A television news clip from Birmingham last night showed a mother and a male fellow citizen exchanging opinions about the cause of the riots. The mother, accompanied by her son of about ten, argued belligerently that there wasn’t enough for kids to do. Her protagonist countered that this, even if true, hardly justified the violence, burning and looting of the previous night. The boy, overweight, cocky, and with a permanent leer on his face, kept up a running commentary. By the end the little brat was openly laughing at the man.
It was only a brief encounter, but I think another telling vignette reflecting the sad state of education, intellectual discourse and parenting in some sections of our society. The woman came across as deeply unpleasant. Her son, who should have been told to butt out, evidently enjoyed the clash.
It vaguely reminded me of two incidents, similar in nature to each other, in which I was involved a few months ago.
In the first, I was waiting in a queue at a bus stop in the City of London, when the boy ahead of me cleared his throat and spat on the pavement. “That’s a pretty disgusting habit you have,” I snapped. A woman, who had been standing nearby smoking a cigarette, and evidently the boy’s mother, strode up to me and bellowed, “Why don’t you mind your own fucking business. I’m his mother and I’ll tell him what and what not to do.” At that point, mercifully, the bus arrived.
In the second incident, on a late-morning train to London, I asked a youth of about sixteen to take his feet off the seat opposite, next to one occupied by a woman. “I’m sure that lady would appreciate it,” I added with a smile. The woman, would you believe, turned out to be his mother. There was no return smile. “The lady would appreciate you not sticking your nose in where it ain’t wanted,” was her contribution. There followed a lively exchange of remarks on the subject of good manners, but she insisted on having the last word. “The trouble with the world is it’s full of bloody busybodies like you. No wonder the kids have no respect.”
No wonder, indeed.
What a far cry from my own adolescence. Whenever I came home from school and reported that I’d been disciplined, the invariable response from my parents was, “Well, serves you right. Learn to behave and you won’t be punished.”
Even when I protested my innocence I was dismissed. “Well, you may not have deserved it this time, but I dare say you’ve got away with things on other occasions when you did deserve it.”
Little did they know how right they were.