IF YOU live in the same place for more than 20 years, you start noticing things. You find yourself thinking things like-Didn't that used to be a school? Wasn't that a park? I've lived in the London borough of Hackney for nearly 30 years so I have a sense of things changing.
What triggered off these thoughts was hearing Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Testing and Top-up Fees, complaining. His original thought (plucked from the pages of the Daily Mail) is that we're turning into compensation junkies.
People are all rushing to lawyers when doctors screw up. He says this is crippling the NHS and I suppose soon we'll be hearing hard luck stories about poor old British big business is being brought to its knees. I don't suppose Charles Clarke gives a damn about the matter but his speech kept Iraq off the front pages.
Even so, I got to thinking about what he said as I walked about Hackney. In the 1970s the bureaucrats who were running our state-owned railways decided that we didn't need a railway line. They produced documents proving that there just wasn't the demand. Oh well, people thought, fair enough. You can't expect a railway to run if there's no one on it.
Some local nasty anti-capitalists suspected big business was involved. Could that be possible? Well, what do you know, the first thing that the railway people did was flog off the land at the City end of the railway line.
That's the City of London, right? At a giveaway price, it went to a development company who created what is now the Broadgate centre, a fairly ghastly set of offices with a few shops thrown in. They pulled up the rest of the tracks and so it has stayed ever since. Well, not quite. For the last ten years a scheme has tried, unsuccessfully, to reopen most of the line.
The proposal is now sitting on that mysterious table called PFI or PPP, where, as Gordon Brown tells us, jolly fat capitalists sit with jolly New Labour bureaucrats discussing how our lives can be made better. At the moment the table thinks it won't be able to get us to spend enough money travelling on the railway to enable the jolly fat capitalists, poor dears, to keep up their standard of living.
In all this long saga, no one mentions the ghosts-the people who sat down in the 1970s and closed the line in the first place. But, of course they're not the only ghosts around.
There are the hundreds of others who wrote the documents to 'prove' that our houses had to be pulled down, estates built, and then turn up 30 years later with more documents to 'prove' that those new estates have to be pulled down too and another one built.
There are the ghosts who've produced the documents that 'proved' why for the last 30 years our hospitals and schools had to be flogged off to developers and estate agents and then more documents on why 'we' can't afford new ones or why we need PFI capitalists to build new ones that we don't control.
All over the country it's been a filthy story of Old and New Labour easing the way for bankers and businessmen to profit from our needs for health, education and transport.
Compensation culture? I don't see it here. I don't see us being compensated for what's been taken from us or for what's foisted on to us-not until we have a system that puts our needs before their profits.