“This is a trend that has been on the increase for years,” said Olivia Bassett, prior to her rise to the Home Office during the PiP’s election win. “Young men turning towards criminal activity to get their kicks. Seeing death, and destruction, and the perversion of the very rules of our society as the latest high. They are thugs and ruffians, every one, and they will be stamped out underneath the boot of justice if I have anything to say about it!”
The crowd went wild, clapping and honking like a thousand dumb, trained seals. I remember one young man, dressed like he was a fifty year-old Geography teacher, telling me afterwards, “This lot seem like the real deal. I think they’re going to do some good for this country.”
“Don’t you think that her attitude is going to make things worse? After all, people don’t like being stood on – literally, or figuratively.”
“Well, I don’t like that violent gangster rap stuff they listen to, so something has got to give, and I think it should be them. It’s just not civilised.”
I neglected to point out that intolerance tends to be frowned upon, especially when it is a white, middle-class male pretending to be sophisticated and modern by criticising a largely black musical movement as being incendiary and involved in organised crime.
A year later, though, I was reminded of that exchange. I had arrived at Harley High School two days after the infamous shooting that left seven pupils and three members of staff dead. The two young men responsible had then shot themselves, leaving their exact motivations a mystery.
In the wake of any tragedy there is always finger pointing, and the unnecessary application of Occam’s Razor to explain events: the simplest, often stupidest, explanation immediately becomes the story of the day, and anyone who disagrees with it is obviously immoral and stupid. The reason for this is that stupid people tend to make people with rational arguments angry, and when you have a calm idiot spouting sensible twaddle, and an angry intellectual screaming fiery facts, all too often the one pulling his or her hair out seems like the one you should ignore.
As a consequence of the Occam’s Razor approach, this became a story about youth gone feral with guns. It was linked to gangster rap, video games, heavy metal, the laughably titled “meow-meow”, long coats, hooded coats, benefit cheats, petty criminals, and, of course, the party that was previously in power.
Olivia Bassett appealed to the baser instincts of the general public by repeating her “zero tolerance” policies again and again, with a righteous fury that opposed the idea that these young whipper-snappers could represent that she was in some way not doing her job. She appeared on the Beeb, spittle flying from her mouth, and a blazing fire flickering beneath those dull, deadly eyes. There was only one word to describe her: rabid.
Her response was to spend the year between then and now doing everything she could to ensure this never happened again. Unfortunately, given that most members of the PiP are no longer just trying to mimic a bulldog in spirit, but also in intelligence and looks, most of her initiatives were reactionary and made the problem worse.
Police were handed curfew powers for anyone under eighteen, leading to a number of youngsters being arrested for leaving their part-time jobs a little later. A number of computer games were banned for encouraging civil disobedience, resulting in the closure of two major UK exporters, whilst several games, far more violent, were left on the shelves because the army had been involved in their creation, and the army’s motives are beyond reproach. The worst law, however, was the one that brought metal detectors into our education system.
There are a large number of people in this world who believe that one life saved is worth violating every civil liberty that we have. I call these people “belms”, and when I say the word I insinuate, through the way I pronounce the word, that they have some severe mental difficulties that, far from not being their fault, are entirely of their own making, and therefore they deserve to be mocked.
The reason for this is that for every life saved by these metal detectors, we have an entire generation being trained to feel criminalised and under constant surveillance. What is the point of a life saved where you have no right to privacy? One young woman, aged sixteen, with a week to go in high school, was found with a sex toy in her bag that set off an alarm because she panicked, and thought she might be able to get away with sneaking it into school. She worried about leaving it at home in case her mother found it, and, instead, an insensitive security guard exposed her to all her classmates.
No one followed up on that story, but one quick phone call confirmed that the girl is now on anti-depressants because of the abuse she received, and her relationship with her mother has been permanently damaged.
The security companies have, of course, cleaned up in this environment. Supposedly, they make people feel safe, but lets be honest here for a second: How many people really feel safer knowing that there is security, or even police, there? Surely having them there is just a symptom of how unsafe, how insecure, we feel? Many of them create an environment of intimidation and resentment, and only act after something has gone very wrong. In a very real sense, they are becoming increasingly like jailers, keeping us locked in our little suburban cells, away from those who rightly deserve to suffer our ire.
In that environment, they create a consequence-free culture for those in power, and the more vindictive, sociopathic authority figures exploit this to the full.
But we can never argue with these measures, because being smothered in cotton wool is always better than a few isolated incidents of extreme violence, because outrage is so chic, and because we all want to pretend that the world is neat and ordered and that we haven’t been manipulated into a mob mentality during our shock at these horrific events.
Of course, that does beg the question:
Who is worse, the person who commits the crime, or the person who takes advantage of it?
The room is cool when I arrive, and bathed in shadow. The sun has migrated to the other side of the hospital. It’s a bland looking place to be, with blank beige walls disturbed only be a solitary mirror. There is a young woman in a bed, sipping some water through a straw. She’s dressed in pink silk pyjamas, and her hair is a mess.
