Friday, 17 April 2009

From Civilisation to Enemy Territory

A brilliant piece of reportage - and much more - here. I think the transformation of our town centres into booze-and-violence arenas is one of the most important, dramatic - and deeply undesirable - social changes since the war (talking of which, if those who fought it could have seen what their country would be like in a few decades, I fancy they might not have bothered). And it was, as large social changes go, remarkably sudden. I can date it precisely because it happened in the interval between Mrs Nige and I having our children (a mere two, less than three years apart) and therefore for a while largely ceasing to 'go out', as commonly understood, and our returning to old haunts where once we'd enjoyed civilised drinking and eating. The appearance of the Junior Niges took place at the turn of the 80s; by the mid-80s the old haunts were changing fast - but by the end of the decade they were unrecoginsable; they were enemy territory, where anyone not there for the youthful boozing-and-fighting was as out of place as a pork sausage in a synagogue. The menace was palpable, whereas less than a decade ago these were parts of town where anyone could go, even on a Saturday night.
At the same time, I was getting around the country quite a lot and often found myself in country (and county) towns, places which I remembered as tranquil and sedate to the point of tedium - but no, they too were suddenly heaving with drunken youth and seething with menace. The transformation seems to have occurred everywhere at pretty much the same time and pace. I have no idea why it should have happened then - or indeed at all (any ideas?) - but it is hard to think of another change to the face and feel of the country quite so dramatic and quite so unwelcome.


  1. haha I'm going to sound like my dad here, but I would posit that the change happened at the same time that

    -industry collapsed, leaving working class men with little to do, no money, and no way of displaying their status/ manhood apart from their ability to beat the living crap out of someone

    - decline of collective community responsibility (brought about by the welfare state) and decline of feeling of ostracization and shame in wrongdoers of having let down the community

    -young people realized that the police no longer had any real power over them apart from giving them a bit of a telling off..

  2. Inclined to agree Will, expect that these types must have plenty of money to drink (and drug) the way they do. The ones who end up in court often see to have 20-odd pints in them, plus chasers, plus several lines of coke, etc...

  3. thing is, unlike a 'normal' person, these people simply divert money away from other things like food or their children and just spend it on booze fags and drugs instead. A pint of IPA is £1 at any wetherspoons, £10 and they're wrecked and up for a bit of ultra-violence.

    I wonder why it is though that I have often drank more than 6 pints of beer, yet I have never once felt the need to enhance my evening's entertainment by walking up to somebody and smacking him in the face...maybe Im missing out on some fun here

  4. Well me too Will - certainly see the attractions of drunkenness, but violence I just don't get.

  5. These people are not walking in to a weatherspoons and buying a pint or ten; they are visiting the local supermarket and buying booze in bulk and for a pittance. They then find a pleasant park or garden to vomit in and there you have a LARGE evening.

  6. Some historians put the witch-hunting craze down to people getting more educated as a consequence of protestantism, which then made them see the age-old, pagan-inspired habits of the uneducated in a new light.

    Relevance? I think that we just pay more attention nowadays to lads getting pissed up and fighting, and that this is probably a consequence of there being more middle class people about who all have TVs. Market towns, mining villages and working-class districts of cities have always been witness to punch ups.

    As I commented on the site where this excellent post is to be found I remember 25 years ago yokels fighting in market places (I was one of them) and heard stories from my mam about fights in Valleys dance halls 25 years before that.

    Incidentally Mark Steel did his latest comic turn on Radio 4 from Merthyr Tydfil. There was quite a bit of interesting and amusing discussion of the long-standing propensity of the local population to fight after a few beers. Perhaps it's just a Welsh thing?

  7. Oh yes Gaw I take your point, there have always been drunken punch-ups - but they never used to be the whole picture, certainly not down my way - and now, across vast swathes of town/suburb, they are.

  8. So working men aren't normal and are the cause of all the problems in the country?

    Tell me, how built the country in the first place?

    It sure wasn't the non-working man.

    Nice. Insulting an entire group of people for destroying the country, which, by the way, are the ones for the country existing in the first place.

    Ever heard of the industrial revelution?

    will said...
    haha I'm going to sound like my dad here, but I would posit that the change happened at the same time that

    -industry collapsed, leaving working class men with little to do, no money, and no way of displaying their status/ manhood apart from their ability to beat the living crap out of someone

    will said...
    thing is, unlike a 'normal' person, these people

    Just so you can't say you didn't say it.

  9. Townies are lower middle class spending a lot of money for the most part. Harbinger is talking about a different set with much bigger problems. Proper chavs don't go into the bars and nightclubs on a Saturday night - for a start they insist on a dress code.

