265 – The Corner

Innit tho, bruv.

When I was a kid my parents sold my sister and I to heroin traffickers. Our lives were a constant swirl of airports and foreign countries; our new masters performed dangerous surgery upon us, sewing wee baggies of H into our abdomens where they went unnoticed when we walked through customs, holding hands with Anwar or Paddy, or whoever was pretending to be our dad that day. The customs people never got wind of the scam and although the scars will never fully heal, nearly thirty years later the scalpel incisions at the bottom of my belly are only pale white lines and my years of being an infant drug mule little more than memories.

Looking back, this period of my life was a dreadful one that one no child should have ever to go through. But there is a counter-argument regarding those drug-trafficking days, one that frequently fell from my parents’ lips as they counted the pound notes they’d exchanged for the innocence of their children, and it goes something like this:

“If they weren’t doing that, they’d only have been hanging out on a street corner or something.”

The above story is, of course, a complete fabrication. I’ve had no interaction with drugs beyond those legally prescribed for me, and both mine and my sister’s upbringings were so painfully lower-middle class we might as well have been raised by Penelope Wilton and Richard Briers. If we had been raised by those two pillars of ‘80s television I like to think they’d have done just as good a job bringing us up from floating zygotes to adolescence, and at no point would they have excused any less-than-adequate parenting on their part with “At least they’re not hanging out on a street corner”–as if that was the worst thing that could ever befall a child.

Being a curmudgeon pining for a time wreathed in nostalgic I hate seeing so many kids hanging out on street corners, so imagine how infuriated I must be to see this as a healthy alternative to some of the schemes parents cook up for their offspring. When I see kids loitering (did you know that ‘loitering’ is one of the most searched for terms used to find this blog? It’s true!) on street corners they might as well be nesting spiders, rolled together in a springy, shuddering ball. If you don’t keep your eye on them as you pass by–preferably at speed; preferably in a vehicle that isn’t easily pregnable–they’ll burst in a flood of venom and work their way into your home, your chest of drawers, your socks. If they were really as innocent as certain people claim, they wouldn’t wear their baseball caps all crooked. Street corner children are not to be trusted.

And yet, hanging out on a street corner–is that really the worst thing in the world? Sure, they could be doing something more productive with their time than comparing hoodies and drinking White Lightning, but ask them what they’re up to and they’ll say “Bored, innit? Got nuffink to do round here, innit?” and then they’ll make those “Brrap! Brrrrraap!” noises that are supposed to sound like machine guns even though everyone knows machine guns actually sound like “Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh!”

The kids of today can’t even get gun noises right. That’s just sad.

To the British government this street corner culture is such a severe problem not a day passes without some chinless representative appearing on the news announcing new incentives to drive children off street corners and into organised pastimes. I’m not sure these pastimes ever actually materialise; in truth the government is more preoccupied with closing down youth centres and public libraries as it is building them, but if their heart isn’t in the right place than at least there’s a beguiling, lying facsimile of one in their chest that doesn’t so much beat as squeeze out patronising appeasement regularly enough for it to resemble a pulse.

All the while these higher-ups inform us of societal issues without ever blaming us, the voters and vote-nots, because to lay blame squarely on those who deserve it would surely be career suicide for anyone hoping to get into Downing Street. Kids need role models, they say; they need organised competitive sports and after school activities–when what kids really need are parents who don’t believe the only two choices when it comes to keeping their sprogs entertained are some activity put on by the city council or the dubious distractions of street corner loitering. In my experience, street corners aren’t a fun place to hang out anyway. Once you’ve run out of grit from the grit bin and kicked a street lamp to death all you’re left with is a fumble up the school bike’s skirt, and after you’ve retrieved your hand to find a strange rash festering in the webbing between your fingers, that soon loses its allure.

