The kids are alright

Martin Newell: Following a week when there was such mayhem on the local school buses that it was found necessary to install on-board policemen to keep order, the question has once again arisen: What shall we do about our wayward youth?

Martin Newell

Following a week when there was such mayhem on the local school buses that it was found necessary to install on-board policemen to keep order, the question has once again arisen: What shall we do about our wayward youth?

For those of you who haven't had one delivered yet, there's a council number you can ring.

The rest of you, come this way.

Now, there's a widely-held perception that our young have never been so out of control or ill-mannered and that we are witnessing the collapse of civilisation.

Whenever I begin to despair of a situation, I firstly look at the past to see if there's any precedent for current woes.

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There nearly always is, it's nearly always worse and usually, it's not even very far back in the past.

A hundred years ago for instance, two Colchester boys were up before the beak for throwing stones at people's windows.

The magistrate considered the case, before having them birched.

This happened right in the middle of the long Edwardian afternoon - a Railway Children era that many of us like to fuzzily think of as being somehow more genteel and well-ordered than the present one.

Many older people nowadays think of the young as being an almost alien species.

All of last summer for instance, there was a boy who mindlessly rode his noisy scooter, several times a day, up and down the street where I live.

Whilst I ticked like an old meter about it, my partner asked: “Do you know why he does that?” I said that I really had no idea.

“It's because it's his job.” she replied.

I thought about this and was suddenly catapulted back to a time at the frayed end of the 1960s, when I was about his age.

Noise? I made it.

Stupid clothes? I wore them.

Hair? All over my face.

When I opened my mouth I was cocky, sloppily-spoken and ignorant.

When I was quiet, I was sullen and brooding.

My very appearance had many of my elders incandescent with rage.

Being a youth was my job back then and I worked very hard at it.

Violence existed too.

Long-haired striplings such as myself spent much of our time hanging around the streets, or sometimes, pelting down them pursued by first-edition 1969 skinheads intent on hospitalising us.

In fact I once received a fairly comprehensive beating in a posh suburb of London in broad daylight just because of the way I was dressed.

Being young was ever fraught with violence and fear - though probably not quite as much as during the two world wars, when the government used to organise it all for us.

Because of this, a lot of my own elders had done military service of some sort and were wiry and fit - unlike many of today's podgy and out-of-condition forty-somethings.

You didn't muck them about, because half of them had been trained in the manly arts of boxing and self-defence - and they could run too.

Pub hours were restricted, drink was relatively expensive, much weaker and it just wasn't available in every two-bit convenience store.

So you pretty much did your drinking apprenticeship under the stewarding eye of, if not your dad, at least men a bit like him.

The police were still allowed to hit you, shout at you and occasionally, find things on your person which you hadn't even put there.

Phones lived in big red metal boxes, the only people who had cars were old married blokes of about 28 and at weekends, the whole of Colchester shut down at about 11.15 pm.

So you went round to somebody's linoleum bedsit with twenty Players Number Six and a Watney's Party Seven and had your youthful revels there.

Despite all of this, perfectly decent people still trembled in their beds at night and couldn't tell whether we were boys or girls.

This, at least, is what they used to tell each other.

Today's young people are equally infuriating.

They sit around in ugly sports clothes, swear constantly and spend much of their time bellowing a strange language into mobile phones.

Some of this I have learned to translate: “Shalaytorsdazza-yeah?” roughly translated, means: “Ah Darren.

Perhaps we may possibly rendezvous on some future occasion? Goodbye then.” Nearly everything that young people say is a question? These questions often have the word, “like” arbitarily inserted within them? And the music which they, like, listen to? Yeah? It often sounds like a drunk tramp arguing with himself in a really noisy steel foundry.

These, mind you, are just the English Lit students from the nearby university who probably feel a desperate need to blend in.

As for the rest: the slit-mouthed hoodies, the teenage pram-faces and the smart-casual gangs of tattooed bruisers lurching and fighting around our Essex town centres, I'd guess that they too are afraid of not blending in.

And they do blend in.

They blend in to a stained tapestry of English history which stretches all the way back to Romano-Celtic times, through murderous medieval football matches, through the gin-blitzed mob of the 18th century, right up to the Victorian razor gangs and yesterday's mods and rockers.

Bring back the birch? Well, I agree.

It's a lovely tree and planting a few might, like, foster their appreciation of the environment, yeah? Wick-ed.

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