I DON’T know if the great JG Ballard ever visited Bolton during the later years of his life, or if occasionally he surfed the worldwide web and came across happenings in our town, chronicled daily by staff on this publication.

There is no earthly reason why he should, but I can state with absolute conviction that if he had, the world-famous author, noted for his doom-laden prophecies, would have become even more convinced that civilisation was going to hell in a handcart.

Maybe it’s because I am in my mid-70s and saddened by the way violence and lack of respect have damaged acceptable human behaviour patterns beyond repair. Like Ballard, I fear events are conspiring to bring society to its knees.

Taken in isolation, reports of crimes committed in Bolton are hardly reason to subscribe to his long-held and widely publicised beliefs but the pages of The Bolton News are daily dominated by acts of such mind-numbing stupidity and savagery that one would need to suffer from the ostrich syndrome not to be aware of what is happening, most of it bad and deeply disturbing.

Apart from the arsonists, leaving a trail of torched vehicles, bins and vegetation across the borough, vandals wrecking public buildings, particularly schools, morons encouraging rat infestations by spreading litter from fast-food outlets, we had the sickening attack on the Susan Isaacs Nursery in Vernon Street, Halliwell, when ponds were destroyed and frogs and newts stood on.

A contributor to the letters pages on Tuesday posed the question: “How much more violence can we tolerate?” I wish I knew the answer to that one. JG Ballard would insist: “You aint seen nothin’ yet,” though he would have put it far more eloquently.

The problem is, what could anyone do if they came across a bunch of yobs in the process of wrecking something like the nursery’s environmental project?

The immediate reaction would be to stamp on them, but we have now gone so far in the opposite direction that dishing out what in my youth would have been labelled summary justice, would now result in those doing the “dishing” being prosecuted. The yobs know that and act accordingly.

However, such is the resentment felt among some sections of the law-abiding community that the day cannot be far off when “Neighbourhood Watch” metamorphoses into “vigilante”.

That opinion is reinforced by the experiences of people who have reported crimes to the police and had their calls answered well after those responsible have vanished. Next time, they may well decide to take action themselves.

I was having this discussion with a young man just the other day who, justifiably, bridled at the suggestion that his contemporaries were responsible for all society’s ills, pointing out that every age group had its degenerates.

I gave him that, but stressed that I had yet to hear of a group of pensioners, furious because their pensions and savings had disappeared down the black hole created by capitalism’s mismanagement of their investments, trashing a children’s nursery and stamping the life out of frogs and newts.

JG Ballard would have had something profound to say about that.