Friday, August 24, 2007

Let's hear it for the good kids

Today's papers are, understandably, full of accounts of the tragic death of 11 year old Rhys Jones. Alongside the factual and the emotional headlines, we have the usual knee-jerk cries for yet more legislation to control our young people. It is too easy to whip up a frenzy of anger and fear, to portray a generation of disaffected knife or gun-toting gang members. I confess to having been temporarily drawn into that distorted view when the first reports of knife crime were made. I feared for the safety of my daughter, teaching in a North London school until she laughed at my concerns. The inter-school alarm system they had was not, as I had read, to warn of teenage riots but to warn of potential drug pushers at school gates. She told me that she had no fear for her safety, that at the first hint of trouble her pupils would be hiding behind her skirts, not threatening her.

If we keep on telling teenagers they are hooligans, we could make them feel they should live up to their reputation. So, why don't we calm down and look for positive stories? Let's see how a little acknowledgement and praise works. Here's my story of some typical local boys:
The next stage of my garden development was to have been the rockery but the wet weather has delayed the work. As we are enjoying a brief dry spell, I thought I could get some topsoil up to the top of the rockery and plant the jasmine, passion flowers and clematis which have been sitting in pots for weeks. Have you any idea how heavy topsoil becomes when it has been left in torrential rain? I could only manage to lift about one twentieth of a bag at a time and I had six bags to shift. The MM is, typically, away watching cricket matches and I couldn't think of anyone who owed me that kind of favour, so I went out and stopped a 13 year old boy who was skateboarding past the house and asked if he had any friends who would like to earn a little pocket money lifting heavy buckets of soil. He said he would talk to his friends and maybe see me in half an hour.

In fact it was one and a half hours later that the doorbell rang and five grinning boys told me they were reporting for work. Here they are, being supervised by my gardener, Becky, who had feared that she and I would be spending several days on the task. The lads were so enthusiastic that they carried on and did a bit of weeding too.

When they had finished, I asked what they thought their labours had been worth and it transpired that they did not expect to be paid anything. One boy said, "I only came to see if I was able to do it." I did pay them, quite handsomely I think, but I had the impression that the invitation and the praise meant more to them.

Here they are: the good guys.


  1. Nice story. Monix, I have a question. We hear a great deal over here about crime and yobs and chavs and the estate culture, etc. Brit always said it was overblown, but there is no doubt your media is full of it. Dalrympre is always going on about the "underclass". My question is, do you see this as limited to such a class (dysfunctional, unemployable)or is it an increasing problem in what used to be known as the "working class" too? Is there still a large, hardy, moralistic class doing the hard work more or less responsibly or are more and more of them being attracted to drunken punch-ups in town centres?

    Here is a cute joke you might appreciate. A young teenage boy is asked by his parents to grow and tend a garden in a small overgrown plot beside their house. Initially resistant, he slowly gets into it and devotes more and more energy and pride to the challenge. After a few months of very hard work, the weedless garden is a gorgeous riot of colourful flowers. One day, the local priest walks by, admires the garden and says: "Bobby, that is a beautiful garden you and God have made." To which Bobby replies: "You should have seen it when it was just God taking care of it."

  2. I love the story, Peter. I'll be making unattributed use of it in one of my talks!

    I'd like to have a go at your question but I'll do it in a post where I can use the edit features more easily. I'm still having connectivity problems, too, and will have a better chance of saving what I write as I go along.


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