Saturday 10 July 2010

The Tell-tale Heart

Well, anyway: Mrs Angry, social delinquent, and menace to society, has decided that she is not going to allow the evil empire of the LB of Broken Barnet to walk all over her and expect her to thank for them for the privilege. And so for the last couple of weeks she has been slaving over an overheating laptop and writing a forensically detailed rubbishing of their sneaky, shameless Ombudsman response. Thankfully, she was given assistance from a couple of quarters which may prove very useful. So watch this space.

And now she is able to leave once more the foetid, dark, and perverse underworld of Barnet Council and all its intrigues, and return again to the relatively light relief of research in the history of arsenic poisoning and serial killing in the nineteenth century. Phew. Much more pleasant.

In the course of this research, I've had to read a lot about the psychology of psychopaths: the traits that set them apart from others - narcisissim, an inability to make healthy social and sexual relationships, and a total absence of conscience.

Hmm, absence of conscience. Almost jealous of that one. There is not a person on the planet, after all, who has been brought up in the Catholic church who does not suffer from the curse of a guilt complex. Same for some other religions, of course: my best friend, who is Jewish, has a complex pretty much the same shape and size as mine, both connected in traditional fashion to fearsome mothers, of course. Catholic guilt is a terrible burden, at times. But it is also a blessing.

If you have been brought up as a Catholic, you never worry about CCTV or speed cameras, and the infringement of your civil liberties.You know someone is inside your head and watching your every thought anyway, so why worry about a flipping camera? And of course nothing is more enjoyable than breaking rules. If you have no sense of sin, how can you enjoy being badly behaved? Forbidden fruit, and all that. If everything is allowed anyway, how very boring that must be. I suppose that is why people like my ex neighbours, the greatly missed Smiths and their friends, who have no religious/moral guilt trip weighing them down, resort to such an extreme lifestyle, to try to amuse themselves. (I was so pleased to note yesterday that Troy Smith, according to his Facebook wall, was having another lovely day 'gettin high', bless him. Obviously, Ms X, all that intervention and support and those behaviour contracts are doing wonders for the Smiths after all, wouldn't you say?)

I think it is very interesting that a disproportionate number of people in prison are said to be Catholic. Because on the other side of the coin, a disproportionate number of politically and socially people active share this background too. In America, for example, the Democratic party would never have the clout it does without the historical allegiance of the Irish Catholic community, the rise of the Kennedys being the ultimate acheivement. My own cousins in the US have had their own part in this: just like the Zelig/Woody Allen character, they have a habit of popping up at significant moments of history. Some of them were filmed once for a JFK election campaign, on a reel of film languishing in the Kennedy Library: one is in the background in the film of Bobby Kennedy making his impassioned speech in Indianapolis, on the night of the assassination of Martin Luther King, and best of all, my cousin John Sullivan, a Democratic fundraiser, is in that famous photo of Bill Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky, and was consequently interviewed by the FBI, and made to give evidence to the Starr enquiry. It was known Monica had a big crush on the President, and John was supposed to prevent her from getting too familiar with poor old Bill - with spectacular lack of success. And no, he didn't have the pleasure, himself, apparently.

Why do Catholics get so involved, for good and for bad? Because of conscience, guilt, and a keen sense of injustice. They like breaking rules, but if others don't play by the rules, they get very upset. I think there is even a connection with blogging: a perfect combination of sermonising and confession, eh Rog?

A sense of injustice is something a woman cannot not have after a Catholic upbringing in my generation: boys being treated so differently to girls. In my house, anyway, and at my school. I won't dwell on the fact that my brother was a perfect child, and I was very naughty, apparently, or the scandalous arrangements at my primary school where, for example, girls were only given half the boy's portion of food at lunchtime, and then had to sit in silence while the boys were allowed to queue up for seconds: get the idea? I was an outraged feminist at the age of six because of continual hunger.

Guilt though: we were imbued with guilt from an early age: guilt for our mortal sins, our corrupt souls. First confession at the age of seven: what does a seven year old child have to confess? Bless me Father, for I have sinned: for the sake of entertainment, and for lack of anything more interesting to report, I used to make things up; highly imaginative and somewhat unlikely crimes which must have raised the eyebrows of the priest, but cunningly covered by a clever 'and I have lied' admission at the end of my list of sins ...

Alfred Hitchcock, who was from a Catholic family, and educated by Jesuits (uh oh) often mentioned the traumatic and highly influential effect of an incident in his early childhood when his father took him to the local police station and got the sergeant to lock him in a cell, to teach him what happened to 'naughty boys'. Arguably his whole career was fired by the consequent sense of fear of injustice, and guilt for unspecified crimes. I can understand why.

