COLUMN: May 31, 2018

My hand on what is apparently supposed to be a bench

I FELL into my usual Bank Holiday Monday trap. People who do my job never get a Bank Holiday Monday off work because people like you demand a newspaper on the day after Bank Holiday Monday. I am not blaming you, but it is your fault.

Anyway, my usual Bank Holiday Monday trap is to forget that not everybody is working, and that buses operate to what is officially termed “a reduced timetable”, a term that is technically true, but does not adequately describe the full horror of the situation, like “all-inclusive 18-30s holiday”.

And so I sauntered towards the bus stop on my way to work, the sun glinting off my shades, my special summer shoes on my feet, appearing to all who cared to look as a man who finds the hot weather a pleasure instead of the shambling, sweaty lump I knew myself to be inside.

This sauntering was cut off abruptly by the gust of wind caused by my bus sailing past my face. And the reduced timetable meant that the next bus would arrive far too late for me to be on time for work.

I had only one option, or two if I included calling work and telling them I wouldn’t be in because I had died of good weather – I had to get the train…

The sun beat down on the platform, melting the tarmac. A lizard skittered past, narrowly avoiding a ball of rolling tumbleweed. Atop the automatic ticket machine was perched a vulture, its beady eyes trained upon me. What I am saying is it was blooming hot and I am too pale to deal with that nonsense. I needed shelter, sharpish.

And there was indeed a shelter on the platform. I use the word “shelter” in its loosest form. It was barely bigger than a cocktail umbrella, and made mostly of metal, soaking up the heat. If I breathed out, half of me was in the sunshine again.

Inside the shelter was a seat. I assume it was a seat, it was in the position where one would expect to find a seat. It was metal, like the shelter, and roughly one and a half times the depth of a handrail. Gymnasts would take one look at it and say, “I am not balancing on that. What do you think I am, a mountain goat?”

But I like a challenge, especially when there is nobody around to watch me fail. I attempted to sit on it…

I am a very average-sized man. It is a nightmare buying clothes because they have all sold out. I do not have an inordinately large bottom. I won’t lie, I struggled to sit on this thing.

Bits were hanging off, and if I moved any further back I risked falling into the gap between the wall of the shelter and the seat, with my knees somewhere near my chin. I assume I would have been able to get out of this situation without the help of the local fire and rescue service, but I didn’t want to take the risk, especially with my train due.

I stood up again. It was the worst sitting experience I had ever had, and I lived through the “Kevin Parr has got his hands on a packet of drawing pins” period of Second Year Seniors.

I would like to think that this bench was an aberration, but it is not. It was a mean little seat in a mean little shelter, and typical of the meanness in the public realm these days.

At this point, we’re eight years into the government’s austerity measures. Austerity, we shouldn’t forget, is just meanness dressed up as a virtue. This austerity has filled up our streets with vulnerable homeless people.

And then, because we’re so mean, we block up doorways and put metal studs on low walls, so that these vulnerable homeless people have nowhere to sleep. We make shelters so tiny and benches so impractical that they are not fit for purpose, just to prevent people who make us feel uncomfortable in our meanness from getting a decent sleep.

We’re so mean that we’re prepared to suffer ourselves just so that other people can suffer more. We’re even prepared to cut ourselves off from Europe and watch factories and call centres close and watch family and friends lose their jobs, just so that we can get rid of brown people.

I am not blaming you, but it is your fault.

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