I took it all in. The general air of decay and dilapidation. The boarded up shop-fronts. The bus shelters smelling of urine and covered with obscene graffiti. The discarded cans of Tennents Extra littering the pavements. The hard and incurious faces of the women on their way back from the shopping mall. Talking away, pushing buggies with ignored-looking toddlers strapped inside. I took in the nuance and tone of their voices which was sharp and overpoweringly judgemental as they swapped stories of who had done what, and with who.
Looking down a side-street I noticed some activity. A group of people in tee-shirts with very short hair-cuts. My interest was immediately kindled – was this some new youth cult? I switched on my Dictaphone and checked the mike concealed under the lapel of my jacket. As I walked down the side-street towards them I tried to read the subtle semiotics encoded in their appearance. What was their socio-economic background? Were they political? Quasi-political? Crypto-political?
As I got closer I could make out what their activity was centred on. They were taking it in turns to batter something, kicking it with their boots and striking it with lengths of steel piping. It was made of metal and glass with plastic wiring strewn around it. A telephone box? What was the significance of their behaviour I wondered. Was it some form of status frustration? I made a few observations under my breath for the mike. When I got closer it became apparent that they were all surprisingly old. Most were obviously middle-aged and others were even older. Past retirement age probably.
“Alright fellas” I said.
“Whad’ya want, spunk-breath?” answered one of them, squaring up with me and staring me right in the eyes. There was no escaping the aggression.
The rest of the group sniggered and chortled at this jibe.
“I’d just like to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind.” I kept the tone of my voice even, unflustered.
“What sort of fucking questions?” the same bloke was talking. Probably the leader, I thought. He was tall and thin with a gaunt, shrewd face. Grey stubble and yellow teeth.
“Sort of a survey,” I explained. “I’m an independent researcher.”
The response was unequivocal. “Fuck off” the gaunt guy sneered. He turned his back on me and resumed kicking at the tangle of metal and plastic on the ground. The others slowly followed suit, some laughing, some swearing.
No sense in pushing it, I thought to myself as I left them at it. Even a limited response such as this meant something.