Friday, September 22, 2006

Watch it!

The UK has the distinction of having the thickest concentration of CCTVs of any country on earth. This is because it has (a) a thriving yob culture, with graffiti and vandalism and (b) because whoever's installing all these cameras seems to be able to get away with it. Rarely do you hear an outcry about invasion of privacy--it's all accepted as part of the 21st century landscape.

The first thirty years of my childhood were spent in England. I would not wish to return to live there, but it has left its share of memories--most connected with people long dead. Whoever said, "You can never go back" was right on; you can replay the reel only in your head. For this reason I sometimes get a little impatient with expats hankering for their native land, the simple reason being that it's not there any more.

All those CCTVs do have a function: some are accessible as webcams offering a mini-tour of my old haunts. From time to time I'll access a corner of the street where I lived as a child. The corner store and the red mailbox have gone, and traffic lights have sprouted up to control the burgeoning flow of cars. Today a lone pedestrian climbs the hill, unaware, of course, that he's being idly followed from across the Atlantic. You don't see many pedestrians these days--everyone's in cars.

I love Google's satellite feature, too. Zooming in on my home town, I'm uneasy at what's been demolished to wedge more and more little houses in. The big old 18th-century house my godfather lived in, with its rambling gardens, wide lawns, and flowerbeds that tipsy revellers would drive over after Christmas parties (that was another era) has vanished. I can still recall the thrill of learning to ride a bicycle on the grass there, of wobbling along and finally mastering it. Now there are seventeen little townhouses where it used to be, all with paved parking spaces; there are no lawns. It reminds me of Dr. Zhivago, where the hero returns after the Russian revolution to find his house occupied by another four families.

Ain't technology great?

If you want to cruise the webcams of the British Isles, a good place to start is the BBC:

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