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Hanging around in the jobless nineties

There is a tree at the bottom of our road. Of a mild evening the young fellow who lives next door stands under it with some of his friends. Occasionally they are joined by boys who live in neighbouring streets. Of a winter's evening they still congregate, as teenagers are prone to do.

God only knows what they talk about. I would imagine they plan trips, talk about girls, share ideas for getting money out of parents and discuss football. Thirty years ago there were things called apprenticeships which were readily available for those youths who decided to leave school at 15. When they left school they learnt their craft under the guidance of time-served skilled workers who took pride in their trade. There was a sense of achievement in the process of learning a skill.

After approximately five years they were able to earn their bread and butter. Nowadays such opportunities are as scarce as dung under a rocking horse and have been replaced by training initiatives which could be construed as a euphemism for "let's put money in the pockets of the entrepreneurs". The certification which the unfortunate youths receive is deemed of little value by themselves and there is a widespread cynicism about the intrinsic worth of such courses. Anecdotes abound about learning three-card brag. An important skill, no doubt, but is it important to employers? Everyone passes and becomes one of the certificated unemployed.

The academically gifted, who embark on a university course soon find that they are dependent on the meagre reserves of their family. They often take up low-paid employment to supplement and for them, too, the job market is scarce.

It can't be much fun being a teenager in the nineties. The "tree lovers" at the bottom of our street have had another problem to face. They have been perceived by our neighbours as a gang. With the onset of winter the pimpled youths have been transmogrified into primitive savages, newly emerged from the primordial swamp.

They do, after all, wear their hats back to front and hang out with others who clearly don't come from "around here". To my knowledge the "gang" have done no one any harm. They haven't stolen anything, vandalised gates or walls, sprayed graffiti, shouted, bawled, drank, sniffed, snorted, smoked or played loud music.

They did however congregate. I wonder if the Riotous Assemblies Act is still on the statute books? The police were called and the boys were moved on amid mutterings of "petitions" from the neighbours. It would appear that the neighbours have learnt to write.

I passed the crew the other night. Four of them were huddled in a small front porch while the fifth stood out in the rain. I wasn't privy to their conversation, but then I wouldn't want to be. I'm not of their generation nor they of mine. I did wonder what they thought of my generation. They could be forgiven for thinking that we really messed up their world.

We shut everything down and put nothing in its place. We exude xenophobia. We are paranoiac, overprotective and basically have become the bunch of old bores (or is it boars) we used to criticise. I am not worried by today's teenagers. They are optimistic, in the face of massive unemployment. They are resilient in the face of many knockbacks. They are our future.

Our neighbours worry me more.

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