Thursday, August 25, 2005

Column, August 23, 2005

I FEEL it is something of an achievement to have attained the age of 40 and not, as yet, been made the subject of an asbo.
I only mention it because it would seem they are handing them out like Green Shield stamps nowadays.
Getting your first asbo seems to be as much a rite of passage as passing your driving test or convincing unwitting off-licence staff that you really are 18 despite your soprano voice and could you have two crates of the blue alcopops please.
Even OAPs are getting in on the act.
There was a time when eccentricity was a celebrated trait in this country. Every community had its fair share of crusty old fogies who would go off like a bottle of pop if you so much as cast a shadow on their front gate.
They were generally left to their own devices on the grounds that most of them had fought in wars for our freedom so the least we could do is leave them in peace to cultivate a garden full of weeds and develop a smell indistinguishable from that of their large dog that looked every inch capable of tearing your throat out should you have the temerity to knock on the front door.
Harmless? Well, very probably not, in fact a little bit dangerous and unhinged, but such is life.
It would be a very dull world if everyone was nice, middle-class, middle-aged and in possession of a full set of marbles.
But that is, apparently, the kind of society that we are trying to produce with our courts handing out asbos left, right and centre.
Of course there are some people whose lives are made a misery by anti-social behaviour and they should be protected by the law. However, you have to wonder just how effective asbos are when week after week you read of youths up in court having breached theirs for a fortieth time and that finally the courts have got round to thinking a period of detention might just curb them.
This government likes asbos, you can tell by the way they let all and sundry hand them out. Quite why they haven’t seen the sense in giving traffic wardens and lollipop ladies asbo powers is anyone’s guess – no doubt it will be in the next Queen’s Speech.
But now the police have even wider powers to deal with the youths that lurk on our streets in their dangerous hooded tops.
They can now seek a dispersal order for an area where there is nuisance behaviour going on. That means they can order anyone there to leave and not return for 24 hours and they can forcibly return under-16s to their homes if they are unaccompanied by an adult.
The question is what constitutes nuisance behaviour? For many of these youths there is little else to do other than to hang around in groups. And for some people of a nervous disposition it would seem that any group of more then three over-12s is as threatening as the Mongol Horde riding into town, only this time they’re on BMX bikes.
The simple solution is to ban them and force them back into their homes, where I’ve sure their parents will be absolutely delighted that an evening’s peace is disturbed by the early return of a truculent teenager accompanied by the Old Bill.
Is it altogether surprising that teenagers hang around in groups and try to buy alcohol when the alcohol industry targets them so ruthlessly?
After all, alcopops were hardly invented as an alternative tipple for the real ale brigade were they? You don’t get beardy chaps of a certain age walking into their local tavern and foregoing their usual pint of Ostlethwaite’s Dark and Peculier and going for something blue and fizzy instead do you?
They’re bombarded with advertising that says alcohol is cool and pubs are allowed to open 24 hours a day to sell it, yet we expect them to behave like they’re Trappists until they’re 18.
They may look sullen, but they’re not that stupid. They know they’re missing out on something and so they’ll do their best to try it. Show me a teenager who hasn’t got drunk before their 18th birthday and I’ll show you a very, very bored child.
All asbos do is sweep teenagers and mad old men under the carpet. We all know the problem is there, but it looks like we’re doing something about them if we slap an asbo on them.
The reality is that we’re just moving the problem round, not solving it.

THE burghers of Rhyl getting in a froth about comedian John Sparkes would do well to remember Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on the matter.
Thoughts on being talked about that is, not Rhyl – he had many memorable aphorisms, but I don’t think he ever passed judgement on Rhyl.
Unlike South Walian Mr Sparkes, whose routine includes a grandfather dying on a trip to Rhyl whose relatives are consoled with the thought that he has ‘gone to a better place.’
Wilde said that ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not.’
Or to put it another way, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
No-one is going to cancel a trip to Rhyl because of a stand-up comedian’s act and the more it gets talked about the more likely people are to visit to find out what all the fuss is about.

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