Local Parish Blues.

Mistakes likely – if the local parish newsletter can make them then so can I.

Every few months my local parish council send me a newsletter. I assume they send out more than one, but if not then I consider myself very lucky. It’s basically everything you need to know about everything that’s going on, and then a load of adverts to justify printing it in the first place. The tag line for the newsletter is “Bringing the Community Together”, which is neither true nor imaginative. I mean, I might be wrong but I very much doubt that this publication is really bringing the community together. I was under the distinct impression that the concept of community in 2022 didn’t venture much further that a few angry pensioners, some dull Christians, and a handful of Boy Scouts that would much rather be doing something else; like taking drugs or robbing angry pensioners. When I walk along the streets in my local parish I don’t see a whole lot of community. Last week I had to park my car on the next street and as I walked away a woman angrily shouted, “park on your own fucking street, you wanker”. I am a wanker, but I didn’t deserve that. I promptly moved my car, even though I had every right to park there, because I prefer to have fully inflated tyres and wing mirrors that are still attached to the doors. I wish I had made that story up, but sadly it is all very true. What a charming community.

Opening the newsletter I see a photo of my local parish chairman, who has all the good looks of an inside out bulldog. It wouldn’t be going too far to say that he doesn’t even have a face for radio. Probably a nice chap though. I am cordially invited to read a rather long ‘message’ from him which has a very unfortunate and very noticeable typo in the title – A Remakable Council Carrying Out Remarkable Services – and so puts me off taking in the whole thing, though in skimming through I notice that the word ‘community’ pops up quite a lot. So do words like ‘value’, ‘plans’, ‘activities’, ‘walks’, ‘developments’, ‘litter’, ‘redecoration’ and ‘hedgehog’. Indeed, a quick glance is enough to give the impression that my community adds up to nothing much more than going for a nice walk with the elderly and then rescuing a three-legged squirrel from a crisp packet near a recently upholstered fence. The search can stop, for all that is here is all that life could possibly want for.

I suppose I should be grateful for what my local parish is trying to achieve; it saves me the effort. I can’t be bothered to go litter picking with the Girl Guides, help paint the local splash pool or report a particularly insidious looking pothole. I’m glad there is a local lawn bowling association which mops up a few handfuls of the nearly dead and a suspicious looking man in his mid-twenties. I’m also delighted that there is someone out there who is willing and able to tell me the origins of the street names that I ignore every time I walk past them. And surely there is nothing more heart warming about a local parish than to know that between now and the end of the year there is at least one other community event that isn’t fireworks night or the turning on of the Christmas lights; if one significantly lowered one’s ambitions and were prepared to pace oneself, one would never need to leave the local parish at all.

Of course, no self-respecting parish community newsletter would be complete without a bit of greenery. Every other page should be dotted with references to creating greener spaces, tackling fly tipping, managing safe spaces for our children (your children, their children: personally, I think they create at least half of the mess), picking up dog dirt, stroking grass and planting trees. Never has planting trees been so gosh darn important. This year our local parish is keen for us all to hold street parties to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee (assuming we’re not already sleeping on the streets as World War III starts to really bite) and then when we’ve made a mess of the whole place, we can join the Queen’s Green Canopy initiative to turn Britain back into one big forest. The newsletter says that the Queen has planted over 1,500 trees during her reign, as if that’s something special, but to me it doesn’t sound like a lot at all. She’s been on the throne for over 25,000 days – surely she could have planted a few more trees than that by now. I mean, how hard is it for her to plant a tree? You get someone else to dig a hole, someone else drops a small tree in it, she holds a shovel in a willing manner and smiles at the camera, and then someone else fills the hole back in so she can give the ground a quick pat. Maybe if she’d been planting 1,500 trees a month she’d already have her canopy.

I digress, this isn’t about the Queen and her rather lethargic tree planting habits. It’s about my local community. A community I feel quite remote from at the best of times. No doubt there was a time when these streets were safe for all and you could leave your front door wide open day and night and everybody knew everything about everybody else, but let’s be honest: almost no-one gives a toss about anyone else anymore. I think our local parish newsletter is really quite cute, but it doesn’t do a lot to nurture my sense of community because the people involved in all these local activities will be exactly the same people every single time – the bored and the lonely. They’re fight a fight they will never win, but I hope they’ll be there for each other when my local parish ends up looking just like another suburb of Kyiv. They’re hoping to reverse climate change altogether (this is the kind of place that takes part in a sustainability festival called, wait for it……..SustFest) by planting a permanent Christmas tree in the centre of the village this year, instead of buying a new one each time. That’s great, until someone takes a shit on it or sets fire to it for a laugh. Because that’s the local parish I know and love, and no amount of litter picks and walks in the park is ever going to change that. Community: a bunch of strangers living close to one another, most of whom are arseholes.

G B Hewitt. 14.03.2022

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