    It's primarily to do with tribalism and youthful masculinity. I'm inclined to think that human nature doesn't fundamentally change and never will, but trends come and go and the same basic things express themselves in different ways. We've virtually wiped out football hooliganism and now we've got townie-ism instead.

    (Thanks for the kind words Nige)

  10. The unions in the 70s showed that you could get off with just about any sort of anti-social behaviour -it's no surprise that Lessons Were Learned.

    OR, the children of the children of the 60s behaved as you might predict. Letting it all hang out isn't a good move of "it" is horrible.

    OR.... Dunno; riding a motorbike drunk is wonderful fun, but brawling never appealed to me.

  11. Wise words Brit.

    Thinking about it a bit more I think on the one hand you have embourgeisement and a greater sensitivity to let us say 'normal' brawling, and on the other a bit more wealth meaning more kids can get drunk and partake in violence. End result is town centres with an excess of punch ups which in any event would offend rather more people than they used to.

    Solution? An increase in poverty, which I believe is quite a real prospect.

  12. Poverty would solve it and so would a big war with a national draft, but that would be both a cure worse than the disease and a sledgehammer on a nut - a double cliche.

    The nut, after all, is simply the problem that civilised folks daren't go into town on a Friday or Saturday night.

    I don't generally venture into solutions because I have no confidence in my ability to come up with them, but I do think the solutions are simple and practical: just tackle the strip. These rows of giant 'fun pubs' are purpose built for bingeing: if they were all-seater, waitress service, ambient rather than disco-loud and above all, not not all next to each other, the whole nighttime landscape would be transformed. Normal pubs and normal nightclubs aren't the problem.

    The root causes - masculinity, tribalism - are of course insoluble. It's not clear that eliminating them would be desirable anyway. There'd be no rugby for a start, and definitely no Kipling's Tommy.

  13. I suspect this problem could be replicated all over the world wherever a traditional culture has been overwhelmed by a more aggressive and adaptable one. Those in sink estates have been pushed out and deracinated to the point where they have more in common with native Australians or the San people than they do with their alleged neighbours in Godalming or Tunbrige Wells.

    Sentimentality is usually a flipside to guilt, which perhaps might explain why we are so grossly sentimental about traditional working class values. They were brilliant values, ones to be pround of, but they've been ground to nothing by globalisation and it's time we faced up to what has become of them.

    As for booze: I suspect one thing the government doesn't like to spell out is that you can have expensive booze and a much bigger hard drug problem or cheaper booze and less of a hard drug problem. You decide, but neither problem is going away any time soon.

  14. By the way, the solution in my last post wasn't a recommendation. I certainly don't want to get any poorer.

    On this whole topic, I think there's a danger of engaging in moral panic. Kids are just trying to have fun and it looks a bit ugly sometimes.

    I also believe we're all a lot more similar than we'd initially guess. Cast your mind back to some of the escapades of your youth and imagine how they would look to you now (that is, if you've reached middle aged dad-hood like me).

  15. Mark, your point is always.

    Nige, I'm surprised to hear about these drunken town squares. Here we have drunken youngun's a-plenty, but they know better than to display *public* drunkenness -- the cops arrest for that, and fast. The young drinkers here do it at someone's house, or a club that welcomes them, or a more deserted area where they won't get hassled.

    P'raps your police need to do something to deter the kids from ruining the public square for everyone else?

  16. Ah Susan this is far worse than drunken kids in the town square - this is very very very drunk, out of control, often violent young adults across large parts of most British town centres every Friday and Saturday night.

  17. When did house prices start rising faster than wages?
    I married in the late 60s, my wife and I were both clerks basically and aged 21 and 20, earning around GBP3-400 pa each. We bought an old terraced house for cash (GBP 950) having saved pretty hard for a couple of years. So the house cost a little over our joint incomes for one year. We saved to do the house up and had our first kid when I was 25 - when my wife stopped work, later she worked part time, then we had our second ...
    Today even after the recent price correction there is no way ordinary working people people in their early 20s could buy a house in that way. They would be mortgaged to the hilt at the very best. So they live at home with mum and dad. And if you're a 20odd year old male living with mum and dad, what do you do at night? Sit and watch the telly with them? Go to your room and watch telly on your own - or go out and drink with your mates?

    Young men have got drunk and started fights since time began (and have ameliorated somewhat since Caine and Abel) - what's different is that they have enough spare cash (because they are not householders) to provide big enough profits for beer-sellers to buy large, central beer-dispensing halls. Before it used to happen in known "fighting pubs" in the poor-end of towns.


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