I ain't really misbehavin'.
IREMEMBER thinking when Asbos - Anti-social Behaviour Orders - were introduced in 1998 that the yobs were going to laugh them away.
This was feeble finger-wagging at a generation that saw no reason to respect anyone or anything. Asbos came in under the Crime and Disorder Act during Tony Blair's Labour government. I didn't imagine, however, that they would come to be regarded as a badge of honour, a status symbol. This is particularly true among that class of person we the Establishment see as untouched by the guiding hand of parent or teacher, free of all forms of culture and education.
These unwashed folk generally demonstrate the cerebral acuity of a squeezed pimple. Whelks on a slippy rock have more moral fibre, we tell the tut-tutting members of our Neighbourhood Watch group. Bristling with indignation, we ask ourselves what kind of future civilised world could possibly rest on their sloping, scurf-besmirched shoulders.
We can't stand their high-rising terminals, the ridiculous yards of underpant they show, their bodged tattoos and shiny piercings, their stupid lacquered hair and bad teeth.
Ah. High-rising terminals. This is the interrogative sentence, its last word or syllable with rising intonation or inflexion, sometimes called the upspeak or Australian. It's difficult to demonstrate but you'll get the idea if you read the following paragraph out loud: "I went to the shops? To look for some clothes? But I couldn't find what I wanted?" Sometimes you'll get one or more of such sentences graced with an 'innit?' At worst this sounds like a rather pathetic plea for reassurance - but recent research has identified it as a speech trick employed by dominant conversationalists bent on demanding acceptance from their listeners or preventing others from interrupting. Now that's interesting: Asbo children with something they really want to say.
There are, of course, huge dangers here in assuming that the boy with the hair shaved off the side of his head, the stud in his tongue and a bar code printed on his Adam's Apple is necessarily a bad sort. Or, indeed, that if he is, he will remain a bad sort for much longer. Many youngsters court the horror and disgust of their elders for a brief period just to assert their individuality, only to grow up and become bankers, estate agents, politicians or journalists. You just can't tell how yoofs are going to turn out.
Recently, a man on TV was insisting people could be trained to minimise the chance of Asbo kids being provoked.
Cross the street, don't make eye contact, speak softly and sideways, don't trade insults: in effect, don't engage.
I think that's playing into the hands of the Asbo people. First of all, you can't assume that somebody who is shouting, swearing and pushing people around is Asbo material. Second, being scruffy, smelly and rude isn't necessarily so anti-social it merits an Asbo. I think that pretty much describes me when I was a student. I wasn't Asbo material, and look at me now: a pillar of society.
I know it's dangerous, but I believe in confrontation in a very positive and friendly way.
Nine times out of ten, a soft answer turneth away wrath, as the Good Book says.
If a bunch of Asbo types is blocking the pavement, walk straight at them. If they don't move aside, walk into them, apologising loudly and smiling.
"How are you doing? Well, I hope? Beautiful day. I think you dropped that cigarette packet by mistake.
The bin's over there. See you around."
Learning a few slick self-defence moves would not come amiss if you plan this course of action. Just in case.
I've not always been as tolerant. Back in the 1970s, when I could run like the wind, I found a pre-Asbo type nicking apples from my miniature orchard and chased him half a mile, finally getting him in a headlock and dragging him back home.
He'd dropped the apples by then. And when I got him home I couldn't think what to do with him, so I rapped my knuckles very hard on his head and told him to something off.
This is common assault. Don't do it. I could have got an Asbo for it. If they'd been around then.
There are moves afoot to create a set of punishments for anti-social behaviour that are more 'community-directed', which sounds like a good idea. The new orders will not, I suspect, do anything to prevent the oldest recipient of an Asbo, an 87-year-old man, from being sarcastic to his neighbours. And one wonders if an Asbo given to a woman banning her from making loud noises during sex anywhere in England has encouraged her to move to more forgiving parts of Britain or the Continent.
* GETTING SHIRTY: The Asbo as a badge of honour - and exploited commercially, too. Harrumph! Whatever next?