2012 has been a hyperbolic year for Britain, yet is has been a dispiriting year for me. 2012 is the year we had to start locking our house. For anyone who doesn’t live in a remote town with the lowest crime rate in Scotland this must sound laughably quaint. But until this year my family and almost all our neighbours have been able to leave our house unlocked even when we went out for the day. But this year, I had my bike stolen from outside my front door. Luckily, a friend lent me theirs, but now I’ve had to invest in a bike lock. This makes me feel ridiculously cosmopolitan because nine times out of ten when I want to use it I end up scrabbling around in a howling gale trying to find a bit of fencing that isn’t electric and I can safely lock my bike to. It irritates me beyond measure that we live in a society where it is your own fault if your property is stolen because you were sufficiently naïve to believe nobody would have the selfishness to breach your trust.
Having been carried away by the uncharacteristically demonstrative gaudiness that was the Jubilee and the Olympics, ‘real life’ is now making it increasingly difficult to retain the buoyant patriotism and sense of solidarity with my common Britons. Yet I am battling desperately to try and rise above my personal disappointment and maintain the sense of optimism just weeks ago.
The British media are my main opponent at the moment. Recently I heard an interview with a lady who had temporarily banned all negative comment in her household, as a sort of mental cleansing. Notably, she said that during this time they had no exposure to the media, who seem to get a kick out of hardship. Admittedly, it’s not entirely their fault; there does seem to be a vast amount of shockingly depressing news at the moment. In our society we have simply become resigned to negativity: I don’t think we are working hard enough to make the perpetrators of crimes understand just exactly why their actions are considered as unfair.
However, the media do seem to try and find the most negative light they can present a story in order to attract the most voyeuristic interest from us. Recently I heard interviews with the founders of what I think are two really exciting websites: vayable.com and pleasebringme.com. Vayable.com is a directory of exclusive unconventional tours led by local guides. Tourists get to experience the ‘true’ culture of Paris, Rome or Islamabad. One of the most popular tours takes in San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin district, led by a homeless man who lives in the area. Pleasebringme.com is the means by which I intend to keep myself well stocked in Tunnock’s Tea Cakes during my year abroad. It’s exactly what travellers have needed for generations, and the internet has finally made it possible. Users of the site sign up as either travellers or locals. Say you’ve been on one of vayable.com’s culinary tours of New York and have become addicted to a certain brand of bagel that’s only available in the US. Trouble is, you live in Nepal. Worry not, travellers: just post a request on pleasebringme.com and hopefully a New Yorker who just happens to be passing through your home town will drop of a caseload of your favourite bagels. Panic over. Both of these businesses rely on a combination of trust and what pleasebringme.com’s founder describes as common sense.
I was taken aback by the suspicion with which both entrepreneurs were treated by their respective interviewers. Both were expected to effectively carry out an on-air risk assessment form. The risks they discussed simply hadn’t occurred to me prior to the interviewers’ insistence on them and despite having wanted to try both the services offered at the start of the interviews, by the end of both I had serious misgivings. I wondered incredulously how anyone could think these kinds of projects were safe. I realise that this is exactly how people must have felt at the start of this article when I bemoaned the theft of my unlocked bike.
Trust doesn’t seem to be terribly fashionable at the moment: from politicians and ‘boosting’ paralympians to people who exploit self-service check outs or disregard speed limits, we all seem fairly relaxed about breaching the trust the state puts in us to obey laws. Much more worryingly, fewer and fewer people seem to value the trust of the rest of their community. I don’t want to live in a society where trustworthiness is a quality possessed only by a small number of citizens. Perhaps we need to take the risk with companies like vayable.com to prove that the vigilantism of untrustworthy people will not prevent us from believing in how our society should be structured. Now, if somebody could just fund a flight to San Francisco so I can go on their tour of the Tenderloin, I could prove my point through my actions.