Thursday, November 30, 2006

ENGLAND (or "I Was a Teenage ASBO")

I walk around this country and I'm constantly baffled by how ugly we make it. Every bit of developed space for the past hundred or so years seems to be designed to hinder individuality and imagination, and just generally put you in your place. I'm sure the actual people who design all of this stuff don't have that as their aim, but it's what's coming out.

Yet, I love this place. It doesn't matter how ugly and sinister the surroundings, I feel like I am in the right place. You can try to deny life, but you will not succeed.

Of course, it doesn't help that I work in Milton Keynes. If ever a place was just made all wrong, that is the place. You can walk through great swathes of housing estate and virtually every house ("unit" seems a more apt word) is identical. You know exactly the layout of your neighbour's house, and the family four streets away.

But still, I walk through it and I quite like it.

You see, every one of them has been modified in some way. A lot of them in a slipshod way, it must be said, but many of them ingeniously so. Some of them have had no actual work done on the exterior, but all you have to do is take one glance and you find out something about the people who live there. Life just spills over, wherever you put it.

People talk about ASBO teens and out-of-control teenagers. I prefer to call them "kids". It's a quaint term and it means people who are not grown up yet. Yeah yeah, I know what violent, selfish tossers some of them can be. I've had a couple of run-ins myself. But is it really a surprise that they get up to stuff? Do we really expect everyone to grow up well-adjusted in a country like this?

Confession: As a teenager, I was one of those troublemakers. I didn't go round mugging old grannies, but I did do quite a few things that should be frowned upon (although I was probably smirking at the time). I found myself in juvenile court. I hung around with other troublemakers. I recall literally going around looking for trouble. And finding it. Lots of times.

Thinking back, I was a bit of a nightmare.

My only saving grace is that I knew others who were way, WAY worse than me. And I saw the light and got out of all that before any more damage was done. (Not damage to your property, you understand, but damage to my prospects of getting a job. And I wanted a job so I could buy hip clothes and a car, and go around pulling birds. Teenagers are selfish, remember?)

Anyone who has met me knows that I'm a reasonable person. (There's a challenge if I ever heard it...) So why was I such a cunt, twenty years ago? Without making excuses for myself, perhaps it was because I was growing up in a place designed to squash life. Scrub the graffiti off the walls and it's still an ugly, claustrophobic town. But hey, life just spills over.

"Bring back National Service," says my grandad.

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