A mere quarter of a mile from my home the traffic ground to an unaccustomed halt. The sporadic nature of its movement proclaimed a contraflow in action somewhere up ahead and, with no other way of accessing my street, I settled down to patiently wait in the Great British Queue… an institution we are good at in this country. Mainly through interminable practice. The grass verge beside the road looked inviting. Wider than the road itself, flat and unobstructed, it leads to the lane that runs to my home a mere few hundred yards away. I didn’t take it of course…partly because it would undoubtedly churn up the grass, but mainly because it isn’t the ‘done thing’.
I glare at the cameras beside the road that now monitor the movement of every vehicle in the country, ostensibly in order to check we have all paid our road tax, but in reality just part of what seems to be an inexorable movement towards the impossibility of anonymity; of escaping from the needs and obligations of the daily grind with at least the illusion of freedom. Shades of Orwell’s dystopia rear their heads… I can’t say I like the insidious increase in surveillance. Not that I don’t understand and approve of security. Not that I particularly wish to hide; but privacy and choice matter to me. Lately it seems as if many minor incursions are being made into the small liberties and I wonder just how far it will go… and how it happens that we simply accept in silence.
I had begun to ponder this whole question earlier, checking sell by dates for one of my sons and disposing of large quantities of things for him which had passed them. He and many others of his generation that I know seem obsessed by the dates on packets. A minor thing, you might think, but it sparked a train of thought as I sat there in the traffic. I know it is a generational thing, because, of course, I grew up in a world that had never heard of putting a sell by date on an apple. Tins and packets, perhaps… though even those, we were taught, were only an indication, a safeguard, and probably marked a midway point in shelf-life. Common sense was the thing; we were taught to apply it to food and make informed decisions.
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