Setting a low benchmark

Setting a low benchmark

By Andrew Mosley | 09/04/2021

Setting a low benchmark


THE status of street furniture has plummeted in recent years.

A bench, perhaps with the name of a lost loved one engraved on an attached plaque, used to be a pleasant addition to a town centre. Likewise a green space, a bandstand in a park or a shelter.

They were places where nice things happened: you could sit down, take a rest, have a drink, enjoy a picnic, spend an afternoon in the sun or listen to some music while taking a walk.

Over the years though, like a canalside stroll, they have lost their appeal.

Nothing good is likely to come from having a breather on a town centre bench these days.

If you happen to do so alone, like attempting a solo venture into a pub without reading material to hand, you are unlikely to be without “friend” for more than a few seconds, usually the sort who will be asking you for a contribution to their bus fair home, even though they don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Benches attract groups of people, usually with cans of beer and seemingly always on the verge of an argument or drug deal. Whenever an incident is reported the first call for police must be: “All units alert, search every bench in the borough.”

Bandstands, far from now offering possible venues for local brass outfits to extract sounds from their gleaming array of instruments, are simply convenient places for gangs to gather and drink of an evening.

A walk by the canal would, years ago, have offered a pleasant opportunity to observe water-based activities, spot wildlife and hide when someone needed a hand at a lock. At school I once did a 21-mile sponsored walk (I don’t like to talk about my charity work such as the 24-hour badminton match for Ethiopia or... you get the picture) along the Leeds-Liverpool, but a recent hike to Sheffield, instead of offering various fish, birds and plants, merely put me in close proximity to a bloke suspiciously shaving his head under a bridge and a couple attempting to dredge something extremely heavy from the water. Something or someone only they knew was there, I would imagine.

Bus and park shelters are among the catalogue of formerly pleasant objects to avoid, a list that contains largely positive memories for me, especially sitting on a bench on moorland walks with my grandad overlooking the wonderful Aire Valley with, crucially, enough of a view to spot an unwelcome approach from anyone  and leave before they ruined the moment.

Remain still for a few seconds these days and you are a sitting target for someone; not necessarily out to do you any harm, but possibly wandering alone in the hope of “collaring” someone for a natter for a half hour you haven’t got to spare.

Are there modern versions of these things that young people will remember as formerly pleasant distractions in years to come?

Perhaps shouting at those digital advertisements on which you appear to be able to charge your phone will soon have had its day and be regarded as somewhat passé.