POINTING THE FACEBOOK FINGER –
Walking through Sowerby Bridge most afternoons, I pass a number of pubs. Men and women stand on balconies, cradling pints or sharing banter over a smoke. I’m not much of a drinker, and rarely frequent pubs, so I feel especially pleased to see them – their afternoon imbibing ensures the survival of our region’s pubs which, if left to my largely-abstinent self, would be in even greater economic peril. Its sobering to reflect, though, that some can be seen, on any afternoon or evening, in larger numbers than current guidelines would permit.
“THE YOUNG ONES NEVER LEARN,” asserts a facebook user, “Put 20-30 year olds in lockdown,” asserts another, both responding to news that another Northern city looks set for tighter restrictions, due to rising Covid cases. “Let the 0ver-50’s out – they know how to self distance.” Leaving aside the unspecified fate of the 30-50 age group under this proposal, it’s depressing to see that, along with racism, another division is now emerging in the blame-game thrown up by this pandemic, that of pointing the finger at specific age groups. At the risk of engaging in this tactic myself, I feel the need to dispute the argument, increasingly seen on social media, that “If only 18-25’s weren’t socializing in large numbers, the rest of us would now be “back to normal.”
I won’t dispute some youngsters have breached guidelines. But those insisting “it’s the youth what’s to blame,” overlook that many youngsters are well behaved, that few can actually afford regular pubbing and clubbing, and that at least equally numerous examples of blatantly infringing Covid guidelines have come from people in their 50’s and 60’s. Also, those bemoaning the young alone have clearly never tried catching a train out of Leeds on a Saturday night.
Before Covid, anyone using the train of an evening was no stranger to rowdiness, but weekends were by far the worst time, especially if, like mine, your commute happened to pass through the route of a cross-district “beer trail.”
Spooling into Dewsbury, a small town in post-industrial Kirklees, I would notice the clusters of checked shirts and sunburnt bald heads, wobbling towards the train, many still clasping pints of lager from the platform pub. Like Philip Larkin’s Whitsun Wedding parties, they amassed noisily by the tracks. Their gatherings may not have related to just-undertaken marriages, but there were always plenty of “whoops and skirls,” and certainly many an “uncle shouting smut.” Unlike in Larkin’s poem, though, these particular aunts and uncles, parents, and in many cases no doubt grandparents, would board the train – and drown it in drunken shouting and abuse. A deluge of drunks can be at least annoying, at worst downright frightening. I’ve seen elderly people intimidated in the shadow of a band of beefy beermonsters, roaring hoarse songs and yelling from one end of a carriage to the other; found myself squeezed between thuggish bruisers, mistaken for an old foe and threatened with violence; had to push and shove my way through elderly Hell-raisers, found myself weighing up whether or not to risk giving some poisonous bigot a piece of my mind or keeping schtum until they stagger off at the next point on their pub crawl. Appealing for quiet prompts threats, and conductors are usually too afraid to venture into their midst. What makes it worse is that those responsible are always fully aware of the effects of their obnoxity. The glazed glare of the piddled pensioner, the snarling grimace of the noisy Neanderthal, reveal all too clearly that they recognize their bawling and stamping have brought discomfort and fear – but this realization only heightens the fun. For the obnoxious drunk, these impositions on a captive audience are often the closest they get to a feeling of power. The worst environment for such a person would be an empty carriage.
Both sexes are as bad, and there is usually a dominant male or female with the loudest voice, though the later at night the greater the hubbub, and the nastier the yobbos grow. Racism, sexism and homophobia are commonplace, and even more unpleasant than those gathering in large clusters are the sleazy perverts and quiet extremists snuck away at the back of a carriage, ready to spew their bilious theories about race or politics to anyone unfortunate enough to be in earshot.
I’m not one of those who talks about silver linings in the cloud of Covid, but one thing that has been nice has been the absence of these cacophonous commutes, or any late night train journeys tainted by the selfishness of bellicose boozers. But their memory is burned deep into my brain, which is why I take issue with the suggestion that our society’s ills are entirely the preserve of a few students or teenage revellers. In my experience, the problem isn’t exclusively youngsters or older folk – but there is definitely a section of the population who never changed their ways since they were young, who I see bunched around pub doorways, or whose boastful shouts of “F*ck lockdown, I’m going to carry on as normal,” boom from the pages of social media most repeatedly, whom I’ve had to contend with innumerable times on trains as they maraud the aisles with no respect for anybody else, yet who are also the most insistent that we should “bring back National Service” to deal with “these bloody youngsters” who they blame for rising Covid rates.
To emerge from these restrictions as quickly as possible requires everyone to try and stick to them, and it is only natural that we should call out examples of that not happening. It is also the case that some of those infringing them are young. But many are not. Of course the majority of those in the middle-aged bracket are far from yobbish, and of course there are young yobs too, there always have been – but young yobs grow up to be old yobs, as any long-suffering commuter can attest. Like hypocrisy, loutish behaviour and selfishness do not come with any lower or upper age limit.
Photo credit: BBC News