Modern life on ancient streets

A few weeks ago, an armored truck parked on one of Launceston’s ancient streets to collect modern money from a store.

To someone born in Britain, Launceston’s streets might not seem ancient, just old. There’s so much older stuff around, it’s easy to get spoiled. Sure, they’re narrow and twisty, and the gatehouse from the old town walls is still standing. I can’t find a date for it, or for when the town walls were either built or torn down, so we’ll  have to settle for knowing that it’s old. The castle was built in 1070 and now a fixer-upper. The church dates to the sixteenth-century but has a tower from the fourteenth century.

But modern life has crept in around all that. Or marched in with hobnailed boots. New buildings have been added to the old, and the stores in old buildings have adapted them to modern uses. It’s easy to walk through and forget everything but the errands that brought you here: a stop at the chain stationery store, the bakery, the antique store (what’s more modern than an antique store?), even the lingerie shop if you have a lingerie kind of disposition.

On the day the armored truck parked, I wasn’t thinking about ancient streets but about the loaf of bread and two scones I was buying, but I gradually became aware of an un-ancient, automated kind of ruckus outside. Wild Thing had stayed outside with the dogs and by the time I joined her a crowd had gathered, not around her but around the armored truck, from which a flat, automated voice was repeating, on a loop, “Help. Help. G4S driver needs assistance. Call the police.”

No one was calling the police. It’s hard to get excited about a looped announcement saying, “Help. Help.” Whoever taped the announcement hadn’t managed to sound like she needed help. She wasn’t real and we all knew it.

Still, she might have done better if she hadn’t mentioned G4S, which is one of those outsourcing companies that does stuff governments no longer want to do themselves. Its focus is on security—something that’s subtly hinted at by its slogan, “Securing your world.” It’s best known for winning the security contract for the London Olympics and then failing to recruit enough staff. It had to be bailed out at the last minute by the army.

I shouldn’t laugh. I know I shouldn’t.

G4S also runs prisons (and “lost control” of one recently: translation, there was a riot), and they a similar company, Serco, had a contract to do electronic monitoring of convicted offenders. As the Telegraph put it, “anomalies were found in the data G4S handed over” to the government and the company had to pay back £109 million. It was all an oversight, I’m sure, and what’s £109 million between friends, but the Serious Fraud Office launched a criminal investigation. I haven’t heard that charges were filed.

What did those bland anomalies consist of? Among other things, they charged the government for monitoring people who either were back in prison or dead.

The dead are so easy to monitor. You can understand the temptation.

So, no, it’s not one of those companies people love, although I probably feel a bit more strongly about it than most of the people clustered around the back of the armored truck.

I asked Wild Thing what was going on and she told me the driver had locked himself inside, but the back door was now open and he was on stage. Which didn’t stop the tape from playing: “Help. Help. G4S driver requires assistance. Call the police.”

What G4S driver really required right then was a bit of privacy to pull himself back together, not to mention a way to stop the damn tape, but he wasn’t getting either of those things. The crowd lingered. And stared. And didn’t call the police. And he couldn’t close the door for fear of locking himself in again.

We left before the tape stopped. For all I know it played for the rest of the day and the driver’s still recovering.

The streets, however, remain as ancient as they were before he locked himself in.

And now a brief aside: When I was looking up dates for the various bits of the town, I consulted Wikipedia. It’s easy, it’s online, and it’s, um, often reliable.

At the end of the entry for Launceston, I found a list of notable residents: a poet, a New Wave guitarist, a sailor, an “antiquary and…oriental traveller,” and at the end of the list, “Emily Lovell, the biological and spiritual successor to Mao Zedong.”

The what?

The link from her name led to a Wikipedia entry on Maoism, where (surprise, surprise) no mention of ol’ Emily jumped out at me. Just to be thorough, I typed her name into Google, which offered to connect me to assorted Emily Lovells via LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, etc. They struck me as unsuitable hangouts for the biological and spiritual heir to Mao Zedong, so I skipped them.