Many years ago, when they still had such things, I had the surreal experience of having to take part in an identity parade. I was standing in a bus queue at Brent Cross, one day, daydreaming, when I became aware of a police man and woman behind me. 'Excuse me, Miss,' said the policeman. At this point I froze in horror. Everyone in the bus queue looked at me with suspicion. And I realised I had been caught out at last. I knew it would happen, sooner or later: I would get found out, and here it was. I must have nicked something, and they'd got me. 'I wonder if you might be able to assist us' 'Oh, yes?' They explained about the id parade. 'Yes: the suspect, well, she is just like you, you see ... in fact, Miss, you are a dead ringer' ...' I hesitated. 'Of course she is a very attractive young lady,' he added, in desperation. At this point I felt it my civic duty to comply. So I went off to the police station and waited, in an interview room, with bare walls decorated with only a poster telling me about my rights, for nearly an hour. I had nothing to do but read the poster. Again and again. By the end of the period of waiting, in fact,I would have been happy to confess to anything. Eventually all the volunteers were all shown into the canteen and put in a row. A space was kept, and once we were all in place, the suspect was sent in to join us. She was an Italian shoplifter with a face like a well seasoned street walker, who smirked and sauntered over to her place. A dead ringer, I thought? Hmm. Thanks.

In came the store detective whom was supposed to identify her. I knew then what would happen. Because of course, I felt guilty. I knew I was guilty. Even though it wasn't me, couldn't be me, I felt responsible. And it showed. I felt myself go red as he walked along the line. He stopped and looked at me. I went even redder. He hovered. I began to wonder if it really was me, after all. Because I felt guilty. Could it be that I was guilty? He moved along and looked at the suspect. He came back to me. He walked away and whispered to the police, shrugging. We were then all sent home, as the store detective evidently couldn't be sure which of us was the thief. To this day, I never enter this shop in Brent Cross without worrying I am going to be stopped and searched by suspicious security staff.

Going through any checkpoint, any customs/immigration check, in fact, I am sure I get stopped and searched because I give off all those signals they look for now - because I always feel guilty. Maybe there should be a separate queue for Catholics, with a couple of nuns on duty - in my experience 100% accurate at detecting deceit.

I hope that I can claim, anyway, on the basis of my chronic guilt complex, that whatever deep psychological flaws I undoubtedly have, I am at least not a psychopath. I don't know how many Hail Marys and years roasting in hell you would get for bumping someone off, but I'm just not prepared to do it. What about people who are guilt free, though, and are not restrained by conscience, or empathy with their victims? Who only care about themselves, and to hell with anyone else?

I think there are certain occupations which attract people like that. I suspect, for example, that a few people who choose medicine as a career are somewhere on this spectrum of personality disorders. To be able to deal with surgery, disease, and distress requires an ability to remain professionally detached, but in some cases, combined with a desire for the power over life and death that a doctor has, this can appeal to individuals with a total lack of compassion.

And then there is the political world.

Perfect territory, nowadays, for someone driven by an eternally demanding sense of self importance, a need to control the lives of others whilst indulging one's own desires, a ruthless, selfish drive to attain and retain power. A lack of empathy with others, a lack of compassion? A natural affinity with Tory values, I would suggest, especially the modern, self made Tory who has come to the fore in recent times. No such thing as society, as we know, only individuals.

What distinguishes the administration here in Broken Barnet is a nasty distillation of all of these disturbing traits. You could even argue that a form of group psychosis has taken hold. Under a Ripper like cloak of easyBolics philosophy, our borough is being dragged into the dark alleyway of a terrifying future.

Look what is happening already in education and housing in Barnet.

Our council wants to bring in a policy which gives priority for rehousing to families who in some way can prove that they are morally worthy of such a privilege, by having a record of voluntary work, for example. Families who are troublesome, by contrast, will go right to the back of the line.

I think that anyone who has read this blog from the beginning might understand why I might feel I have a right to hold a reasonably informed opinion on this issue. Whilst amused at the thought that, suddenly, the authority which has tried to condone its failure to deal with our former neighbours' ASB on the grounds of belated and convenient sympathy for their 'needs' is now taking a zero tolerance line with such disruptive residents, things are not so simple.

Whatever trouble and distress caused to us by the vile Smith household, I do not see how you can punish a child for the failures of parents by withdrawing the chance of decent housing from them. Surely this is anyway discriminatory? Who is able to make moral judgements over entitlement to priority of social housing? The law surely does not allow such a process. Housing must be allocated according to need, not as a reward for matching some half baked councillor's idea of moral worth. How does 'safeguarding children' work in this daft new policy? Or do we only safeguard the rights of children with well behaved parents?

