Thursday 16th February 2012
MIND the gap… doors closing… at the next junction, turn left… please take a moment to familiarise yourself with the safety instructions…
I won’t add to that list whatever it is the self-service check-out machines in supermarkets declaim. Having to heed the advice of an electronic voice on the delights of something called the ‘bagging area’ is, in my view, the final insult to my status as a living, breathing human being.
At least I still have the freedom not to use the damned things: the last stand of Cussed of Cirencester. But for how much longer?
My late son, Gaius, lived and worked for several years in China, a nation which then boasted full employment – and probably still does.
“It can get quite silly,” he told me. “There’ll be as many as five people selling you a ticket to a museum, with another three checking it the moment you enter. But everywhere is spotlessly clean.”
As a foreign national, he was excused the annual tree-planting jaunt, but insisted on taking part as he sought no preferential treatment. This was in Changchun, in Jilin province, where winter temperatures often drop to -20°C.
Gaius was there as a teacher. Come spring, all staff at the school had to rise early one Sunday morning; collect standard-issue spades; board a bus; dig and plant at the chosen field; back home in time for lunch.
“Sang all the way there to keep warm and all the way back to celebrate what we’d achieved. Yeah, it was a drag getting out of bed, but you felt you were a part of something important, something communal.”
Could never happen here, of course. Doing something for the future well-being of the nation would be seen as an infringement of civil liberty, as terribly un-British. Very few, however, question the rationale that replaces human beings with robotic talking machines.
Lifts used to have operators asking which floor you wanted; buses had conductors; station platforms had porters: all redundant. The people who did those jobs we now label ‘benefit scroungers’.