Spartacus in Darlo

November 18, 2012

It looked like another pizza advert, half-pushed through the door.

It was no surprise. Most days, living as I do in the takeaway zone of Darlington, there is a glossy flier poking through the letter-box: Chinese, Indian, but mainly pizza. Sometimes they go straight to the bin. Sometimes, because I’m one of those troubled people who cannot pass print without reading it, I have a gander at the contents. A quick one. Oddly, however, I could see no obvious reference to food. I was surprised, therefore, to see that I was in fact being invited, the festive season being almost about to wash over us, like effluent, to buy into a new scheme. In fact, into private policing. Here’s part of the cover:

Happy Christmas!

Yes, if I wanted guys in berets and bulletproof vests to be the ‘eyes and ears of the streets’, to ‘detain trespassers’, and to ‘enhance resident’s [sic] peace of mind’, I could get all this for £15. I am not quite sure whether the detention of trespassers is legal, but most things are. I wondered what they did. Came in and restrained your trespasser, and phoned the, er, police, I assume. A later part of the glossy leaflet does say they are in communication with the police, who possibly envy their thermal imaging, and training in Conflict Management.

Still, wondering vaguely why they had gone for the lean, mean, rather puritanical Greek state of Sparta for their inspiration (why not the less cerebral Visigoths or the Vikings?), I spotted an insert slipping to the floor. This was something else again. It was a bargain offer from Sparta, and here it is:

‘Commander of Darlington’

I don’t quite know how successful this is going to be. If there really is a man dressed up as a Roman centurion, all beefcake and slightly dicey padding, I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to go up to him and say ‘Spartacus Domesticus Protecticus’, in the hope that he will hand out a discount card. For one thing, if you try saying ‘Spartacus Domesticus Protecticus’, it is pretty hard to do it without exuding spit, and that’s a big sword he’s carrying.

The weird thing is that Spartacus (nothing to do with Sparta, alas: but the classicists have to cope with this kind of limited understanding of the ancient world) wasn’t Roman, wasn’t an official soldier, but (by most accounts) a gladiator who went a bit Robin Hood and wished to end slavery, and was killed when the authorities turned their attention to him. Besides, I find it impossible to take Spartacus as seen here seriously, because he hasn’t got a dimple, the defining feature of the Kirk Douglas rendition (if Kirk Douglas was roaming my streets, I might be tempted). There is no sign above of a hammer and chisel having been taken to that chin:

This is the kind of thing we need round here.

I think I’ll go and check the door’s locked.

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Taxi-drivers in the North East

December 19, 2009

They’re great. I’ve managed to knacker my arm with all the unpacking (that parcel tape is too tough), but have also decided to lord it a bit while I settle into my new adoptive town (where, bizarrely, in B&Q, I worked out that I was standing on what had been my great-great-great-grandfather’s land).

Taxi-drivers offer you a better insight than most into places. They generally start out with me on Devon (‘That must be a nice place’) only to join in when I say I prefer Darlington. (People who are born in Darlington never call it ‘Darlo’; people born outside Darlington, even if they have moved into the town, do.) My favourite taxi-driver line so far was a snippet of life history, and it went like this: ‘I have four sisters ten years older than me, and they’ve all got Geordie accents. I hate it. (Big pause, even by Pinter’s standard’s.) I wanted a Geordie accent, but my parents moved to Darlington.’

Darlington is as far south as you can go without being from Yorkshire. For that reason it has just a little of the Yorkshire market town about it, which I like, but a distinctively Durham voice. Another thing I like about Darlington is that it has no university, which means it jad none of the airs and graces which most other places of comparable size possess. It is what it is.

Most remarkably (although apparently there are a couple of others) it still has a Binns – now should I put an apostrophe in there? Was the founder Mr. Binn or Mr. Binns? As a child, all the buses in Sunderland had ‘Shop at Binns’ painted onto their exterior, so that any senseless child like me would assume that the shop had the power of a bus company. Possibly the most successful advertising trick I’ve ever seen. Binns has long gone from Sunderland, where it was the place to shop (you could walk under the main shopping street, Fawcett Street, from one department to another). But whenever you asked anyone about the war, they always recalled the worst raid on Sundrland as ‘the night Binns was bombed’. The one in Darlington, like any other, is part of the ubiquitous House of Frazer, but – so I was told today – there is an architectural ban on putting up a sign other than Binns. Quite right too.

About that apostrophe. The answer is No.