Watch out – the Joy Police are coming for you – says writer Miles Salter
The YorkMix audience will, by now, be aware of the police shutting down local buskers Ali Lawrence and Karl Mullen a few days ago.
A clip of three local cops approaching a man at a piano is comical. But it’s also sad and worrying.
Busking is a part of life in York. Yesterday (Tuesday), there were numerous buskers in town. The sun shone, and people milled around in a more relaxed atmosphere as the lockdown restrictions slowly lift.
Thank goodness, I thought. At last we are getting back to something approaching normal.
But there is a worrying trend in the background. The pandemic has given licence to authority figures of all stripes to boss others around, in a way that they would not attempt to do normally.
Anything that people regard as somehow ‘deviant’ is clamped down on. A busker at a piano! That will have to stop straight away. At Christmas, the police seemed delighted when they handed out fines to people who had the temerity to visit the city.
We’re in danger of losing something. I wrote for YorkMix months ago, worried about what the new fears were doing to our city. I’m afraid I’m more worried now than ever.
It’s not just the heavy-handed approach the police have shown to Karl Mullen and Ali Lawrence (both very well liked in the city, and both talented musicans), it’s cropping up elsewhere as well.
City of York Council have closed their gates so that members of the public cannot go into the building. A few weeks ago I sat on the seat by the bit of Auden poetry that is outside the building. A security guard told me I couldn’t sit there.
I looked around the deserted space where I was sitting with my dog, and scratched my head. What was the problem? Man goes with dog, sits on bench, and is moved on! There was nobody there! The security man was 15 metres away. I started to argue my innocence with the man, who went away to talk to his superior.
I then left, irritated and amazed.
At a recent trip to a well-known store in Monks Cross, I was treated like a nuisance by the woman working there. She stood back and watched as I was pointed to the service tills, which I hate using.
She clearly had no interest in assisting me, and regarded me as some sort of problem. A consumer mosquito, buzzing about her store. Meanwhile, the doors to my local GP practice are STILL locked after months.
Why are the public being treated like this? Why are WE seen as the problem? It’s shoddy behaviour, and it should be challenged.
The pandemic has been ghastly for everybody. Apart from more than 120,000 deaths, it’s been a year of loneliness, distress, loss of income, and business collapse. York has been hit numerous times by the economic battering – the closure of John Lewis is just one example.
It is shameful that local people are being treated in such a heavy handed way by staff members who seem drunk with power. ‘You can’t sit there. You can’t play music. You can’t go inside the surgery. You can’t visit the city.’
Spare me this dictatorial nonsense, and start getting some perspective on things. Allow people some dignity and treat them as adults. I’m not advocating huge indoor parties where the virus can be transmitted, but I do want authorities to show a less punitive attitude to people who just want to engage in human behaviour.
The technology that we are surrounded by is now driving how we think and how we behave. It leads us to binary conclusions (‘computer says no’, as the prophetic Little Britain satirised years ago).
We need to reclaim some humanity. Roll on May and June. And let the buskers play. We all need to encounter a little creativity and joy in our beautiful, battered city.
Miles Salter lives in York. His latest poetry collection is ‘Fix’. He is the front man of York band Miles and The Chain Gang. Their new single, ‘All Of Our Lives’, is out now