View from the Bridge: 55
by John Morrison
55: Low Life
Combine a morbid imagination, a flawed view of risk assessment and a paranoia fuelled by watching too many episodes of Crimewatch... and you've got an Identikit picture of Mr and Mrs Middle England at the fag-end of the millennium. They've been led to believe that violence is something that happens - routinely, randomly and explosively - on our city streets. They lock their doors every night, switch on their burglar alarms and pull their duvets apprehensively up to their chins. Sleep doesn't come easily to the fearful. They hope they'll survive till morning without having their throats cut from ear to ear, but they expect the worst.
The mad axeman, lurking in the shadows for his unwary victims, is a familiar template for demonic violence. Gangs of kids, high on crack and way out of control, roam the means streets of the nation's overactive imaginations, prepared to bludgeon little old ladies to death to fund their spiralling drug habits. Men with khaki fatigues, staring eyes and a grudge against society are loading pump-action rifles, before heading off to rake a crowded shopping mall with bullets. Or so the sensation-seeking press would have us believe. These cultural stereotypes help to create a conveniently supine electorate, too frightened of spectres and bogey-men to start the revolution. As long as they're worried about having their purse nicked, they won't be manning the barricades.
An Englishman's home isn't so much a castle... as a prison. Mothers keep their children in; old folk are frightened to venture out at night. We've traded in our precious liberty for what we fondly imagine is the safety of our own homes.
The truth, alas, is that our homes are probably the most dangerous places we will ever visit. It's here, behind those locked doors, that we are most likely to encounter violence, perpetrated by the people we know best: the very people who have promised to love and protect us. The locks that keep the burglars out also give protection and impunity to domestic tyrants, wife-beaters and child-abusers. The inescapable conclusion is that if you are walking late at night down a dark alley, and hear footsteps behind you... best hope it's a total stranger and not someone you know.
Milltown, thankfully, doesn't have a big problem with crime. With everybody knowing just about everybody else, most robberies culminate with a red-faced burglar returning a bin-bag of valuables with an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders and the offer of a conciliatory pint. OK, we have our fair share of roughnecks, shysters and ne'er-do-wells, but they mostly drink out of harm's way, at the Grievous Bodily Arms, where the people most at risk from their crazed outbursts are each other.
Instead of celebrity felons, with their mobile phones, business cards and web-sites, Milltown just has a handful of incompetent losers. To talk of a 'criminal fraternity' makes it all sound rather cosy: a friendly freemasonry of light-fingered gentlemen, with members' ties and special handshakes. But it's not like that here. The regulars at the Grievous Bodily Arms have no need of funny handshakes; an arm twisted sharply up the back is all that's needed to engage the attention of a fellow drinker for a few eye-watering moments.
On most nights of the week they will be huddled around a corner table, planning some new scam. But, in truth, it's pretty tame stuff. Selling contraband snuff, forging library tickets, rustling geese and organising protection rackets ("That's a lovely front yard you've got there; I'm sure you'd like it to stay that way...") represents the height of their criminal ambitions.
The young folk of Milltown know better; they don't want to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Thanks to a series of evening classes about digital technology, they are turning their backs on pointless and petty street-crime to concentrate on more rewarding areas of opportunity, such as computer fraud.
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