I don't know, lovely reader, whether you've ever faced the simply awful nightmare that is trying to park the car in town. I rarely ever get the old Oxford out of the garage these days, not nearly. For one thing, it's quite a beastly palaver battling to keep the thing on the road, what with all the various apertures to be wiped, flanges to tighten and reservoirs to fill and inflate. Oh botheringtons, I'm really not very technically minded at all, you must forgive my waffling nonsense. I'm alive to the possibility that you're all marvellously enlightened when it comes to valve rings, drive belts and whatnots, clever young poppets that you are, and my ill-educated blather is bound to come across as quite silly, but I get into such a fluster at the merest mention of a rotary socket wrench. These matters aside, I confess to quite another reason why I venture into town most infrequently, and that is... well... disappointingly, there doesn't seem to be much of a town left to visit.
I remember in my youth that our town centre used to be such a busy place, oh really. Ah, now, yes, you tease me now, ha ha - you naughty little flopsy, you. Well, in spite of what you might consider to be my great antiquity, I don't have to think so very far back to remember the colourful little shops that spilled their wares out onto the pavements, and the bustling lines of people that slalomed in between the greengrocers, the newsagents and Sykes the Butcher's. I happily recall that it used to inject a particular bounce into my step to perambulate through the market on Fridays and Saturdays, and pleasure myself with spiced meats and seafood and brie, quite possibly. Gone now. All gone, gone, gone. I'm sure you may think me a fluffy old fool if I admit to shedding a tear at their passing, but there it is, and what to do, and we may just as well move on and forget it, oh well.
Now, my little darlings, it's all grey, isn't it though? Or maybe it's no more grey than ever it was, quite possibly, but it seems that way. Those little palaces of trinkets and treats have all blown away - even the little jeweller's shop with the fat, ugly blobs of jade and the silver plated tat, what have you. Swept aside like crumpet crumbs from auntie's best tablecloth, to be replaced by Oxfams, and Dr Banardos and bakeries that sell morsels of reconstituted gristle wrapped in cold slabs of pastry, like flaky little tombstones for the many and varied creatures that gave of their lips so that we might eat. Or worse still, the shops are boarded up, depleted and defunct, neglected even by the vandals, and sadly announcing themselves for immediate possession through the medium of bleached cardboard signs. Ahh.
And the car parks. Oh yes, the captivating car parks with their cracked bollards and splintered tarmac, and flecked with chip paper, doggy doings and sick. All abandoned, of course, my precious little dew drops - apart from the chip papers, doggy doings and sick, most certainly. So why, you're asking yourselves, would anyone find parking so lung-burstingly bothersome? Well, my inquisitive little Munchkins, the problem is not one of space but of finance. In shortness the issue is this: should I wish to descend upon the town, to park in its unloved and lonely car parks, to walk its barren, filth-strewn streets and perusify its depleted boutiques, the town council will charge me two pounds fifty to do it. Four pounds if I should wish to linger all day, I should say.
Ladies and gentlefolk, boys and girls, cherubs and cherubim, I remember a time when it was the role of a local council to provide services to its community. I know you think I'm being an impossible old fuddy duddy but golly gosh, I swear to you it's true. They would sweep our streets and empty our bins and light our way and run our schools and community centres and information podules and all sorts of lovely wonderfulness to justify the money that they took from us. But then... well I said the horrid word just now, didn't I? Money.
There was a sea change, and local government stopped being about serving the community and dedicated itself to the collection of cold hard cash.
I'm not sure when it happened, but it was probably on a Tuesday. Horrid things always seem to happen on a Tuesday, my sweetlings. The state of affairs just seemed to pivot, like when the ghastly little fat boy from two streets away would come along and plonk himself down on the see-saw and leave us dangling in mid-air. Everything now has to generate income.
"We'll put up the prices in the leisure centres and for the hire of the community halls. Can we charge for the parks and the libraries? We may have to break that one in gently. The street lighting doesn't earn us a penny. Can we put them on a meter? Maybe it's better to turn them all off. The street cleaners don't really bring in a lot of cash. Maybe we can contract it out and make ourselves rich on the kickbacks. As for the memorial gardens, well I've always thought that they were the ideal location for a supermarket. And then there's the car parks. Free parking is all very well, but we're not living in the fifties. We'll charge for the lot - every street, every parking bay, every spare patch of bare earth, we'll stick up a parking meter. And instead of hiring workers to do things and mend things and help people, we'll employ them to collect taxes, process payments and harass the bottoms off of anyone who cannot afford to pay."
And that is just what they have most assuredly done, my lovelies. I believe they call it 'monetising' which is a perfectly repulsive word for more than several reasons. Now our once happy little hamlet is a ghost town, because all the people who used to come here have been driven out to the new out-of-town family megapark which is cleaner, more fragrant and where they can park the car for nought. And this is just as well, because that's where all the shopkeepers moved to when the rates went up.
Which leaves our detestable town council serving no function in the middle of a wasteland, patting themselves on their collective backs for doing nothing and wondering how they might successfully realise the fiscal potential of chip papers, doggy doings and sick. Heavens.