War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. This Customer Service Centre Is Terrifying.
Thing is, the East Riding is a pretty rural county. Unlike Londoners – who live in densely-packed proximity to each other and are perfectly happy to spend an hour each morning with their heads wedged in each others’ armpits – we Yorkshire folk like to spread out a little, and give ourselves room to breathe.
I can understand that this gives our local council some headaches to deal with. Since we’re inconsiderately scattered all over the place, providing public transport usable by more than three people at a time is a nightmare. Our bin lorries have to travel many, many miles further than the bin lorries of other, more compact, administrative areas. We complain when our small local hospital doesn’t have all the latest equipment and services, and then we complain when you consolidate all our hospital services into one big regional centre.
I can even believe (damn, I’m good) that some of us living in the East Riding have no phone, no internet access, and no friends with phones or internet access. I don’t know how many of us there might be in this position. But I’m willing to believe that there are at least some. And clearly, the numbers are sufficiently big to merit a whole new access-your-Council-services solution. This must be the case, or they wouldn’t have gone and built it. (Would they?)
I’m just not quite convinced they’ve got it 100% right this time. I feel that using it would be a disturbing experience, not conducive to a sense of well-being. There are one or two things about this proposition that I would tweak. Just saying.
In case it’s not clear from the photograph, this is a small, locked hut which sits by the side of the main street of Holme-On-Spalding-Moor, which is one of the many small rural villages in the East Riding. As it happens, Holme-On-Spalding-Moor is a very nice example of the genre, and is well worth a visit if you happen to be passing. Sadly, my mental picture of it will from now on consist entirely of the building pictured above.
No-one is inside this locked hut. But outside it there is a sign:
It was the word “CitizenLink” that really caught my attention when I first drove past. The word “citizen” worries me far more than it should. It makes me think of “1984” and “V for Vendetta” – something I’ll happily admit is my own personal problem, rather than the world’s.
I’m aware that most people are unlikely to be all that freaked out by the simple inclusion of the word “citizen” in the context of a piece of Council signage. I get this; I really do.
However, I really don’t feel I’m going out on too much of a limb by taking a dislike to the notion of a “member of staff on screen”.
“Member of staff on screen.”
“MEMBER OF STAFF ON SCREEN.”
Let’s just all take a moment to contemplate that thought, shall we?
Okay, you’re right. I’m over-reacting here. (I’m blaming the word “citizen”. You know how some people run out of the room with their coat over their head if they hear the word “gusset”? Yeah? Yeah.) Our council are nothing like a Nineteen-Eighty -Four oligarchy. However cross it might make us when the bins aren’t collected on time, that’s really nothing like living under the ruthless pressure of a monolithic and oppressive regime. “1984” – while remaining a brilliant, powerful piece of writing – tells us more about the long shadow of Totalitarianism in the nineteen-forties than it does about the way we live now.
There’s nothing to be afraid of here.
Nothing at all. It’s all absolutely – holy shit, what’s that I can see through the doorway?
Is that – could that be – is it possible we’re looking at a telescreen?
In the interests of journalistic enquiry (and also because I had been hanging around and taking pictures for a good ten minutes, and the locals were starting to look at me funny) I thought this would be a good moment to conquer my fears, and try and access some council services via the CitizenLink.
This is how you get in:
At this point, I evolved an alternative explanation for the locked CitizenLink Hut. I admit Holme-On-Spalding-Moor is an unlikely choice for a Supervillain to base his lair in, but, you know, there are only so many inhabitable semi-dormant volcanoes to go around, right?
Reader, I pressed that button. I was fully prepared to go inside that Customer Service Centre. But instead of the door opening, all that happened was that an alarm went off. It was quite loud and frightening and it was coming from the intercom beneath the button. And by now, a couple of Holme-On-Spalding-Moor citizens (that word!) were quite openly watching me over their garden fence, in a way that was starting to make me think of the word “henchmen”. And I just couldn’t shake the conviction that if I stuck with the programme and went into the Customer Service Centre, I might get sucked down into a nightmarish underground complex of tunnels and shark-pools and bald men with grey suits and British accents, and I would never be seen ever, ever again.
So, yeah; I ran away. I’m not proud of this. But at least I’m still alive to tell the tale.
Independent of my frivolous fantasies, I have so many, many questions about this Customer Service Centre. Is this the only one of it, or are there more of them? Have any of them ever been used? Is there a special member of staff whose entire function is to sit in a locked room somewhere, waiting for The Call That Never Comes, or are East Riding staff members expected to fit in their remote-control-supervillain duties into their normal working day? And why is this one on the main street of Holme-On-Spalding-Moor?
Maybe there are some questions we’re just not meant to know the answers to.