I am in England again. Two days ago, I took Mrs Paine, her sister and mother to Liverpool. We had lunch and went for a walk round the Albert Dock. All very agreeable. As we walked from restaurant to dock, however, two youths approached. They were expensively if informally dressed and appeared sober and healthy. One took position behind me and the other raised his arm at a curious angle, offering to shake my hand.
My exotic life has accustomed me to dealing with pickpockets. I therefore realised what was happening. I ignored the proferred hand and walked on. He slapped me on the back. I told him not to touch me. Mistake. The chorus of abuse began. I am two metres tall and not slender so I did not feel in physical danger. These men were abusing me only as they retreated. It was disturbing though. I have spent a couple of days trying to understand why.
I wasn't hurt. They went away. They did not pull a knife, as might have happened even on a sunny Sunday in a crowded public place. I had recognised and averted a danger. My family were safe; my goods and dignity were intact. So why was I upset?
I think I know. It was not the attempted theft. There have always been thieves. It wasn't the fear of violence; they were not that much of a threat. What was disturbing was that they had no shame. None at all. They were happy and relaxed as they swaggered around wearing expensive gear bought with the proceeds of their crimes. This attempt had failed, but they went cheerfully on their way to their next, jeering at their would-be victim. They felt no need to run or slink away. Modern Britain is their country.
These were young men who have never encountered resistance. They have never failed an exam. It is quite possible they have never been contradicted. To the extent they have any sense of their aggression and criminality, they feel no fault.
A few minutes later I encountered two police constables. They were laughing and joking with a drunk who was sitting on the steps of the Granada TV studios. Briefly I thought of telling them what had happened. Then I shrugged and walked on. In Blair's Britain the police are a threat to people like me, not to people like the would-be thieves. I am 48 years old and no policeman in England has ever pretended to try to catch the authors of any of the crimes I have suffered. Why should these Scouse coppers be different? I would just bog them down in paperwork and spoil their sunny walk.
This is not a parable. This happened. As I ponder its implications, I re-run the scenario in different ways. I am a big, reasonably strong middle-aged guy now. But in 10 or 20 years, my bulk will deter no-one. The story could have ended differently in so many ways; few of them good.
This is Blair's Britain and don't those two underclass scumbags just love it.