I wonder if anyone else has noticed her at the end of the Launceston entry.

72 thoughts on “Modern life on ancient streets

  1. when you first said armored truck…I thought the army had rolled into town and there had been some sort of uprising I had not heard about…

    I read the rest before panicking though… :-D

    I looked at the end of the Notable residents list, Emily Lovells has been removed…

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Such an interesting scene on a regular day out. Those armoured trucks do sound rather ancient, and it reminded me of the idea of surveillance – like you never really know when these big vehicles come around until they come around. You never know you are being watched until you realise you are being watched. I hope the driver managed to pull hikmself together. The crowd must have gotten tired after a while.

    You really know who that Emily Lovell may be. You juts never know. Maybe she changed her name at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh dear. I’m not sure I understand — and I’m also not sure if my misunderstanding is a result of British subtlety vs. USian crassness, or simply my own innate perversion. Are you saying the driver locked himself inside his armored truck by accident and was embarrassed at the public revelation of his incompetence? Or that he shut himself in in order to have a bit of a private moment — say, the kind of moment requiring privacy both in the act and in the pulling-himself-together-after-the-act act — and that ~that~ public staging was the source of his embarrassment?

    Not that the two options are mutually exclusive, of course. A company that charges the government for its patriotic commitment to monitor that ‘yup! the dead have still not risen! and isn’t that a relief to know’ seems like just the sort of organization to have employees who find their own incompetence as good an excuse as any for a spot of pantsless fun while still on the clock.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Department of clarification: To the best of my knowledge, the G4S employee locked himself in by accident and had no fun in the process. Notice that’s to the best of my knowledge. I wasn’t in there with him and I guarantee that if I had been neither of us would’ve had any fun–at least, not that kind. Poor guy–with the job market what it is these days, it’s not his fault he works for an asshole of a corporation. But I do like your explanation for why the dead really do need monitoring.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel bad when poor slobs from companies that are so easy to not like, break down on the highway. They might as well put up a sign that says “No help needed.”

    On another angle, how do you pronounce “Launceston?” I’m playing with all the possibiliites, but I’m keenly aware that it could be something intuitive like “langs-ten” because I think spelling evolved in England well before people understood how the alphabet works.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This evokes Terry Gilliam’s Brazil – have you seen it? A surreal film noir, set in the future? the past?
    Great post – regarding Emily and Mao: sounds like someone is using Wikipedia the same way one would post adverts on the public washroom walls. Only classier.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you needed a secret way to get a message to someone, that might not be a bad way to do it–right out in public. There’s a story behind it. I only wish I could find out what it is.

      And yes, I have seen Brazil–it’s one of Wild Thing’s favorite movies.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sometimes, I am triggered by things I read into imagining a story to go along with it. Those two sentences got me: “The dead are so easy to monitor. You can understand the temptation.” There just has to be a goth stalker book somewhere in those twelve words.

    I’m thinking the main character–we’ll call her Char, but treat the ‘C’ like and ‘S’ just to complicate things–is a dark and dreary teenager who had discovered the local vampire cult and starts stalking them. Hilarious, if gory, hijinks ensue. Now all we need is a title…


  7. The kerfluffle in the USofA yesterday (there’s a new one today) was about voter fraud – apparently several million illegal immigrants AND DEAD PEOPLE voted in the past election. How ? I didn’t NOTICE any zombies when I voted, but I voted early at the Board of Elections, not on the actual day. And where I am supposed to vote, the Township Maintenance Building, IS in the township cemetery. So maybe that is a TRUE fact. Stay tuned.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sadly, no. My mobile phone is so old that it’s nothing but a phone. And Wild Thing’s is usually sitting somewhere back at the house. Or in her pocket but not charged.

      Even if I’d had a camera, I doubt I’d have used it. It wasn’t a particularly interesting shot, and it wasn’t until later that I thought about it as worth writing about.