“You don’t have a photographer with you?” she asks.
“Not usually,” I reply.
Phew. She breathes a sigh of relief.
“Harlan Thoroughgood,” I say, offering my hand.
“Tricia Polliver,” she replies, shaking it.
I sit down next to her bed. “You seem to be recovering well.”
“I guess I do. My arms still ache, though. And it’s still hard to walk.”
“It must beat wasting away.”
“Ha! Yeh. It beats that.”
There was a pause, then, and I poured myself some water, and took a drink.
“Anyway…” she begins. “You came to see me when I was in the coma?”
“It’s part of what I do,” I lied. I had no reason to go and see her when she was in the coma. I just did because it seemed like nobody else cared that she was in a coma.
“They said that a few others did, but only after you had written about it.”
I sighed. “Most people in my profession can be heartless, but that is part of the profession. I do try and keep some perspective, though.”
“I read some of your columns,” she says.
“I hate it when people say that. I always try and write what people actually said, and it comes across as shameless self-promotion when I include that people said that.”
“But I did,” she insisted. “I liked them, too.”
“This is your column, though. The one about you.”
“What are you going to call it?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“How about, The Forgotten Victim: A Survivor’s Story?”
“That sounds like a bad TV movie.”
“Cheeky,” she said, but she smiled. “I take it the story wont be all about me?”
“Its about how we get so wrapped up in reacting to things, we forget about common sense.”
“I’ve never liked the term “common sense”. It seems so… pedestrian? Is that the word I want to use?”
“Sense is sense, but we’ve been tricked into thinking that the word common means something lesser. Everyone wants to be special, to be unique, these days.”
“What else is there?”
“Contentment. Being happy with what you have, and who you are.”
“Hmm. So… what’s your first question?”
“What is it like, being shot?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Well, I remember fragments, images, sounds… But everything else seems to have faded. I banged my head when they shot me, and I think that may have had something to do with it.”
“What did you see, or hear?”
“I heard a crack, a gunshot, and I didn’t realise I’d been shot, and a few moments later I kind of crumpled to the floor. I’d turned a bit, and I could see them, but they kind of got a bit blurry. But they’d moved on by then, so I just led there until someone, I assume, found me breathing.”
“Did you have a near death experience?”
“Yes. My great grandfather flew down on angels wings and told me it wasn’t my time yet.”
“That didn’t happen.”
“I think I just blanked out. I remember seeing something to do with In the Night Garden, but I was probably dreaming or something.”
“Was there any warning that they were going to do something like this that you were aware of?”
“Honestly, no. They were just two guys. I didn’t hang out with them or anything. There are always a few who slip between the cracks, aren’t there?”
“Why do you think they did it?”
“My friend Lisa, who visited the other day, says that they wanted to be famous or something, but that doesn’t seem right to me. I mean, there have been quite a few of these shootings, but it isn’t like everyone has the names of the killers etched into their brain. Unless they added it to the National Curriculum whilst I was out?”
“No, they actually ruined the National Curriculum without doing that.”
“Anyway, why do I think they did it? They probably saw no reason not to do it. Maybe it’s that simple. Or maybe it is more complicated. Maybe they wanted to die, and decided to take people with them, or get revenge for some perceived slight and they didn’t realise they would have no way out themselves. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter to me, now. Its not like they can really stop bad thing from happening with, I don’t know, blanket laws, is it?”
“That’s certainly how I feel. Laws against blankets are stupid.”
She grinned at that.
“You know how I really feel?” she said. “I feel a bit sorry for them. Not as much as I feel sorry for all those who were killed by them, but sometimes the perpetrators are just as much victims as everyone else is. I mean, what led them to this stupid end? What made them think that their lives, and the lives of other people, meant so little? Maybe that is the real reason. You don’t tend to murder people you value, do you? Not unless your cracked. I don’t know.”
“Have you seen what has been done in your name by the government?”
She pauses. “Yes. I have.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Viva la revolution? Ha!” she laughes. “Seriously, it makes me a little sick that they have presumed that any of us would want to see things like this happen. I’ve never met any of these people, and they keep saying they are doing it in the memory of the victims? I’m one of the victims, and there is no way that those who committed the crime can do this ever again, given that they’re dead.”
“But what if someone else were to do it?”
“How do you stop hypothetical people?”
I smiled. “The hypothetical people are pretty dangerous. You never know where they are going to turn up, or who they will support next.”
“Honestly,” she began, “I can’t see how they can stop things like this happening. Ban guns, and a lunatic will bring a knife. Ban knives, and he’ll use a chair. Ban chairs, and he’ll smother people with beanbags. Then you have nowhere to sit, and nothing to use to cut your food with at lunch-time.”
Morgan’s note: Two days after this column was printed, Angela Bassett contacted Tricia about meeting her to discuss what had happened to her, and any concerns she had about what had been done. Tricia’s response is not appropriate for print.