I’m not sure if I have mentioned this, but I have a dog. In fact I have two of them. They are Border Terriers, and they live in the same house as I do. This means that if I want them to thrive – and I have been told that this would be very much in my best interests – then I have to feed them, make sure that they have plenty of water, and plenty of opportunities to offload their vast amounts of waste.
Being little boys they will happily wee on anything and everything which sticks out of the ground, or which dangles down from a chair. We are forever finding characteristic puddles and yellow stains, a result of our attention wavering for several milliseconds. Solid waste is less common in the house, deposited as it is in the garden. That’s where they should wee too, but they’re less fussy about that.
And here we come to the point of this seemingly meaningless ramble: when one of my dogs takes a dump in the garden we clear it up. Not necessarily immediately – we don’t have all of the time in the world – but soon enough to avoid embarrassment. The dogs are under our care, so they are our responsibility, therefore their waste falls under our responsibility. We should clear up after them.
There are other dog owners in our vicinity for whom this responsibility is either not understood or not considered to be worthy of their time. Their dog (or dogs) repeatedly foul in our back lane: an area in which children play. This has caused much consternation and many signs in our lane; polite signs followed rude signs in a display of wrath which was lost on the owner of the dogs in question.
You see, we have no problem with the dogs – if we did, the signs would be next to useless – they are the responsibility of their owners, and so is the poo. We would happily rub their owners’ noses in it if we could catch the dogs in the act; it would be cruel to do that to the dog who hasn’t been told that it is dangerous to void their bowels in the vicinity of various playing children. Or their angry parents.
What then about leaves? I can shout at trees until I am blue in the face to stop dropping their dirty leaves every autumn, but it is rarely their fault. However, the leaves from autumn 2017, as of the summer of 2018, have still not moved from the streets upon which they had fallen. With whom does the responsibility lie for those, as they rot down to lome and cover the streets with new foliage?
In one local property, the owner of a lovely house on a particularly leaf-strewn street simply got up and moved, passing the problem on to the next owner. My assertion and my assumption is that this was because they couldn’t quite be arsed to clear up some leaves. I have no proof to back this up.
What else will we see being devolved to the resident? We already see road repairs being carried out more frequently by utilities companies, with their cartel-like grip on monopolised profits and legally binding service level agreements, doing more to maintain roads than any local authority. If they don’t repair the road where their provision of services has led them to dig it up they will be fined.
Will the increasing need for updates to mains and wires mean that a patchwork of utility road laying will become more prevalent than the uniformity of road laid by the local authority? I suspect so.
Declining council services – caused in part by the squeeze put on them by successive governments in thrall to the myth of economic austerity – mean that we increasingly have to fend for ourselves. This is the big conceit at the heart of the “Big Society” which was fashionably touted a decade or so ago.
My issue with this conceit is that it is unspoken: such is the existence of the British that the most important things will always remain unspoken. It is unspoken that the owner of a dog should clear up after it; it is unspoken that the parents of an annoying child are the reason that a child is being quite so annoying; it is unspoken that the streets should be maintained by the local government.
Except, occasionally, one bad egg comes along and decides that their own personal circumstances give them carte blanche to ignore the unwritten codes. This leads to bad signalling while driving, because they really had to make it to the shop, or the appointment, or something; governments not paying for essential services, because they want to spend the money on manicures or some such; dog owners not picking up after their dogs, because they couldn’t be bothered, you know?
Please note, the people who have not been introduced to, and so do not see the unwritten codes have my every sympathy; they are the victims of an unjust and unfair society, which is hell bent on humiliating them as deeply, as frequently and as cruelly as possible. My deepest condolences.
Look, all of this may have the tone of jest lingering about it, and that is deliberate. The problem is that I think we are in for a rough one. It used to be that we lived in a world where we had to do everything for ourselves, because we were the only people who existed. Then, as with telephone sanitisers, we created local authorities, and suggested that they do things for us while we got on with living our lives. The problem is, some people would rather do things the much harder way.
These people want less “nannying” and less government involvement in the way they live their lives. And that is fine for them, but I want the council to clean the leaves up from my street. I have better things to do than doing it myself. My further issue is that this opens the door for entrepreneurs to exploit this gap and offer services to fill the holes which councils have left. For a small fee, of course.
Then, not only are we paying the council, we are paying people to do what the council are no longer doing. That feels like a comedy sketch where my empty wallet is the punchline. And I don’t like that. Anyway, I’d better go and pick up some more dog poo, before someone offers to do it for me.