      Okay, confession: I wasn’t at all sure it was worth writing about even when I wrote the post. But I needed a post and didn’t have anything else close at hand. It wasn’t until I found good ol’ Emily Whatsername at the end of the Wikipedia entry that I felt like I’d done a decent day’s work.


  8. I’d like to think that no one called the police because they could see the driver was alright and not because he worked for G4S. There’s a good chance he doesn’t work for them anymore, as he’ll have missed his other pickups and someone probably had to come out to help him in the end.

    Launceston is forever associated in my mind with queues of holiday traffic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The traffic sounds about right. Come off season.

      You’re probably right. I don’t blame the driver for what G4S did–he’s just somebody they pay too little to do too much. I suspect the reason nobody called the police, even when the door was still closed, is that nobody really believed there was a problem. You see an apparently empty van calling for help and you think, What???

      Liked by 1 person

      • I tried to visit Cornwall off season, but the hotels were closed. We went there for most of our summer holidays when I was a child and I’d love to see what it’s like in the winter, but that’s obviously just me.

        When I worked in retail we used to hear all the stories about the Securicor vans and guards being held up, so I like to think I would have called the police if the van had been calling for help.

        Liked by 1 person

        • If there’d been any sign of a real problem, I like to think someone would’ve called. But maybe I’m kidding myself.

          In the winter–well, I’m comparing it to Minnesota (I can’t help it), not to the rest of Britain, so it seems incredibly mild to me. Even when everyone (including me) complains about how cold it is. The first daffodils are in flower and have been for a few weeks. The primroses are in bloom. And so on and so forth. It rains a lot. The days are short. The wind blows. But it’s still gorgeous.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It’s the wind I want to see. Or rather its effects on the sea. I have been in Cornwall on stormy days, but I’d love to see a January storm. I live on the south coast, so we also do mild winters, although we don’t have daffs until February.

            Liked by 1 person

            • A few storms churn the sea into foam, so that it looks like it’s snowed. So yes, well worth seeing, although the occasional fool gets too close. How can an island nation raise people who don’t understand that waves can sweep them off the rocks?

              Liked by 1 person

  9. I was sure this was going to be a Children’s story: “The Day the Armoured Truck Fell Through Our Old Street.” What a pleasant surprise to find it a mild comeuppance parable (even though the ones needing comeuppance didn’t get any). Still it would have made fund reading if the recorded announcement came from a collapsed hole in the cobbles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somehow the CEOs are never the ones who end up locked in the back of the trucks. It’d be a better world if they were, I’m sure. Even if the trucks didn’t fall into holes in the streets.


  10. What fun to have these things happen in old villages, complete with robot voices! Sounds like a whacky film script. They must be well-connected if they’re still landing government contracts – maybe they could be recommended overseas to patrol ….the Wall when it’s finished?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Here’s a vehicle voice story, told to me by the Vet Nurse where I take my dog :
    She was filling up her car with petrol, alomgside a young man filling up his motorbike . Suddenly the bike voice shouted out – ‘Help ! I’m being I’m being stolen’. The young man, being British, was deeply embarrassed, stuttered, ‘it is my bike, honest.’ She laughed !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Help, I’ve been stolen? I’m damn near helpless with laughter. In fact, I just accidentally erased what I’d written because I was laughing too hard. I mean, who’s going to believe a bike?


  12. Now, I am stuck on Miss or Ms. Emily Lovell. How did Emily become the “spiritual” successor to Mao Zedong? This has intrigued me to no end. It reminds me of an Ionesco play where we are concerned with the ancient buildings and structure of an older English city and things are going well until some absurdity is thrown into the mix. I can always count on you, Ellen. You keep me on my toes. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I quite enjoyed this story. How ironic that I always select the one {to read} that ends up relating to something recent for me. This morning I heard a news story that an ATM service man was stuck inside the ATM and sent a handwritten note through the ATM to the next customer withdrawing money. Here’s ABC’s account of the events:

    Liked by 1 person

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