I was asked in a comment not long ago if I think that life is harder for young people now than it was in earlier decades. Listening to the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning, I realised that the post I have spent some time drafting is made redundant by the superb and moving explanation, by two young lads of 15 and 16, of their life in Peckham. This takes you to Radio 4 and Today, and right now it's under 'teenagers in the area'. After tonight, I hope you will be able to find it in the 'listen again' archives for at least the next week. it's also a podcast, which I hope you can find here
These were two articulate and sensible young men talking about the difficulty of staying safe and gaining an education in their area of London today. They are disgusted about the conditions that prevail at school, where couples have sex in the school toilets, where drug pushers have more influence and power than any authority and where many youngsters join in, as to stand aside leaves you in fear for your life. One of them saw his first stabbing, blood and guts hanging out, when he was nine. He was afraid to leave his home for days. He points out that most fathers are long gone and many mothers cannot be relied on, being addicted to drugs themselves.
Afterwards, there was an interview with the director of a youth charity. He said that a great deal had been done in the last few years. Unfortunately, by locking up the drug pushers in their twenties, the teenagers had taken over - the average age of these was now nearer seventeen than twenty-seven and these kids were more ruthless and vicious than their older counterparts.
I grieve for those boys. I don't think that things have been so bad for at least a hundred years. There was, in the years between the two world wars, poverty and hardship, but anything like this was , if it existed, a small and isolated problem. Being treated harshly by an unfeeling boss or being beaten by a cruel headteacher; even unemployment, conscription, hunger, was not like this.
Even those youngsters who live in safer areas and have more money are not much better off. Those prostitutes who were murdered in Ipswich last year - they were pretty young girls, mostly from 'respectable' homes - I'm not giving a value judgement here, just saying that prostitution was not in their family background. They had, or so their families said, gone the way they had because they had become addicted to drugs. It was noticeable that, much as the reporters wanted them too, most locals, even in the local villages, were sympathetic and sad and they didn't condemn them for their lifestyle.
I became a teenager in the late 1960s, when we were all pretty relaxed about drugs. Pot and LSD were pretty well all that were available and the worst thing that could happen (pretty bad, it was agreed) was a 'bad trip'. I never took drugs and didn't even smoke - peer pressure sent me the other way and I never intended to do anything I might become addicted to. But the late 60s, early 70s, were halcyon times if you were young, in this country. Even cynics like me (no hippy, me, I didn't believe that if you love each other things would be all right. Well, correct that, they would be, but it ain't never going to happen and I thought that hippyness was sadly delusional) were pretty cheerful. It has been downhill all the way since then, for the young. Well, so I think. I do love young people*, they try really hard in spite of everything and I hate those middle aged bastards like me (not me, people of my age) who are ruining the world.
Oh damn. You can see why drafting doesn't work for me, if I didn't post this at once, I'd be back to the drawing board in the morning.
*you count as 'young people' if you are young enough to be my child, that is, 36 and under. Anything older, sorry darlings, you're my generation. You are still my generation unless you are older than my mother, who would now be 83. Or my father, who'd be 97 in July.