When I was eighteen, fresh out of high school and still dawdling on the prospect of university, I took a week-long trip to see a friend of mine, promoter and musician Anthony Martin, in his hometown of Strood, England. As a student of literature, I was amped to visit the country that brought us Martin Amis, John Donne, George Orwell and John Wyndham, not to mention that Shakespeare cat.
Same thing on the music end – much as I’ve railed against England’s more recent contributions to the music scene (I reference the Gallagher brothers), this is the same country that gave us Bauhaus, Radiohead and David Bowie (oh, and a little band called the Rolling Stones to boot).
Upon arriving in Strood I was greeted by an enthusiastic Ant who was eager to show me around his little town. Turns out the good people of Strood have but one claim to fame – they built sea planes during the Second World War. As a result a lot of the town is industrialized, especially the land bordering the river Medway (affectionately the River Mudway) that runs directly through town. There are some very intense areas still under military control with Area 51-esque signs warning passersby not to tread on government land under threat of arrest and – shockingly – friendly fire.
Strood is a cool place, and one I intend to go back to in 2010 to play Ant’s titular AntFest charity music festival.
However, this time, I will take greater care where I decide to roam.
The first evening I spent in Strood found me wandering the streets alone as Ant had to put in time at his day job. I had intended to meet up with him at the convenience store where he worked, but I took a wrong turn somewhere (easy to do in a country whose roads seem to have been designed by funny-walking drunkards) and wound up in one of the aforementioned industrialized zones. I eventually made my way to a quiet residential road and stopped in front of a bizarrely-located night club called the Jubilee that seemed to have been airdropped right into the middle of Cleaverville. The area was littered with local toughs; unpleasant-looking men in leather jackets who looked like they’d take any opportunity to shank you if you so much as made eye contact, huddled groups of colloquially-named “hoodies” (the British answer to North American “wiggers”) smoking half-broken cigarettes and conversing in a language I can only describe as a unique blend of Eubonics and the English accent I associate with the likes of Lady Sovereign and the Streets (any Brits out there want to fill me in on what this is called?)
As an eighteen year-old skinny white Canadian alone and abroad for the first time, carrying more money than was reasonable for my purposes, I was understandably nervous, so I stuffed a few pence into a public phone and called Ant, who had since gotten off work and was likely wondering where I’d run off to. Our conversation went like this:
AJ: Hey buddy, guess where I am?
Ant: No idea, where’d you get to?
AJ: No, seriously, you’ll have to guess. I have no clue where I am.
Ant: Well, what street are you on?
AJ: Some place called Elaine Street.
Ant: Don’t recognize it. Any landmarks?
AJ: I’m outside some club called the Jubilee.
Ant: The Jubilee? Are you absolutely sure?
AJ: Yeah man, it’s so strange – looks like somebody set up a club in the middle of suburbia. What’s up with that?
Ant started speaking very rapidly at this point.
Ant: All right, I’m going to call my mate to come get me with her car – stay right where you are sit down have a smoke cover up whatever jewelry you might be wearing don’t look at anybody and I’ll be there quick as I can see you soon!
Less than ten minutes later, a car came screeching to a halt in front of me, and Ant bounded out towards me, screaming “thank god you’re alive, now get in the car!”
Turns out I had stumbled upon a particularly nasty area of Strood that most intelligent residents avoid after dark – the Jubilee was apparently a bit of a cesspool of criminal activity that had a seriously bad reputation. I was a little surprised – years of exposure to North American media had suggested England was full to the brim of polite people wearing monocles and sipping tea, commenting on the weather in posh Royal accents and stuffing themselves with crumpets. Okay, I’m overreaching a little, but I sure wasn’t expecting to nearly get mugged and possibly killed in a country culturally defined by the likes of Mr. Darcy.
In years since it’s come to my attention that my pie-in-the-sky romanticized image of our neighbours across the pond is just that. According to a 2002 study done by the United Nations, England enjoys the fourth-worst crime rate in the entire world, with 9,766 crimes perpetrated for every 100,000 residents. A more recent study by Crimestoppers suggests that general crime rates in the London area have fallen somewhat, but rape, business crime and hate crimes are all up between 11 and 15%. A 2007 article from the Epoch Times warned the prevalence of violent youth gangs was on the rise.
Welcome to Jolly Olde England.
So my experiences in Strood were downright tame compared to what’s going on in major city centers like London and Liverpool – stabbings, shootings, rape, plunder, whatever you like. What’s a nation to do when even the Americans enjoy a safer living environment than you offer your citizens?
Apparently, they get Orwellian on your ass.
The London Telegraph reported today that the British government has implemented new policies under their Youth Crime Action Plan, including a new program designed to aid families in which children are more likely to succumb to the lure of gang violence and crime. They’re calling it the Family Intervention Project, and in its short history over 2,000 families have undergone its process.
According to the article, government workers essentially move in with troubled families, subjecting them to 24 hour-a-day scrutiny in order to determine the existing problems in the family unit and work to correct them. This includes making sure children are adequately fed, rested and attending school daily, as well as drug- and alcohol-related support for parents with addiction problems.
The overseer of the Family Intervention Project, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls (pause here for collective chuckle), plans to extend the scope of this program to include over 20,000 families in every major local authority area of England. His take on the program?
“This is pretty tough and non-negotiable support for families to get to the root of the problem…[e]very area has families that need that support.”
The point of the program is mostly to curb the aforementioned youth violence that’s turning England into a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions, where gangmembers turn the streets of major cities into violent playgrounds reminiscent of the gothic dystopia illustrated in The Crow.
Now, I’ve written extensively in the past on the challenges of parenting and how important a proper upbringing is to a child’s future. I’ve also advocated a tough stance on violent youth crime, and an even tougher stance on neglectful parents. But the Family Intervention Project is almost too much even for me.
I can see good and bad in the project. I mean, clearly there are serious problems that need to be addressed by the people of England if they’re going to keep their society intact and relatively peaceful, but I get this nagging feeling that projects like this are a slippery slope. Don’t get me wrong – I would love to see alcoholic and drug-addicted parents clean up their act, and I definitely support any initiative designed to keep kids from falling into lives of violent crime, but the idea of having government workers invade your home and conduct what amounts to a “What Not To Wear” makeover on the way you live your life is kind of unsettling.
It’s a tough question, because it raises the further concern of where this kind of intervention stops. A program like the Family Intervention Project seems really positive on paper, but it sets a precedent saying the government can now come into English households and start dictating terms on how people live. And that could be even more harmful in the long run, because as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, individual freedom is already an endangered concept in the paranoid, hyper-secure world we live in.
What do you think? Does the positive potential of the FIP outweigh the possible threat to liberty? Is it worth it to start mandating parenting techniques in the interest of protecting the futures of English children? Or is it representative of a government overstepping bounds and taking too much power upon themselves to dictate how their citizens “should” live?
I’d really like some feedback on this, folks. Let’s get some healthy debate going here.