The evening after a wedding a few weeks ago, I was sitting against a wall outside a block of flats reading my book. Alex wasn’t in and wasn’t answering his phone. It was about 8:30pm. My book kept thoughts of the cold away and despite a lingering hangover, I was fairly content.
A young lad in a football shirt walked round the corner and past me, holding onto the hand of his grandfather. Grandfather was stumbling somewhat, trying to keep up with his grandson’s pace. I thought he looked pretty pissed. It was late on a warm Sunday so it wasn’t out of any bounds. The grandson seemed to confirm this by asking his bald relative if he was ok. They streamed on, across the road and away and I went back to my book.
Five minutes later, grandfather returned, heading back the same way. He was still stumbling and looked in danger of falling without the counterweight of his grandson. After just missing a car, he staggered, tripped and face-planted into the pavement about 20 metres away from me. The same moment, a twenty-something blonde girl walked past him without glancing at the sprawlled figure on the corner in front of her.
I watched for 5-7 seconds to see if the man would get up. He didn’t move at all, hands still splayed but too late to save his face. I got up, put my book in my bag secured that my laptop was out of sight and jogged over at the same time as an South Asian guy came out of his garden. We rolled the man over. His nose was broken along with his glasses and a stream of blood poured over his chin onto his shirt and the pavement.
I talked to the guy while the Asian guy called an ambulance. He was disorientated, confused and drunk. Deep drunk and unable to respond or put his thoughts together. The Asian man passed me the phone to talk to the emergency services. I explained the situation and asked for an ambulance. There seemed a oxymoronic casualness and reticence from the operator. I re-affirmed the details again and becoming irritated said “Look there is a pool of blood on the pavement. Send an ambulance.” I waited for the ambulance to come, supporting the old man with the Asian man and then left the crew to it. I had my bag and laptop to think about.
Social capital is the stock of trust and mutual concern or responsibility a society or culture has. Abandoning a man bleeding on the pavement after a clear injury is a more common sight these days. The capitalist economics of the 1980s introduced it but the concern for myself only has become near institutionalised in the UK these days. Britain was always a private culture, rimming their gardens with 6-foot hedges. The so-called ‘an Englishman’s house is his castle.’
Poor government, a national sense of drift, a unjustified rise in the fear of crime, consumerism, materialism and corruption all makes us put the shutters up to the rest of the world and its needs. But unless there is a great wish for society as a whole to work rather than work for you, social capital will continue to diminish. After all, why step across the road to help someone else when you think you might lose your bag doing it.