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The Asbo Show

by Tony Saint

Roger Merrion joined the Council Housing Department in the 1980s. He is thirty seven; presentable; medium height; thin nose; full mouth; he is married to a good wife and has likable and undemanding teenage children. But he is an insomniac and has a nagging ache in his shoulder. He could easily wangle a few days compassionate, but would rather just turn up at work. He regularly volunteers for newly set up sections of the council, such as Community Liaison, Poll Tax Defaulters and now the Antisocial Behaviour Unit, where there is little to do, less established red tape, and no previous example to outshine. The perception at the Town Hall is that Roger Merrion is, if nothing else, willing. ‘Like I’m the only one,’ muttered Roger, when he is chaffed on the subject by his friend and colleague of twenty years, Spence.

Spence (unmarried, dark and handsomish) wears a blue cotton shirt, navy blazer with silver buttons, well-pressed cream chinos and aftershave. He networks a thriving little business selling plant and equipment which is deemed (by him) to be surplus to council requirements. Roger, with the wife and kids to think of, looks the other way, out of the car window, vaguely aware as he drives through it, of the steady decline of the city.

Late one afternoon, bored as usual and in no hurry to go home, Roger volunteers to investigate a break-in at a derelict tower block central to The Composers, a notorious council estate. As he enters the hideous, depressing and vandalised empty building he is relieved to find that the utilities have not yet been disconnected, and he can switch on the lights in the halls and stairways. On the third floor Roger looks into a large room originally intended as a communal TV room and coffee bar. Now it is a communal tipping site, full of rubbish, discarded furniture, tumble-driers and supermarket trolleys. The outer wall comprises one giant sheet of reinforced glass, overlooking the area that a sanguine architect had designated as the piazza. The glass had been, at the time, a revolutionary design with a fibre matrix, inspired by anti-terrorist technology: Roger could peer out on the vistas beneath, but without being seen from below. Through it he idly watches the feral children bred of The Composers behaving badly. Amused, he sits down in an old armchair. As the evening darkens, older youths, whose rite of passage is an ASBO, come out to drink, fight, use drugs and fornicate, and set fire to rubbish, clothes and vehicles. Unaccountably soothed and entertained, Roger falls asleep. Nine hours later he wakes refreshed and ready for the day ahead. He returns regularly, and soon brings along his toothbrush and a change of clothes. Reluctantly, he invites Spence into his haven of peace and recreation. Spence, busy putting the finishing touches to the private sale of geraniums surplus to the City in Bloom stock, is at first sceptical, but is soon fired up by the commercial possibilities of the situation. He drives his old Mercedes into the piazza, rings up on his mobile to report it stolen, and gleefully watches through the third floor window as it is trashed and then torched by the residents of Elgar Close and Bax Villas, and so the Asbo Show is born.

From then on Spence enthusiastically applies his genius for business organisation to what was to become a very nice little earner indeed.

Saint has written a brilliant satire that spares no one. Funny though it is, underlying it all is his unspoken concern for the tenants of a council estate far gone in dissolution and debauchery. Knowing themselves friendless and referred to as scum and chavs and scum of the earth, they have arrogated to themselves the freedom and the savagery of the jungle.

THE ASBO SHOW scythes through the smug pretensions of our dysfunctional welfare state. As the feral children of Bax Villas and Goossens grow up and acquire more sophisticated toys, our arsenists and terrorists may well be homebred ASBOS from The Composers council estate.

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