Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Youth of Today

Now that the longer evenings are well and truly with us, Tramp and I generally set off for our main walk of the day at around 6.00 p.m. Last night we came back past the Church Hall where young teenagers were lining up for Youth Club in a rather disorderly fashion.

The noise of course was astonishing, but it was driven by excitement and anticipation I believe, rather than any desire to misbehave. Two or three of the girls at the end of the queue spotted Tramp and two came over to stroke him, overpowering us both in their effusiveness.

          ‘Oh, he’s so lovely… so cute!’

          ‘Isn’t his fur soft! I just sooooo  love dogs!’

          They were playing to the gallery, of course. They were full-on, but hardly threatening. Eventually I managed to peel their arms from around his neck, and Tramp and I carried on our way.

          There is a lot of grumbling about young people in our village, as I’m sure there is in many others. At the last Church Hall meeting, scuffed paintwork looked like it might become a major issue, but Youth Club members had already volunteered to organise a working-bee to clean all the paintwork, which of course batted away any further objections.

Another recent complaints non-runner was the matter of the lad who had managed to break a window pane at the hall during a rather too boisterous game of table tennis. His father made him buy a new pane of glass from his pocket money, ready-cut to size, then he had to fit it. Finally he had to come back again and touch up the surrounding paintwork. He made an awful mess of it, and neither glazing nor interior design should probably feature in his career development plan, but that wasn’t the point.

This is really our village’s pathetic level of vandalism, if you can even call it that. Personally, I'd like to see a little more rebellion. Sam, the Youth Club worker employed by our Parish Council, often says that the worst he has to contend with is getting the kids to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ And then only sometimes.

He adds, “Yet parents are always saying they won’t send their children to Youth Club because it’s too rough. Here, in this village! Too rough!!” Sam has worked in much harsher environments.

We did have a case of outright theft in the village, though, last year. The shop often sells the tickets for local fund-raisers – this time it was for a quiz night and fish and chip supper (from the mobile van that was booked especially – normally it parks up in the village every week, much like the mobile library). Walking home from the shop one night, Mrs Purton noticed a plastic container and a number of ‘Quiz Nite + Fish ‘n’ chip Supper’ tickets strewn in the ditch near her house. She immediately turned around and took them back to the shop – but the money for the tickets sold, of course, was not there.

I was in the shop myself at the time and it was easy to narrow-down the list of suspects - given Mrs Purton had not spotted the discarded tickets when she left home, and that there had only been one other customer in the shop within the critical time-frame.

“I bet you it was that young Douglas from up the lane,” pronounced June at the shop. “He’s been skulking around the shelves a lot lately, and today he had me go out the back for a packet of Cheese and Onion, which somehow we’d run out of. He must have taken the ticket box then.”

“He would have been casing the joint,” said Mrs Purton, obviously affected by an over-indulgence in crime thrillers since her retirement.

But the matter was easily resolved. June rang Douglas’ father then and there, and within twenty minutes he had extracted a confession and dragged him down to the shop to apologise. He still had the money, and he handed it over, right down to the last penny. Furthermore, he agreed to help clear tables at the Church Hall after the fish ‘n’ chip supper.

No more was said, but I suspect that a life of crime will not feature too prominently on Douglas’ future career path.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Missing Home

This week as I write, I am away from my village – and away from Tramp, while I stay with friends in a big city. I’ve savoured the sights, and the cuisine. I’ve worked diligently through the guidebook to leave no corner unexplored, no historical fact unacknowledged. I’ve felt the pace, loaded with anticipation. Now I’m ready to return home.

          I’ve walked along hard streets and now find I miss soft clay beneath my feet (even where it means dodging the quagmire churned by horses’ hooves). I’ve felt the texture of smooth granite and polished brass handles and I miss the roughness of a splintering fencepost and the cold, wet rust of a gate’s chain. I’ve wandered through department stores and clothes’ rails, and now I miss the brush of a stray leafy branch against my face.

          I miss the hammering of woodpeckers that you never see, the hedgerows alive with chirruping birdsong and the pad of Tramp’s soft footfall at my side. I miss the blanket of silence as night falls, broken by an owl’s cry or the impossible trill of a nightingale. Instead I’ve settled into the continuous growl and rumble of traffic, mingled with a screech of brakes or a distant call of car horns.

