As a young person living in England, perhaps I am not qualified to give an objective view on the apparent ill feeling from the elderly towards the youth of this country; so if the following two accounts don’t present much of a balanced argument for both parties, just assume I’m in the camp of the youngsters.
As far back as I can remember old people have given young people hassle. This might be because of the generally accepted elderly view of youngsters in England being that they all go marauding around in large groups, clad in loose fitting trousers hanging below their waistlines, and swearing sporadically at road signs and shopkeepers. This is generally speaking not true, but I suppose reading the Daily Express every day, filled with imposing words like ‘ASBO’ and ‘Knife Crime’ will eventually influence your opinion.
I suppose the lines could get blurred between what you believe to be a crime and merely a nuisance, I can accept that. Living in perpetual fear of ‘youths’ must be a tiring existence, especially for the oh so righteous pensioners of England. One day you’re sitting at home sucking on a Werther’s Original tutting at the latest spate of stabbings in the ‘streets’ on the news, the next you’re face to face with one of the remorseless bastards yourself whilst walking your dog peacefully en route to meet your wife. That was the stark reality faced by such an elderly man; we shall call Jeff, yesterday afternoon.
I was riding my bike home from work, enjoying the sunshine when I saw Jeff on the horizon of the hill I was headed up. Now I had encountered Jeff once before on the very same stretch of path about a month and a half before and he had yelled some obscenity in my direction then for not riding my bike on the road. Whilst I accept that he was indeed right, I should have been riding on the road, its not like I am the only person in England to do it and how did it give him the right to launch his tirade at me, a person he had never met before in his life?
I had felt angry that time but rode along home, putting the incident down to the prejudice I knew was so rife amongst his age group. But yesterday I encountered him again and this time, rather than simply shouting at me, he actually jumped in front of my bike. Luckily for Jeff and I (and his border collie) I was toiling up a hill and not careering down one, giving me ample time to avoid him and swerve onto the grassy bank running alongside the pavement.
“Bloody criminal!” He bellowed at me, once I was safely out of his area of course. This made me pretty irate as you can imagine, so I did a quick about-turn and rolled up alongside him as he plodded on down the hill. The surprise and fear in his eyes was tangible as I quietly asked:
“What did you just call me?” I folded my arms as I sat on my saddle, expectant.
“I called you a criminal.” He said.
“And why would you do that?” I asked.
“Because you are. A woman was killed by a cyclist three years ago.” He trembled on the spot and gripped his dog’s lead tightly to hide it.
“Well, whilst that is a regrettable story, I have yet to maim or indeed kill anybody whilst riding my bike.” His eyes widened as the realisation dawned on him that I was not a brain dead McDonald’s employee.
“But it’s dangerous! Don’t you even care?” I spotted my chance.
“Of course I care but don’t you think it’s more dangerous to go leaping in front of cyclists? I think anyone would stand less chance of survival if they kept doing that.”
“That’s not the point. You need telling.” The way he said you implied a group of people rather than just me. At the same moment I spotted an elderly woman riding her bike on the footpath across the road.
“Shall we go and stop her too?” I make like I’m about to whistle for her attention.
“Now you’re just being silly.” He shifted his weight onto his other leg to stop it trembling.
“I’m being silly? Don’t you think it was pretty silly calling me a criminal?”
“You are a criminal.” By this time Jeff’s stupidity was annoying me, so I proposed a dare. I knew I needed to make a grand gesture to win this particular argument.
“In that case you’d better call the police, if you really believe me to be a criminal that is.” I regretted my rash words instantly but I had to follow through, I was certain he had only stopped me in particular because I was a ‘youth’ (or so he believed) and I wanted desperately to make him feel a fool.
“I will you know.” He threatened.
“And what do you think will happen? They’ll put the phone down and think ‘What a stupid old codger if he thinks we’ll send a car because a boy is riding on the pavement’” My firm tone seemed to make him tremble more vigorously.
“Ok I’m calling them.” And he did. I heard him describe me as ‘young’ and ‘shaven headed’. When he put his mobile away in his pocket, he turned to me and said, “They’re on their way now.”
“Ok. I’ll wait. I don’t mind seeing you make yourself a criminal too when you waste police time.”
So we waited. Twenty minutes. No sirens. No vans. No cars. No luminous yellow jackets. He fidgeted as we waited. Eventually I broke the silence.
“It doesn’t look promising for you.”
“Well they said they’d send a car.”
His cause was empty and he looked desolate, my humanitarian side kicked in. I explained to him that if he believed so vehemently that cyclists posed a threat to the people of England, he ought to pursue instigating change through the appropriate channels.
“You can’t go on leaping in front of cyclists like some crazed vigilante.” I said. I was mocking him, but he deserved it. I was certain he had picked on me because of my age and he was wrong to do that. “You need to look after yourself a bit more, what if I had been one of those ‘hoodies’ you hear so much about.” I threw a condescending look of faux concern at him. He was defeated. His crusade against the young people of England for that day was over.
The other account I mentioned was similar. I was walking home, listening to music one day when I spotted an elderly man stooping down in front of a couple of young boys. His finger was wagging and his head was jolting sharply up and down as though he was yelling. As I got closer to him I saw that he actually had hold of them both by the scruff of their necks and was issuing them with a royal dressing down for something or other. I grew agitated at the scene and took out my earphones. I drew level with them and offered,
“Is everything alright?” The old man was clearly shocked and straightened his back to stand upright to face me. As soon as his grip on the boys relented, they bolted for safety and I immediately suspected they weren’t his grandchildren.
“Yes. Yes of course.”
“Were they your grandchildren?” I asked.
“No.” His tone was puzzled.
“They threw stones at my window. I see kids throwing stuff around all the time on this street and I’m sick of it.” He too trembled as he blurted out his defence.
“Ok. But why did you grab them like that?” I folded my arms as I awaited his response.
“I didn’t.” His denial was pitiful.
“Look, I was standing right there. You had them by the scruff of their necks.”
“I didn’t. I only told them they shouldn’t throw stones.” His assumption that I would be taken in by his story irked me into pressing him further.
“I agree that throwing stones isn’t acceptable, but even less acceptable is grabbing someone else’s children and pushing them against a wall.” His eyes were livid.
“But I didn’t grab them. I just did this.” He sidled up to me and grabbed my jacket. I looked down disgustedly at his hands on my chest and he immediately let go.
“You really ought to stop touching people you don’t know.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But these kids need some fear putting in them.”
“And you’re the man to do it?”
“Eh?” My sarcasm was lost on him.
“Look. I’d recommend in future not grabbing any more people, young or otherwise by the scruff of the neck. It’s not your place.” I walked away, the valiant defender of youth and he slinked off in the opposite direction, visibly shaken by the confrontation.
You’ll probably notice in both of these accounts that the old men were both seemingly motivated by a sense of dubious civic duty, to protect their territory and walkways. You’ll also notice that the only physical acts in both stories were actually carried out by them. Does that mean the ‘youths’ reading this post should begin to consider elderly men a menace to society? Should they start crossing the road to avoid them, start writing to their local MP’s to report elderly ‘anti-social behaviour’? Or should they continue to make up their own minds and form their own opinions about them? As a young person living in England I know that answer is most likely to be the latter, but I’m not so sure that the same honour will ever be afforded to us.