4 minutes estimated reading time
This article on social decay in the FT hit close to home literally: Anti-social behaviour in Britain’s towns will take years to fix, experts warn | Financial Times. Go and have a read, I will still be here. The area typifying social decay is New Ferry, it is literally five minutes walk from the model industrial village of Port Sunlight.
Grove Street memories
The playground behind the interviewee before it was refurbished in the early 2000s used to have a roundabout that I was thrown off at a tangent while it spun around when I was about 3 or maybe 4 years old and landed straight into a puddle. I wore a red hooded anorak made of a red sherpa fleece fabric with an elasticated hood, cuffs and bottom which soaked up half the puddle like a sponge. The photographer had his back turned to Grove Road and what is now an Iceland supermarket. Back when I fell off the roundabout it was a Kwik Save.
Even back then it had a reputation of being a hard neighbourhood. Local shops such as Griffiths the butchers catered for a customer base struggling to make ends meet.
To the photographer’s left down the road a bit would have been a social club for (former) members of the Civil Defence. The Civil Defence Corps itself had been stood down in 1968. It was a solid working class area full of unskilled and semi-skilled workers who were employed either locally at the Lever factory next door or on the Mersey from the shipyards of Birkenhead to the chemical industry of the Mersey basin and assorted factories further afield.
Community spirit doesn’t pay the bills
By the 1980s, it looked worse for wear. There were few jobs, fewer still that paid well. And that was before unemployment and the heroin epidemic took their toll. As the economy picked up in the 1990s, the benefits didn’t make it to New Ferry. The one bright spot was a pirate radio station ran by community DJs playing house and techno records every night of the week close by to Grove Road playground. I’d held a couple of small (250 people) all night parties (acid house and garage) in the Civil Defence social club, with the blackout curtains keeping the noise and lights away from nosy neighbours and police patrols.
The people who ran the club put on breakfast for the revellers after the main event. We played ambient music from CDs supplied by a friend’s older brother (Tangerine Dream, The Orb, Vangelis, Kitaro, Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Abba’s Arrival) mixing between two Discmans as the tired revellers drank tea and ate bacon ‘bin lid‘ sandwiches while sprawled out on the floor.
Tickets were sold in advance and the venue details given out on the night by ringing an answerphone. Everyone involved broke even if they were lucky.
Despite being really hard scrabble there was a certain amount of community dynamism going on in the village hall. My Mum used to travel down there to go to knitting classes with older women, some of whom were Irish like her. They would knit for charity.
But all that won’t keep social decay from the door while the community is underemployed and underpaid.
No easy answer
The social decay described in the article isn’t something that happened overnight but over decades. There is no quick fix to the social decay of bad behaviour and feral gangs of children. It is not clear whether there is the commitment, investment, government will or the way to resolve this social decay.
The most individually logical thing to do in a time of social decay is thinking more about personal safety.
Techno-utopianism of early 2000s
Looking back the technology adoption of the 1990s and early 2000s was phenomenal. The mainstreaming of the cellphones, the PlayStation, home PC computers and internet access creating immediacy.
The changes wrought by mobile phones in particular are still rippling through the developing world.
Driving in Japan
I am a huge fan of walkabout and driving videos because you can tell so much about the environment looking at retail spaces, brands, clothing and social interactions going on around you. For instance Japan’s apparent rejection of the electric car for now, favouring hybrid vehicles instead. This particular one of a rural Japanese town gives you a good idea of where Studio Ghibli‘s work comes from.
Fintan O’Toole on Ireland
Great talk by Fintan O’Toole at the Edinburgh Book Festival.