I was never a street corner kid, but neither was I an active kid, going to youth centres, playing five-a-side football, scouting for boys and all that jazz. Sure, I braved a few after school activities–swimming lessons for one–but these were thinly spread over my entire childhood, giving me ample time to brew meth on the street corner with all the other young hooligans. I never did; somehow I found other things to do, like, I don’t know, reading or playing with toys, or whiling away the evening having a lonely little cry. Would that really be such a difficult thing for the kids of today? Or–how about this–watching Ever Decreasing Circles with your family, not really understanding the jokes but laughing all the same because you’re with the people you love, who love you, who don’t make you feel so unwelcome you go down to the street corner and finger Trampy Tara because it’s all you have left to do.

Of all life’s grand possibilities it’s a creeping sickness with which we’ve infected our kids: our own malaise, our own dissatisfaction with being boxed into a life from which we can’t escape. What a terrible thing to do: to give them the choice of the street corner or anything that isn’t us. How horrible we are to fuck, conceive and give birth, and then wash our hands of the responsibility that follows–if we wanted orgasms followed by hand-washing, we might as well have just had a wank.

“Broken Britain!” we complain, as if we weren’t all bulls in a china shop. As much as I dislike the Paris Hiltons, the Snookies, the Kim Kardashians of the world I don’t think our kids need better role models so much as they need better parents. On Breakfast News this morning some fella was talking about how Tom Daley was a wonderful role model to children, to which I say: why? Because he falls off a board into some water? That makes him about as inspirational as a planking video–and a planking video gone wrong at that.

Kids already have role models. I mean, take David Beckham. Not a braincell in the man’s head but he’s amassed a fortune, become world famous, married a pop star, toured the planet–and all by dint of being able to kick a football. Okay, he’s a bit of a philanderer, but put that to one side and you won’t find somebody more inspirational to our youth. I fail to see how Tom Daley’s a better role model than Beckham, unless being able to obey the law of gravity is something to which we should aspire.

But if role models aren’t the solution, the guy–whose name escapes me because I tend not to pay attention to the monikers of slugs–pointed out that the current coalition government was helping Broken Britain warm up for the Olympic Games with a Sports Day that encouraged competitive sports in schools across the country.

Because obviously, competitive sports are something schools desperately need.

Whether we liked it or not, we all took part in competitive sports at school. I hated it; maybe you did, too. When captains picked teams, where you frequently picked last? Did kids laugh at you for being picked last? I bet you still remember it, and in hideous detail.

And if not, well, I’m throwing my hat into the arena here but I’m guessing the memories you have of playing football in P.E. pale in comparison to those of playing kick-about in the park, where the winning and losing didn’t really matter because the teams were mates really, not scoring against each other but playing footie and having fun.

Imagine if, instead of enforcing competitive sports, schools practised co-operative activities. They can be just as sporty, just as active; there has to be some way getting kids healthy in hope they maintain an active lifestyle thoughout their adulthood, without pitting them against one other in sports that result in one team losing or one kid being picked last.

What kind of mentality does this competitive approach foster? Envy, resentment, belligerence–I know fighting’s supposed to make us stronger but is this really what we should be teaching our kids? You get kids picking teams, you’re going to end up isolating them in a way so traumatic. everyone who was ever picked last will remember it for their entire lives. So please, explain to me how this is a healthy attitude, and how it will help our disaffected youth to feel like they belong?

Pushed between pillar and post, is it any wonder so many children choose to hang out on street corners, where they’re considered lost causes by all and sundry rather than being enticed back into a world that–stupidly–has shunned them?

And I don’t like these kids. That’s the most stupid thing of all: that I should be standing up for these threatening good-for-nothings and pointing out hey, maybe if we hadn’t told them all their lives that they were good for nothing they might find something better to do, and we wouldn’t be complaining about them, blaming all our woes upon them. I hate these little shits; ”I was never like that”, I’ll rant, “I was a good boy who always did as he was told.”

Rather than find ways to repair Broken Britain maybe we should address how we broke it in the first place. These scratched record repetitions–more schooling, more activities, more competitiveness–aren’t helping; we need to re-re-wind, examine our whole way of life and start again–as it were–from scratch.

And this time, when we’re building new streets, maybe we should build them without corners.

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