Here’s a lockdown story:

The beer-bug curtailed my playing this year, but I thought I’d enquire if I would be allowed to busk over the Christmas holidays – better to check in advance than get an on-the-spot mid-tune fine from some twat in a hi-viz. After four weeks of emails and unanswered phone calls, I finally got a call from a clerk of some sort. Yes, I could play, he said, but I must not cause anyone to pause to listen. No one must approach me. If I caused any sort of reaction or hold-up I must cease playing and go home. Otherwise they would take action to stop me. “You manage it,” he told me, “Or we will.”

Despite my friendly phone manner, the man had a flat tone that did not budge during our three or four minute conversation. There was no smile in his voice. He did not deviate from his message. There was no humanity or warmth in his words. Zero connection. Which is ironic as he is an employee of the ‘community-facing’ branch of the council.

He did not seem to grasp that this was Christmas, that I’d be playing carols on my saxophone for people who might be shopping or visiting the cathedral. I was just a regulation to be adhered to. A rule-set to be enforced.

This is how a Stasi begins. Incrementally, by rigid people who follow orders.

There are many worse examples than this, of the breakdown in trust between ordinary people and the rulingĀ clerisy. He wasn’t unpleasant or dictatorial. He didn’t close down my business or fine me ten thousand pounds or put me in jail for congregating. He wasn’t even irritated. He simply didn’t recognise me as a living, sentient human being. I was merely a task to be completed. A directive to be enforced.

This, also, is how revolutions begin.