          And the bitter odour of engines rising from the street is no substitute for the freshness of clean Spring leaves after rain, its sharp greenness lingering above where the air is earthy and still, deep in the woods.
          Of course I’ve met some friendly people here, but I miss those I know in my village, and the time they take to greet and to talk about nothing of consequence, when considered at a city level. I’m looking forward to being among them with Tramp, enjoying the familiarity of home – something I could not feel it so intensely had I not been away.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Harmonious Diversity

I suppose our village is little different from any other in the ultra conservative South East when it comes to what I call ‘tributary racism.’

          By this I mean the kind of racism that trickles often unnoticeably, yet persistently, as an undercurrent to social exchange. It can take you unaware, though, shifting what you assumed was solid ground under your feet, as it surfaces to join the mainstream.

Most often, tributary racism is manifested through the odd, passing remark.

          ‘And then, I was put through to somewhere in India and of course I couldn’t understand a word they said!’ – this from peg-toothed Jill in the pub the other night, as she built to a crescendo in an account of her recent foray into telephone banking. She splutters as the ice from her G&T hits her gums.

          ‘Then, when I telephoned my mum, she’d got some dodgy Poles there that she’d let in the house to fit insulation in the loft!’ – this I overheard in the shop, yesterday.

          Quite apart from the assumptions held here – that Indians and Poles by turns are incomprehensible in their speech and a race prone to illegal working practices – this tributary racism gathers pace by resting on the belief that I am of the same mind as the speaker. This was all too evident in the pub last Friday night, when Janet and Brian called in for a drink. They had recently been up to London to the theatre, and witnessed a knife fight between two youths, right in front of them, there in Leicester Square.

          ‘They would have been black, I suppose,’ interrupted Old Norm.

          ‘Of course,’ acknowledged Brian, with scarcely a pause in the story.

          It is often difficult to perceive tributary racism before it surfaces. Lawrence caught me as Tramp and I walked past the end of his drive today, as he was wheeling one of his bins around. He has recently started using the internet and receives circular emails of jokes from his friends at the golf club; he was keen to tell me one that he’d read that day. The gist of it was, a teacher is reading the class register that comprises Indian and Asian sounding names – all pronounced with gusto by Lawrence as he adopts what he considers to be the appropriate accent each time, to hilarious effect, in his mind. The punch line comes when the teacher gets to the English name, ‘Alison’ but pronounces it as if it were Indian. I didn’t laugh; but I found myself consoling Lawrence for this, saying how it probably needed to be read to get the impact of the spellings. By saying nothing I felt complicit, but Lawrence is my neighbour and I didn’t want to offend him by taking the moral high ground.

          One of the Doctors at the local GPs’ surgery in the next village is Black, and of course Lawrence had no hesitation in calling her out to Geraldine when she was ill, just before Christmas. But he would not see any trace of hypocrisy in this. Still, to be fair, a lot of older folk find it difficult to know when they are being racist, especially when it comes to tributary racism. Lawrence, for instance, cannot bring himself to describe the Doctor as Black, and might describe everything else about her to identify her to you, to avoid mentioning the most obvious distinguishing feature.

‘It was the lady doctor that came. You know the one: she is tall, dark haired. Very friendly. Smiles a lot; quite outgoing. Wears smart suits…’

Only if pushed does Lawrence mention the fact that the Doctor is Black, and even then he uses the outmoded term, ‘coloured.’ Maybe this is because ‘coloured’ is less definite and so carries less certainty. Or maybe he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that Black people might have the right to decide on their own descriptor, themselves.

After the exchange with Lawrence, Tramp and I continued up the lane and into the woods on our walk. The ground was firm underfoot; no sloshing through mud today! Once in the trees, the intensity of blue from the soaring haze of bluebells made me catch my breath. They are now in full flower, nodding above a leaf mat of uninterrupted dark green glossiness that covers all remnants of brown, winter earth below. I wonder if the impact would be so strong, though, without the frail white anemones scattered though, the whole forming a vision of harmonious diversity.