Ken’s EDP column for 9 October 2008
I like the movies, but driving past the Norwich Guildhall taxi rank on my way to St Andrew’s car park and nearby Cinema City I glanced the few yards down to City Hall with the Bethel Street police station just beyond, and couldn’t help wondering how often councillors and coppers go to the pictures.
Unless they’ve spent the last 25 years on Mars, who hasn’t seen the film that fathered what tinsel town calls the summer blockbuster? Even those who didn’t catch Jaws on its release in 1975 surely cannot have missed one of countless re-runs.
For the benefit of civic leaders and senior policemen who don’t get out much or are too busy civic leading or senior policing to watch much tv, here’s the gist of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel inspired by shark attacks off the shores of New Jersey in 1916.
Beachgoers enjoying sand, sea and swimming at the fictional summer resort of Amity Island are threatened by a great white shark.
Police Chief Brody tries to protect the holidaymakers by closing the beach, only to be overruled by Mayor Vaughn and his town council who want it to remain open to ensure Amity makes its usual profits from the summer tourists.
Old-fashioned fiction like this usually has an evil presence, a goody fighting against it and a baddie – whether selfishly, inadvertently or with the best of misplaced intentions – ignoring or condoning it.
If only we were dealing with the frivolities of old-fashioned fiction rather that the awful reality of the cold bloodied pavement outside Norwich’s one time court and gaol.
Let alone a reality in which officialdom, including our police chief, appears to be queuing up to tell us everything is alright.
The environs of this once proud landmark, the largest medieval city hall “having no real parallel in England”, now bear the permanent and indelible stain of Frank McGarahan’s killing.
History should mark and remember “this tragedy, a vicious wicked murder” on the streets of our city and the irony that it took place next to where the protestant martyr Thomas Bilney was held before being burned as a heretic nearly 500 years ago. We haven’t come far.
So, sorry Det Supt Chris Hobley, it’s simply not good enough to tell us that Norwich is “generally a safe place” nor that “there were patrols across the city centre on the night in question” nor that “the Guildhall area is not traditionally a flashpoint”, nor that “we work very closely with the licensed premises to ensure that the public have a safe evening out in Norwich”.
Frank McGarahan didn’t have a safe evening out. And some of your friendly licensed premises slosh happy hour spirits into the brain dead and morally bankrupt, and push sugar coated alcopops down the throats of underage drinkers like the 14 year old girl being treated in the SOS bus last Saturday night.
I have no answers to any of this; I’ll neither pray for the souls of the perpetrators nor condemn them to the gallows, but like all right thinking people I am deeply perturbed by the events of the night of the 27 and 28 of September.
I think I do know this; it must not be denied nor glossed over so the city can somehow appear cleansed. Even to brand those early Sunday morning hours as Norwich’s night of shame is too hopeful an intimation because it suggests an incident in isolation. It belittles the trauma of the taxi driver set upon for seeking his rightful six pounds fare and the young man gratuitously punched in the face for doing a thug the kindness of responding to a feigned request to tell him the time.
It makes me sad and it makes me sick but I’m more inclined to believe the Norwich security company executive’s: “This kind of thing happens every day of the week.”
Seeking solace in the idea that our city is safer than your city because we only have one murder to your two is to play further into the hands of complacency.
As is harbouring any hope that youth role models from the worlds of wags, fashion models, fogeys and footballers will suddenly desist from reeling, fists flailing, legless and blinded by tungsten flashes onto the covers of a million tacky magazines.
Or believing, as Jon Thaxton said when it was revealed that the two men now facing murder charges had once “had the schoolboy boxing world at their feet”, that “boxing has nothing to do with fighting in the street”. I boxed at school. It teaches you to hurt people and it teaches you what it feels like to knock someone senseless, and that can have everything to do with fighting in the street.
Meanwhile, in another perfectly decent city whose football team we happened to play last Saturday, shoppers goaded a disturbed young man to his suicide. To their jeers, he jumped from a multi-storey car park. They took photos of it all on their mobile phones.
I don’t know where we’re going. Perhaps to the segregated world of a song called Another quiet night in England. Where decent folk are all in their beds; You wake to the smell of burning tyres; Sirens wail and the street’s on fire; And another headline hits the presses; The truth runs in, the news creeps out; People stare if you scream and shout; And another quiet night goes by.