than most that Town Planning was something that anyone could do (I'd confidently pit my designs against those of the so-called professionals anyday).

This, however, is not a view which the West Midlands Constabulary seem to share. It has attempted to defend its ludicrous behaviour by saying that they had to deal with 'low-level crime'.

Crime? It's a crime to play hopscotch now?

The statement went on to compound its offence against intelligence by saying that, by dealing with 'low-level crime', they could stop more serious problems developing.

This is interesting. By that reasoning, children playing hopscotch on the pavement today will inexorably go on to rob the local 'offy' next week, and they'll no doubt be dealing crack to nine-year-olds by the time the school holidays are over. If this fascinating criminological theory is correct, then I should be typing this from a padded cell in a maximum security psychiatric hospital, where I have been detained for the rest of my natural for having murdered seventeen West Midlands Police officers, three town planners and the inventor of tarmacadam surfaces. The fact that I am not, and that none of my fellow hoppers or mappers has, to my knowledge, ever committed a serious offence, shows the silly plods of Halesowen up for what they are.

They claim that the feedback from residents to their actions has been good, but perhaps that merely points up the true root of the problem. We have developed into a society which, under the baleful influence of politicians and the media talking up the extent of crime in our towns and villages, has become a nation of curtain-twitching, purse-lipped paranoiacs, willing to take offence at the slightest intrusion upon the studied dullness of their lives.

(I confess that I've recently been guilty of something similar, but in my defence I plead that it was in response to a drunken twenty-something yob pissing all over my front gate in broad daylight. I contented myself with threatening to cut his knob off if he did it again, and there the matter rests for now).

And so we live in Asboville, where teenage boys are threatened with five years' imprisonment if they utter the word 'grass' in public; where people who wear tops with hoods are treated as criminals before the fact; and where old men are ordered to remove their caps in pubs so that the CCTV can get a good look at them. We are walking, indeed we have run, into the Surveillance State and, just as the most egregious removal of our fundamental liberties is justified on the basis of 'keeping the public safe from terrorism', so we have allowed ourselves to be deluded into thinking that 'keeping us safe from crime' entails putting the entire civil population under watch.

Truly, we all end up with the type of society that most people deserve. An arrow to click on to take you to a follow-up item