Last night every news channel carried wall to wall coverage of 600 sixty grand a year elected members of Parliament behaving like a bunch of spoiled kids. Well nowt fresh there then. Déjà vu to the power ten. A gang of bankers commit fraud in a Bollinger swilling moral vacuum and all our great leaders can do is scream abuse at each other. The only one of them to emerge with any credit was the Speaker who achieved silence in the House with a bellowed ‘BE QUIET’ that would have done my old chemistry teacher proud. When you watch this desperately tawdry spectacle, it is hard to retain much affection for the democracy that millions of our guys fought tooth and nail for back in the forties.
Well, I’m going to have at passing on a tale that maybe just maybe might rekindle some of the old faith. A twitch upon the thread as Evelyn Waugh once said.
My man wasn’t in for a food parcel himself. He was with a pal. He was all red faced and clutching a can of Super Lager. Like most lads full of a few cans by one in the afternoon he spoke to me as if I was standing in
rather than at the other side of the counter. Warsaw
Basically, my man wanted to talk books and he had read a couple of mine in the jail. He loved books. He swore down blind that he had often spent is last tenner on a book from Waterstones instead of buying more drink and drugs. And he more or less got his pal to sign an affidavit to confirm this statement. He went into great detail about how his new strategy for staying out of the slammer was to stay in his hostel room and read book after book. After book. After book. His logic seemed pretty sound on this point. If he was in his room reading then there was little to no chance that he would do anything that would land him back in jail. Fair enough.
But my man had a problem. By the time all deductions for fines and crisis loans were taken from his dole at the point of delivery, there was only enough left for three or four books a week. And that wasn’t enough.
And so we came to the very heart of the matter. Way back in 2001 he had racked up a £62 library fine and hadn’t ever been in a position to clear it down. How he yearned to be able to return to the library and it’s more or less limitless supply of books. And with such a limitless supply at his disposal he felt sure in his heart of hearts that he could stay a free man.
Maybe I am a bit cynical. In fact scrub that. I AM a bit cynical. So I did the maths. Were we to send my man away for another three months stretch at her Majesty’s pleasure it would set us all back about £15,000. On the other hand, if forgiving a £62 fine were to be the key to stopping that from happening, then from a financial point of view it seemed a no brainer. A £14938 win for the beleaguered tax payer. Anyway, I write books for Christ’s sake. Obviously I’m on the side of the man who yearns to read his way to prolonged freedom.
Leave it with me I promised. Let me make some calls. He shrugged and said thanks but there was no point me wasting my time. He assured me that the good folk of the local council considered him to be no more than a ‘worthless bit ae’ shite’.
Undeterred I made a call. I called the Provost, Councillor Jack Groom, a good man if ever there was one. I put my man’s case and Jack agreed it was a punt worth taking. E mail me the details said Jack.
I e mailed the details.
And Jack forwarded them on the gaffer at the libraries dept. And he called them.
And they e mailed me saying OK, why not? They promised to call my man and allow him back into the tent on the basis that he could only have one book at the time.
I rang him up and it was one of those moments when the job actually seemed worth doing. You would have thought he had won the pools. Christ, if only a few more harboured such enthusiasm for the written word!
The moral of this little tale? Simple. Democracy CAN work. All elected officials are NOT like the rabble in the House of Commons. Many are thoroughly decent men and women who put themselves forward to try and do the right thing.
And Jack did. He took time to look out for the guy who was struggling and deserved a break. Which in the end is what all those lads in the forties fought and died for.
Hitler wouldn’t have waived the fine. He’d have sent my man to Dachau. And then he would have got his brown shirted thugs to burn all his books.