‘Close the window,’ said my niece. ‘I’m getting rained on!’ We were driving up to town today to, among other things, get her belly button pierced.
‘No, no,’ said her best boy pal J. ‘If we close the window, a baby panda will have its life taken away. For every second the window stays open, we adopt a baby monkey. And there will be cake.’
I love J. He’s a really nice guy but I can’t pretend he’s not bonkers. Bonkers in a good way. There is a large paddling pool in our garden and one day J. came for a splash about with other kids from the neighbourhood. Unlike the other kids, he left his underpants behind. Washed, dried and folded, they were presented to him a few days later.
‘I’m not taking them home,’ he said.
‘Why not?’ asked my sister. ‘They’re your pants.’
‘No I’m going to hide them in your house and you have to find them.’
Like all good parents, my sister warned him of the consequences of his decision. ‘If you do that, J. and I do find them, I will hang them outside where everyone can see them,’ she said.
‘Game on,’ said J.
Game on indeed. So far the pants have been found in the fruit bowl and hung from a bamboo stick in the hedge. Then the pants were hanging in my bedroom doorway so they spent the Jubilee weekend fluttering from my sister’s bedroom window. His mother can see our house from her front door – doesn’t she recognise those black and yellow boxer shorts?
Today, the pants turned up in the kitchen. We were planning to put them up the telegraph pole with our Jubilee Union Flag but J. beat us to it and now they’ve disappeared again. Don’t worry we will find them – I favour flying them from the car aerial …
Kids. They are just too damn smart for my good – or smart-mouthed, anyway. Last weekend the family and I decamped to a friend’s house for a party to celebrate our Queen’s 60 years at the helm. Tribes of small people rampaged through the garden and threw each other off the trampoline before arriving at the barbecue shouting ‘I’m bored, I’m hungry.’ The sound of burgers being chomped replaced the shrieks of the younger kids and the bleeping of the older ones updating their Facebook profiles by mobile phone, then darkness descended and the brave among us set off to the park to see the fireworks. When I say brave, I probably mean well-oiled. The adults certainly were and I’m sure some of the wilier youngsters had been ‘minesweeping’ when no one was looking – several of the scooters being propelled by little boys followed uneven, zig-zaggy courses. One lad seemed quite relieved when my sister commandeered his wheels and took off down the street giggling. She had definitely been on something stronger than orange squash. The elder brother of the now scooter-less boy watched my sister go with a thoughtful expression on his face. He’s blessed with a personality that is utterly and unquestionably honest. He wouldn’t know how to lie if his life depended on it, as I soon found out. Erupting into peals of laughter, the boy ran up and down the street in front of me shouting ‘She’s the oldest woman ever to get on a scooter!’ He repeated himself a couple of times as my sister circled around him, still giggling. Not to be outdone, I said to the boy, ‘she won’t be the oldest woman for long because when she comes back, I might have a go. I’m even older than she is.’ The boy stopped walking, paused for a tiny moment then turned to face me. He threw his arms wide, looked me in the eye. ‘Obviously!’ he said.
Tact and diplomacy clearly aren’t on his to do list either.
The world has changed and moved on since I was young – some of the changes are good, some not. I’m not one for comparing today’s kids with dimly remembered contemporaries from my childhood. I know that people will contrast past and present youth culture but I didn’t expect to hear my nearly teenage niece doing it.
Tonight, whilst my niece was out of the room, I changed TV channel from the chick-flick she was forcing me to watch and discovered a programme about punk rock. Ah, now those were the days. No contest, the chick-flick was history. When my niece returned, her mother and I were arthritically pogo-ing on the hearthrug and reminiscing about a time when we were a similar age to my niece and nephew. A time when young people were angry and looked scary and poked safety pins through their skin. We remembered tall, spiky hair that took a whole can of hairspray to combat gravity, bondage trousers, bum-flaps and anarchy t-shirts.
‘Oh look,’ my sister yelled in ecstasy. ‘There’s Johnny Rotten. He’s the bloke I named my chainsaw after.’
‘I know, Mum,’ my niece replied. ‘You told me already.’
I looked at her to see if she was bored, contemptuous or pissed-off about missing her film but she wasn’t. She was interested. She was actually enjoying the music. At the end of the documentary, after listening to Siouxie Sioux, Adam Ant, Hugh Cornwell and Rat Scabies etc, my niece faced her mother and me with her hand on her hip and her lip pulled up in a threatening sneer. ‘Music in your day was all angry and “I’m gonna cut you” stuff,’ she said. Then she smiled. ‘Music in my day,’ she swayed her hips and winked at us, ‘is all heyyy, I just wanna f*** you. Which do you think is better?’
Let’s go back to cake and monkeys and hiding underpants.