As things are now, any council tenants who cause ASB type problems are swiftly evicted from their council properties by a standard corporate procedure. Of course, as we know only too well, this does not apply to would be tenants, on housing benefit, placed in private accommodation. In the new proposed policy, all disruptive tenants would end up in private accommodation, where there will be no effective protection from Barnet for you and your family, if they become you neighbours. Lucky you! Lucky Barnet, as they will be able to wash their hands of these troublesome families, and relieve themselves of the burden of responsibility they have while they are their own tenants. Brilliant strategy.

What sort of administration can invent a policy with such a hard-nosed, ideolgically intransigent attitude? Only one with such a lack of compassion for those who really are vulnerable and in need of help. The desire to mess with the dark arts of social engineering in such an amateur way and in this local context is very weird indeed, I would say.

Education, then. Told you what would happen, didn't I, in 'Mrs Angry's Schooldays' ... Our Tory council can't wait to get rid of as many of our schools as possible via the newly extended Academy scheme. Funnily enough, I don't think my old school will be eligible after all, having a selective intake - whereas my son's school may well go down this path. A high risk strategy. And this idea was started by Labour in an attempt to improve the failing schools in disadvantaged areas, but the Tories in government, and their Libdem partners in crime, have leapt at the chance of 'freeing' any school from 'interference' (and need for funding) by local authorities. So now the most successful state schools are queueing up to apply for this scheme, without any real idea how this will work in terms of future funding, or what they can do if things go wrong. The ability to coordinate educational provision will evaporate, and there will be a hugely increased failure to provide fair access to decent standards of education for the least advantaged children.

Worse still, in Barnet a number of schools with children from such backgrounds are having their promised funding for much needed improvements snatched away. Amongst these are a school for children with special needs, and a pupil referral centre. In other words, the most vulnerable children in our borough are yet again going to be affected. The already gaping difference between the bad and good schools in Barnet is being torn even further apart, with clinical indifference, by Tory ideology, with no care for the effect on the most deprived and vulnerable sections of the community. No guilt, no conscience, no compassion: no heart.

What of the architects of these policies? Look at them. A council that boasts it can bring us better services for less money. A council which is happy to lose £27 million of our money, with no consequnces for any of them. A council which has put the safety of our roads in the hands of motoring enthusiast Brian Coleman, the man responsible for the removal, at unknown cost, of speed calming measures on our roads - and previously lost his license for speeding. A council which says we cannot afford wardens in residential homes, but spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on new senior officer posts. Etcetera etcetera.

Consider our three local MPs, none of whom as far as I know, have children themselves, so have no real understanding of the realities of parental concerns, but if they did, you can bet no child of theirs wouldn't be going to Bishop Douglass, or Ravenscroft, or any of the schools having their budgets withdrawn. Again these measures are something that affect other people, so of no significance to them personally and therefore irrelevant. They announced last week they would be protesting to Michael Gove about the loss of funding for Barnet schools, as if that is going to make any difference. Why, anyway? They knew perfectly well what their own party policy on this funding would be.

New boy Mike Freer launched his political career on the back of the idiotic easyBarnet/Futureshape idea, which is dedicated to cutting spending to the minimum, and forcing the needy resident to be less reliant on help from the local authority. If you read his explanation of this easyBolics rubbish in The Times in November last year, he gives this endearing example:

"Rather than washing their dishes for them, we now support older people to relearn how they can do so with restricted mobility. Do many old people want a stranger popping in to do their washing up or would they rather do it themselves?"

No guilt, no conscience, no compassion, no heart: the motto of Broken Barnet.


caroline said...

Mrs A, I think we both went to St Vincents but I have to correct you on one thing. Although female I frequently managed seconds and even thirds of pudding. Maybe in the 1960s the feminist threat didn't need dealing with via starvation :)
Digressing slightly, maybe you should bring a bunch of nuns with you to the next Barnet Council meeting you attend. I could never do anything naughty while directly under their steely gaze - do you think it may have the same effect on Barnet's appalling Tory councillors?

Mrs Angry said...

... but, Caroline, if you remember, we were allowed seconds, but only after the boys, who were presumed to have greater need ... actually some of the food was inedible anyway, but we were not allowed to leave any so chidren used to resort to slipping it on the floor, or even in your pockets! Some of the puddings, tapioca,(we used to call it frogspawn) and semolina - like wallpaper paste - were just so disgusting ... however I do have fond memories of the Irish stew, goulash and huge mereingues ...
Sadly I don't really know where you would find a bunch of nuns anymore, and bearing in mind how despicable the Tories behaved after listening to the Rabbi's well intentioned but wasted prayer, somehow I think they are beyond redemption.