Let me tell you a story. At about 11.15pm on Monday night, a very un-Monday number of Strongbows to the good, I skipped gleefully out of a kebab shop beside a tube station that’s closed for maintenance for months. With a 15-minute walk up the road to the next station it seemed wise to eat my spoils en route, and what should appear in front of me but a battered office chair. I’m almost certain it wasn’t an ABV-induced mirage; either I was sitting on an office chair or I’ve turned into a fakir.
This chair had been dumped in the small forecourt of a place called Maple House, the front of which is covered with metal bars, CCTV cameras and a distressing sign saying ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY: Circle Anglia Residents Only’. Nevertheless there were no lights on inside and there seemed to be no-one who might object to me giving this chair one final hurrah before its trip to the incinerator.
I hadn’t reckoned with the British people’s inherent need to be told what not to do.
Having hurtled through a fabulous meal of long-dead ‘lamb’, fat-soaked bread and wrecked lettuce, I briefly made use of the office chair’s tilt function to rub my rump contentedly. At just that moment, I noticed an army approaching. Its commanders were two fat bints in brightly coloured tarpaulins, pushing vehicles designed for children but almost certainly containing multipacks of toilet paper. Their soldiers were toddlers, 12 of them, though obviously with hindsight there might only have been six. None of these runts were on leads.
Keep walking don’t live here oh Jesus they’re coming here aren’t they oh that’s bloody typical: “What you doin’?”
“Making use of this chair. Thank you, very comfortable. I’ll go now.”
“You can’t just sit there! That’s someone’s property. There might be kids in there!”
I can surely be forgiven for exhibiting a degree of confusion at this point. She presumably lives here, and yet “someone’s property” suggests she’s more concerned that the owners, perhaps whatever the fuck ‘Circle Anglia’ is, are having the value of their real estate damaged by a shambolic buffoon rubbing himself gaily in an office chair in full of view of everyone, in utter defiance of a sign, and cameras, and other things designed to scare tramps off.
Also, all the kids appear to be in front of me here, not inside Maple House. If you don’t want me to demonstrate to these young minds the spectacular benefits of midweek drinking, you might consider keeping them inside the building with the bars and CCTV cameras rather than carting them up and down Junction Road at gone closing.
It never ceases to astound me how British people have accepted the tyranny of rope without stopping to question that they may be being prevented from doing things that are their right, or interesting, or fun, for no reason. I was on HMS Belfast once, clambering about a ship with various intriguing steps up and down, passageways and so on. Across one set of steps was a rope. I climbed over it. My brother immediately let out a wail that I was about to be keel hauled. “But there’s a rope!” Yes, I saw that. I’ve not yet learned the ability to talk to rope and its implied message was a touch too subliminal for me. No sailors awaited with plank at the ready. In fact there wasn’t much of interest beyond the rope, and I’ve still no idea why it was there.
If you visit Buckingham Palace in the 90 minutes a year the old dear’s forced to accommodate plebs, you’ll encounter rope. There’ll be a bed, say, which they allow you to stare at from a few metres away from behind a rope. This bed was perhaps once slept in by a minor 18th century prince who’d got pissed and lost his way around the massive castle that we bloody well pay for. If the nobility want to prevent me from having a lie down on what amounts to my own bed, may they find the ghost of Maximilien Robespierre measuring their necks in their dreams. In reality I’ll probably just pay £3 to vote for Jeremy Corbyn but the effect’s the same, sort of.
“Look, I’m no threat am I? I just wanted to sit down.”
“You can’t just sit on someone’s chair!”
Can’t I, though? Why would you have a problem with that? Are you so terrified of unforeseeable consequences that the sight of a non-resident sitting near a sign saying ‘residents only’ fills your mind with the monstrous panic of that woman in the 1980s safety ad who shouted “No Tom!” when she smelled gas and her husband was about to cremate them both by turning on the light? Clearly I’m a dastardly rule-breaker who will live in this woman’s nightmares until the day she dies, probably from pulling her hair back too far.
I get ‘danger of death’ signs that prevent berks being electrocuted. I can understand that the laws of trespass exist for a reason, even if they are blatantly exploited by the rich to stop everyone else sharing their hoarded loot or living space. I can see that in some cases a sign, or even a rope, is utilitarian.
But just blindly accepting that you’ve been told not to do something or go somewhere, without any fathomable cause, by Christ knows who on whatever whim took their fancy when they had to spend their signwriting budget last spring, leads you to a mentality that moans at a man for doing no more than sitting on an office chair, eating a kebab. You’re controlled enough in your life already, you wedge yourself into rules and regulations forcing you down the narrowest route from birth to death that people in charge will allow you. And now you’re happy to let them save the signwriting budget, and just put up a rope?
Bollocks to the rope. The world needs more people who demand to know why they’re told not to do something, not people who acquiesce at the merest wag of authority’s finger. If you don’t question on what grounds a rule exists you’ll end up sleepwalking into a society run by and for the people with the biggest signwriting budget in which notices saying “Poor people this way” dangle from Beachy Head.
“There’s plenty of park benches around!”
And I’ll be spending plenty of time on those in years to come my darling, have no fear. I speed towards my long-term future as a resident of the great outdoors with every lift of a Monday night elbow, but until that glittering destiny is fulfilled I’ll be sitting on your office chair and your rope can go to hell.