Farnham in Surrey: it’s on the skids
At around 4 in the morning on 3 July 2013 I was having a dream – a good dream – about my father. Actually I was running away from my father because I’d done something wrong and I didn’t want to face the consequences. Before the dream reached its proper conclusion I almost fell out of bed and, in so doing, I was awakened from my sleep. I lay in bed for a minutes thinking about the afterlife and how, in a sense, my father, who had died a few years ago, still lives. Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an alarm.
The alarm sent out a piercing screech, a screech that repeated its unnatural cry every few seconds. Where was it coming from? Was it a car alarm, or a garden-shed alarm or a house alarm? I got out of bed to have a look but all I could see was a cyanide-blue light – a stroboscopic kind of light – throbbing away and lighting up the nearby gardens. After fifteen minutes the alarm stopped sounding. But I was disquieted: was there a burglar or a ne’er-do-well at large?
A few minutes later the house trembled as some kind of heavy goods vehicle – a blitzkrieg of a lorry – thundered by. And then I heard the ‘clank clank clank’ as the lorry unloaded whatever building material it was carrying in the nearby Art College. Another lorry followed – but this time the building materials were for the local school.
I began to feel cheesed off.
After a while, after wondering about how much worse life was going to get in Farnham, I managed to get to sleep.
Upon waking I heard the disagreeable sound of a neighbour’s chickens. (Quite why the neighbour installed a hen-house in her back-garden I don’t know – but I could do without the hoarse, repetitive, strangled and unpleasant sounds that the hens make.)
But the really infuriating moment of the day was yet to come: I settled down to begin typing an article at 8.30 in the morning. I did my best to ignore the gathering crowd of people that was assembling on the pavement immediately opposite my house. They assemble there because a primary school is situated on the other side of the street and the parents are not allowed to take their children into the school until 8.45 a.m. So, they wait with the children. Then, once the gates are unlocked, they all file into the school playground. HOWEVER some parents attach their dogs to the railings outside the school – and then leave the dogs waiting. Dogs are dogs and some get disturbed by these moments of separation; they begin barking. Sometimes the barking goes on for 10 minutes. The sound waves of the barks pass across the playground and strike the school-buildings and get amplified – with the result that I am driven mad. It’s impossible to work – to think – when an incessant barking is going on. I have developed an irrational hatred for these dog-owners and I have started to have terrible phantasies involving machine guns …
AND these aggressive phantasies are fuelled by the repeat performance that takes place when the parents come to collect their children in the mid-afternoon. BARK BARK BARK. (I’ve had to consult the Borough Council to find the best way of trying to do something about the problem: as a first step, I’ve written to the headteacher of the school alerting her to the issue, and urging her to intervene appropriately.)
In fact, these episodes reflect the fact that the living environment in Farnham is being increasingly degraded. Most of my neighbours are beefing about the degeneracy that all of us have to endure. The biggest concern is with the changing behaviour of the people. Something has happened in Britain and Farnham is not immune to the problem. There is less and less respect for the older social norms that emphasised consideration for others. There is less empathy. And sometimes you feel as if people simply ‘have it in for you’. (It’s clear to me that the people who leave their dogs to bark have either a complete lack of imagination or a certain disregard for others (or both).)
I’m reminded of a general observation made by a Polish girl who had sought work in the UK as a result of the EC privileges. She said that whilst she was very pleased to have a job she ‘didn’t think much of the people.’ She didn’t think much of the British: ‘The people,’ she said, ‘only think of themselves. They’re careless and thoughtless.’
In Farnham we see this in a micro-behavioural way: If you walk down the street you simply do not know if people will adjust themselves in such a way that all parties can move freely along the pavement. And, as you walk, you step over discarded paper and packaging, you avoid empty wine bottles, you see beer cans chucked into front gardens. People spit insouciantly in the street. They mouth obscenities into their mobile phones. Cars are parked carelessly with their tyres on the pavement. (And when the people do park their cars there’s a kind of resentment on their faces.) Dogs’ muck is left here and there.
Since I’ve lived in Farnham my garden shed has been burgled four times. My splendid car – a scarlet Volkswagen – was stolen and never recovered. (That’s partly why I get into a bit of a state when I hear alarms going off in the middle of the night.) Another car has been vandalised – on at least three occasions. Things left in my car have been stolen.
EVEN MY HOLLYHOCKS HAVE BEEN DECAPITATED.
And, just the other day I passed one of my neighbours who was working in his front garden: we stopped for a chat. He wasn’t in a good mood because he’d been woken up in the middle of the night by ‘some idiots’ who’d been out drinking. Our street is subject to periodic bouts of drunkenness; we often get disturbed during the nights by shouting and the occasional punch-up.
Farnham certainly isn’t nirvana. It’s on the skids. And if ‘they’ increase the population of Farnham there isn’t much chance that the town will retain any charm: there will simply be an increase in this dismal and disagreeable behaviour.