Monday night is student night about the town, and after the family affair that was Christmas, Mark and I threw ourselves into the student social life and ended up in a small pub in town. Okay, we went out for two and a half hours and sipped on one beer, but I did get the chance to think about the nature of youth violence.
Usually we would not have lingered because when you walked to the bar, my trainers glued to the floor from spilled beer. The lager on offer was Stella, and I prefer to at least have a selection. Finally, the pub was one of those places where the wood is dark, the cubicles small, and the space is limited. No more than twenty people could fit, before it would be considered packed. This time, however, we stayed for a while because it was too chilly to go anywhere else.
We have our little clique of fast friends. On Mark’s side there’s Stephen and Ian. On mine there is Abbie and Ben. Then there are a couple of people who we spend somewhat less time with, but who are important to us. In all we were seven people, and made up half of the audience for the night, something which the woman behind the bar viewed with deep suspicion.
I suspect that she just waited for us to start acting like complete idiots, and I caught her looking sideways at us at more than one occasion. Seven young men drinking beer in her place? The rest of the guests were far older than us. We were babes among her dark woods, and I know that if we had become loud and energetic she would have had none of it.
It made me think a bit, about the public perception of young males like us. If she had known Mark and me, or for that matter Ben and Abbie, or Stephen and Ian, she would have known a few fairly boring people. I joke that I fail at being a teenager sometimes, and this is part of that. We don’t do what you’re supposed to do as such.
Now, every time we go out, there’s a fight somewhere. Somebody is crying in the gutter on the way home in the night. Some other is vomiting in an alley. Someone else again sports bruises on the bus home. There’s always something, but for each of these victims of circumstance there were hundreds like us in that pub. Boring, constrained, repressed people watching a fifty-year old woman to try to understand her instinctive disapproval of our presence.
During the walk home I tried to talk to Mark about this, but in a way this idea that young males are inherently uncontrollable and violent is so pervasive that he hadn’t thought about it. I try to think of the times when I’ve been in a fight. That all happened when I was twelve, thirteen, or fourteen – and those times were almost-rans. I was always too cowardly to actually fight. Even when Keith and his merry men chased me on the school grounds to taunt me, I yielded, and didn’t fight back.
I try to see Stephen fighting, and it’s not possible. Ben has the physique of a bruiser, as an old Rugby player, but he shies away from drama and altercations. He withdraws to where he can watch, and where he can leave if necessary. Abbie? Abbie is skinnier than me and shorter. Even Ian, who fits the bill as the angry young man best, is more passive-aggressive than violent. He sneers over the rim of his beer glass, and would be quite lost if he had to swing fists.
Then, without having an answer, we came home to our quiet little house, and the dogs, and the cat, and Mark started to do the dishes before we went to bed, and I realised that it was a convenient myth, most likely. It is othering, in a way because as long as the myth persists older people cross the street when a clutch of young men like Mark and I pass by, and they don’t talk to us and learn that we’re part of the 99 per cent that are assuredly boring and calm.
They probably don’t even know that there is this division where the vast majority is like Mark and I and Stephen and everybody else I know. The division is only between themselves and the monster created by the Daily Mail to keep them awake at night.