Our boiler broke temporarily this morning, so, whilst I was waiting for the water to heat up for a bath, I watched a very trashy programme called Council House Crackdown, which followed members of the council as they removed people from council houses which they weren't entitled to, usually because the lawful tenant was subletting the house whilst living the life of Riley elsewhere. The presenters use highly incendiary language like "scammer" and "cheat" in the same way that, thirty years, ago they'd have used words like "pervert" to describe people like me. To validate their hard-core views, the presenters take pains to describe themselves at the start of the show as having been bought up on council estates. There is, of course, no-one less understanding of poor people than a poor person made good.
Much was made of the fact that the tenant of one such property was a "former pop star" who'd faked identity papers so that he could continue to live in a council house he wasn't meant to be in. I think we were all meant to cheer as the bloke was carted off to the police station and the voice over announced that the flat he was in had now been let to someone on the council waiting list. A triumph of the deserving over the undeserving.
But what happened to this former pop star? Where did he end up? Of course the BBC couldn't wait to name and shame him as a chap called Daniel Boone who'd had a "hit" record in 1972 called Beautiful Sunday. They didn't give any more details. It was plainly enough for viewers to know that he was a "pop star", and therefore probably extremely wealthy, spending all his money on drugs, and all the other clichés these low-rent exposé TV shows like to allow us to assume. I did a little digging to discover that Beautiful Sunday was actually a one-hit wonder which reached number 21 in the charts. If Boone himself didn't write the song, it's unlikely any money he made from his brief pop career would have got him to the end of 1972, and even if he wrote the song, it certainly won't have made him rich.
My immediate response was to think how awful it must be to have had a degree of fame in your prime, but to be forced, as an old man, to scam yourself into a council house, and then appear as a pariah on national telly. No one on the show reported what had happened to him after he was slung out of the flat he'd lived in for years. No one thought to discuss the fact that, since the 1980s, when the government sold off much of the council housing stock and didn't reinvest the money in new properties, there is a woeful lack of council housing, which leads people into doing ridiculously desperate things to live in one.
I'm pretty certain that some of the people rolling their eyes and tutting at the telly screen this morning will have been from the very generation who benefited enormously from an era where council houses were available for pretty much anyone on a lowish income. My parents had a council house for a few years after they got married. It gave them a buffer zone which enabled them to set themselves up before buying a house. That, of course, was in the day when the vast majority of people could actually afford to buy a house! These days very few of us can, but do we get to live in council houses whilst we save up for our deposits? No. We cripple ourselves paying ludicrous rents and die inside when people over the age of 50 remind us how much money they made out of property!
Sometimes I think we're so fast to judge people - and so quick to jump to mock moral outrage - that we forget that the majority of us are struggling to get by in life and that, from time to time, it's good to try to understand. The "I'm alright, Jack," mentality really naffs me off because, one day, you might not be alright. You might go bust. You might have an accident. You might be shammed by an unscrupulous trickster and then the world might turn its back on you. I am reminded of the gravestone quote, which I found in Highgate cemetery: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
I shall not be watching that dreadful show again.