Last night, as I was scrabbling around by the front door in the dark with a torch and a piece of fuse wire, my letterbox started juttering away behind me. Even the postmen manage to deliver before 9pm, so I was intrigued. And sure enough it was the latest newsletter (number 6 this year) from the St Ebbe’s New Development Residents’ Association (SENDRA).
A two-page A4 printout covering what is happening locally for the 100 or so other people in my peaceful little corner of the world, hidden from central Oxford thanks to a hideous car park on the way over, but resting neatly and comfortably on the river.
Thanks to the electricity shutdown causing my modem to commit hari-kiri, and me having to do an early morning rush to PC World and rebuild my entire home network, I have only just now got around to reading SENDRA’s September 2006 newsletter.
I get the feeling that the St Ebbe’s resident’s association is rapidly running out of control.
Inasfar as a newsletter for 100 people can run out of control. There is a new sherriff in town, one that is no stranger to residents’ associations, and you suspect there is an agenda at work here, complete with some rigid thinking.
The halycon days
The warning signs were there. When I first moved into my house, the association started up soon after and was just £1 to join. I was happy to pay, and in return got a quarterly digest of what was happening in the area. When the path by the river collapsed and the council steadfastly failed to do anything about it, SENDRA was onto our councillor (also the Mayor), the problem was soon raised, and eventually an agreement to pay for it to be fixed this summer was agreed.
Those, in retrospect, were the glory days. There was one event – a picnic – and everyone was left pretty much alone to get on with their lives.
Somewhere along the line though, there was a coup. Who knows which pleasant, carefree retired lady still bears the scars, but the cost of the new regime became immediately apparent when the demand for the next year suddenly increased to £4. I left the letter on the table for a fortnight, and the next thing I knew there was a knock at the door. It was the enforcer. I should have realised then that the line of not actually bothering me had been crossed. I coughed up because it was only £4.
But this increased budget was suddenly spent on an intelligence operation and law enforcement. Suddenly I, and everyone else, was expected to provide details of my car registration because there had been reports of strangers parking their cars and then heading into town. I didn’t believe it, but you know, best not to question authority in these matters – there was a threat and we needed new legislation to combat it – provide our boys with the tools they needed.
Except for the fact I couldn’t really be bothered to write down my car registration on a piece of paper and then post it through someone’s door when it was my parking spot, my car, and it had been there for two years. That’s when the law turned up. Honestly.
St Ebbe’s very own El Duce reported the car to the police and a young copper knocked on my door asking if my car was mine. He told me it had been reported as possibly abandoned. I told him who I was, he rang it through and seemed somewhat bemused by the whole thing.
The quarterly newsletters were now monthly, and each one came with an event that you were urged to join – a trip to this museum, a trip to this college. A litter-collecting day. I think there was even a dinner. I have studiously ignored all of this, because my measure of neighbourhood is whether people say hello to you when you stroll past them on the way to the shops.
The enforcement stage is now clearly over. People know who the boss is (except I don’t – the true authority of El Duce is cleverly concealed by other committees over whom El Duce has control). And now the boss has started talking for us all, without the tedious trouble of asking anyone.
Last month’s newsletter informed us that we were all annoyed about the noise that came from the annual Gay Pride event on the large patch of grass directly opposite the river, and about the parking, and that we had complained about it. You rather suspect it wasn’t so much the noise as the people making the noise there were being complained about. The fair appears to have been tolerated.
This month’s newsletter barely contains its fury over the fact that there has been no reply to the stern letter sent to, well, whoever it was sent to. The Secretary is going to ask the Town Hall to discuss the matter, apparently.
Security and stability
There is also the issue of security. There have been two break-ins “recently”, so we are told to keep all our doors and windows locked and to inform the Committee if anything suspicious is noticed. Apparently the first stop for these issues is now the Committee rather than the police – and if you’re in any doubt as to why, the newsletter points out that “the neighbourhood policing plan seems to be on hold and we are trying to contact PC Paul Phillips for the latest news”. You just can’t trust these police, you see? Have to do it yourself.
Third on the agenda is another sub-committee – this one is apparently the Planning Group. There are five members, one of course chosen by the Committee and the others revolving. If you want to become a member, you just have to apply to the Committee and they will help decide if you are suitable.
What is most peculiar about all this though is that the two matters that most concern everyone except the Committee are the river path – which has still not been fixed and which the council is trying to back away from paying for – and the sudden appearance of a small wooden fence at the bottom of the hill leading to the bridge. The sole reason for the fence’s existence is to prevent people from taking a shortcut up the little hill. Why does that matter? No one has any idea, but clearly it is something that is bothering someone who has the ear of the council.
The newsletter finishes off with an outline of future meetings – although it is unclear what exactly what is going to be discussed.
So what has any of this to do with the Internet? Because it is, in effect, the story of oversight of the Internet. I’ve counted eight clear parallels.
Of course, SENDRA can serve a useful purpose – at least it will when it represents the interests of the residents – because there is a much bigger issue coming up. And that is the fact that the council is planning to renovate the entire area, including tearing up the road, adding a whole load of new houses and introducing more shops.
They call it the West End Renovation and where I live people are both excited and wary about it. This part of Oxford is in dire need of transformation, but the plans and designs for that transformation need to be carefully worked on.
And that’s also exactly where we are with the Net at the moment.