Encounters with youth

Recently I was walking home from work and gang of young lads were coming towards me, rowdy and fooling around. They were daft, squawking and pushing each other, but I knew there was nothing bad happening because they were wearing the uniforms of the public school over the road. Interestingly, I made a spot judgement based on their appearance that there was no risk to either the puniest one of them, or to myself. Rather sad really, but if a gang of lads from the Academy half a mile away were heading towards me I’d feel rather different, possibly a tiny bit anxious if I had to pass them. They would probably be pushing at the uniform boundaries with hoodies and trainers, this bunch had polished black shoes and crisply pressed shirts.

All these thoughts passed through my mind as they got closer. They were giggling and jeering and I had the distinct feeling that some of it was at my expense, I sucked my cheeks in to stop myself laughing. Next, the tallest and probably sweet sixteen year old, detached himself from the rest and followed with his hands behind his back. The giggles of four pre-pubertal boys, with unbroken voices, got louder as they drew level with me, and then I was eye to eye with Mr Sixteenish.

‘Excuse me’, he said ‘would you like a flower?’ He held out his hand to offer me a freshly picked sprig of blossom. I took it with a smile and a thank you. Meanwhile, of course, he’d trotted to catch up with the younger boys, who were convulsed with laughter, at his accepting what was so obviously a dare. I called after them that they should ‘learn from their handsome friend, he will be a success with the ladies.’ More laughter.

A young boy was brought into my office for a work experience day. He spent some time with someone in the opposite team and then was given to me for the afternoon. I welcomed him and asked him why he had chosen this particular experience, in a busy finance department, he muttered something that sounded like ‘It’s what I want to do’, ‘really?’ I said ‘what school year are you in, have you chosen your GCSE subjects?’  Another mutter.

He didn’t listen, so he made small mistakes, the same one several times, so to help his learning, I got him to correct them. I found out later that he had been in another finance department for four days, somewhere a lot more sober and serious than mine, with rather more senior staff. I have no idea how he survived. I was gentle and kind to him the whole time, trying my best to bring him out, and I rarely fail, but oh he was hard work. It turns out he was just 14, imagine knowing that you want to be an accountant at that age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was middle aged! I hope he succeeds in his chosen path, but I can’t help feeling that he was just too young for the situation, he was cocky, bright, but not as clever as he thought.

Driving home across the city, close to the University campus, dark apart from the street lights, I saw the silhouette of someone in the road twenty metres ahead. I instinctively slowed down and the car in front of me swerved sharply as the man reverse staggered back to the curb. I could tell it was a guy, late teens in jeans, tee-shirt and a beanie hat. Several vehicles came towards me but as I crept very slowly, they were leaving a 20 mph area and speeding up, unaware that he was about to dash and wobble on to the road again. Horns sounded, he nearly fell but just saved himself. My mind was flying through the options, stopping with hazard lights in the hope that he would cross safely and away from the traffic, shouting at him, I really thought he was going to be run over. Where are the police cars when you need one? This lad was desperately drunk, alone and vulnerable. Then there was a pause in the traffic and he reached the opposite path and sat down. With my eye on the rear view mirror I eased slowly away, and as I moved I saw him up and still swaying around. I still hoped to see a police car as I got closer to the city centre, and hoped even more that I wouldn’t hear anything nasty on the news in the morning.

Seven young boys, 36 hours.


19 thoughts on “Encounters with youth

  1. I was riveted by this Gilly, and had shivers up the spine as I finished. Such a beautifully written encapsulation of aspects of young men, and so deeply sympathetic and comprehending. Thank you.

  2. Great observations. Isn’t it interesting watching young boys in a group, there’s so much pressure to confirm and impress. I worry about my boy, he’s 16 and a good kid but it’s such an impressionable age and there’s still so much growing up to be done.

  3. I seem to remember a time when I was afraid to walk through a group of lads, no matter how they were dressed.
    As I’ve grown into the “mother” and “grandmother” category I’ve come to notice a safer feeling when they are around. The more uncomfortable feeling being stronger now when passing a lone male on a quiet street.
    I wonder if this is a sign of the times… Or of my age.

  4. A fine essay for our times – but not only advantaged v. the disadvantaged, but somehow the whole, hard struggle of young men learning how to BE inside their skins.

  5. A youngish man followed me to my car as I had my arms full of bags. He looked down on his luck . I looked and no one else around,and I felt vulnerable and I figured he was going to ask for money.
    I looked him in the eye as I fumbled for keys-
    And asked him “were you one of my students? Did you recognize me?” And things seemed to shift. He said something about my being a teacher. I left the lot wondering why I felt so threatened.
    Gilly, I like your writing very much. Good musings.

  6. You are super observant, Gilly. Makes for interesting reading about your perspectives.We can’t help but make judgement by appearance. Lucky, these were not negative experiences for you. ❤ ❤

  7. This is a wonderful post Gilly. Young boys can be quite a handful as I was (and admittedly probably still am) at their ages. We liked to think we were smart and mature, but that was likely to be the furthest thing from the truth. We of the male gender tend to take a bit longer to get our acts together than do females though we don’t like to admit it. I greatly admire your patience and concern for these boys that you talk about. Thank you for sharing this experience.

  8. Loved this Gilly – a very interesting read. It is sad that we judge people on their appearance – but that is the way of things. Hoodies are indeed more threatening – but why, I ask myself?
    I bet the lad on work experience was pleased he had a mentor with patience – well done you. 🙂

  9. Fascinating account of a few hours. With keen observation and a light touch on life it’s surprising how much you can see. I thought about a bird-watcher. Camouflaged, watchful, silent, observant, that’s the way to watch your surroundings and employ a receptive awareness.

  10. Seven young boys in 36 hours… Thank you for sharing your stories. It does take keen observations to understand them. Well written. Gilly!

  11. Great piece, Gilly. I could almost see that brave youngster proffering the flower. it must be really hard to be a teenager in today’s world. So many challenges, so many choices and quite often not enough parental guidance. I really feel for young people who overindulge in alcohol. It can be the beginning of a lifelong slippery slope downhill.

  12. A really observant post Gilly about how perceptions can be jumped at by the clothes worn, how peer pressure can create situations, how alcohol can change a person. of any age, from taking care. You write so well and gave me food for thought. I hope the 14 year old appreciated your caring instructions and that he achieves his dream. Not many at that age have any idea what they want to do with their life.

  13. Well played, Gilly, well played. I loved it! I was looking for the connections only to find that there really isn’t none except for what mentioned on the last sentence. It turns out they’re all different, different lads with different stories. That’s the wow factor.

  14. Your story pulled me in Gilly. More so as I have lal boys. Patience is needed I tell you. More love and tolerance i pray for each day.

    That guy who brought your the flowers will surely know how to win the ladies. 🙂

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