Thursday, 9 June 2011

Stop thief

I don't have the world's best memory for faces, but today I was the first to spot him: yes, the Erudite Space has its very own shoplifter. He slopes in, shambles around the shop, and puts small books in the ample pockets of his tatty, unappetising mac. He's particularly fond of Observer books and anything about transport. Let's call him Oswald.

Every bookshop in town has banned him from their premises, but I don't know how that works: I wonder if their own Security Guards, or the Police, march him bodily out into the street, and then I wonder how they stop him from just wandering back in again. I don't think he's ever been arrested. We don't have him banned for some reason, perhaps because we're a charity and we're just supposed to be kind and put up with that sort of thing. So someone has to follow him round the shop, firmly but gently taking books from him and putting them back on the shelves, and answering a string of questions, each one of which makes sense by itself, but which have no logical sequence, are often repeated, and don't really constitute a conversation.

I'm not sure he even knows where he is most of the time. I'd always wondered how long he had been like that, and what horrible trauma in his life had started it all.

A chap I'd earlier directed to the Computing section overheard me warn the Boss of Oswald's presence. And, incredibly, then said right out that as a ten-year-old train enthusiast he had often seen Oswald, then in his twenties but still trainspotting. It was apparent he couldn't fully look after himself even then: perhaps he'd lacked the sense of what other people are, ever since birth. The classmates had assumed he was the sort of person their mums had in mind when they told them never to talk to Strange Men.

All of which means that for the best part of half a century a succession of people have had to provide shelter, food, protection from arrest and accident, and protection of others from inadvertant harm, from Oswald's blithe irresponsibility. In all this time no-one has had the courage or the wherewithal to sieze the initiative and change matters for the better.

Which puts Oswald in unlikely company: the latest campaign by the charity who run our shop is highlighting the effect on the poorest people of a system that has provided shelter, resources and legal protection for large financial institutions, while struggling, and now failing, to protect others from being harmed by their actions.

Sometimes I think that it's time we should all stop just quietly putting the books back on the shelves, and start making arrests.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Advanced motoring

There is a beautiful, tree-lined bike-path along the river, which forms most of my 15-minute trip into "work" at the aforementioned erudite space. The trees are protected by order of the City Council. Geese sit around and watch you glide past. Even the dogs are well-behaved. It is a total pleasure to cycle along: so much so that even getting caught in a hailstorm on the way home isn't too terrible.

There is only one road junction to get through after all that delightfulness, and it has helpfully been provided with one of these advanced stop-lines: a special green breathing-space for cyclists.

Of course, this is incredibly inefficient. Putting all those cars whose makers boast of how rapidly they can go from nought-to-sixty (because they haven't been allowed to boast of top speeds on car adverts since round about the time England won the World Cup) in a queue behind those of us who might, just possibly, make it from nought to six by the far side of the junction (on a good day) could be construed as a criminal waste of horsepower. But the Council is one step ahead: they've been listening to American physicists talking about waves. Who have found, interestingly, that rapid acceleration is one of the things that causes traffic jams: waves of still-ness, in the intervals between futile acceleration, propagate backwards along the road, bringing everybody to a halt in apparently random, unexpected places.

The people campaigning for a 20 mph speed limit on the city's smaller roads are beginning to use this to argue that a lower speed limit on roads which are at or beyond capacity can increase traffic flow...a bit like easing-off the tilt angle of a wine bottle so that the wine flows out smoothly and doesn't "glug". It would also help stop people driving as if they were late for their own funeral.

So there I was yesterday afternoon, sitting waiting for the lights to change, noticing once again that drivers are not always alert enough to actually stop before they end up in the "advanced" bit, because I've had to go all the way round to the front of some posh black thing in order to come to a halt on the small remaining bit of green space...when the full implication of the car's length, blackness, shininess and large floral display in the back window sinks in.