Monday, 31 March 2008
Mutant Rodents Attack Mutant Teenagers!
No, this is not a billboard for a new science fiction movie. It's advertising a story in the Oxford Mail about how some rats have developed a resistance to certain poisons. Bad news if you happen to have these hardy rats living at the bottom of your garden or inside your house. ("He's inside the house! He's calling from inside the house!")
The real story last week, though, was English indignation over a Time magazine article on Britain's feral youth. "Britons are frightened by their own young," writes Catherine Mayer, before listing the ways British teens are even scarier than mutant rodents: They get drunk more often and younger than other European youngsters, get into more fights and have sex earlier. "Small wonder, then, that a 2007 UNICEF study of child wellbeing in 21 industrialized countries placed Britain firmly at the bottom of the table," writes Mayer.
I've blogged before about Britain's feral youth and how they prowl even the streets of Summertown (for the Yanks among you, that's Oxford's Chevy Chase, or at least its Bethesda). My Lovely Wife seems to regularly encounter the "fuck-off" brigade. The other day a bunch of boys were languidly tossing stones at her as she walked down the street. Lovely. We blame the parents. But England also seems to suffer from an excess of "I don't want to get involved"-ism. There are no busybodies anymore, people willing to confront a young stranger and say, "Hey you, knock if off."
Ruth was on a train from London the other day on which a young man had his iPod turned up to a deafening level, the sound of the music reverberating through his empty head and filling the carriage. Ruth could tell she wasn't alone in being annoyed; one gentlemen even changed seats to avoid the aural blast. Finally Ruth could take no more and so she walked down the aisle to confront the youngster, who was slouched against the window "asleep." "Excuse me," she said, tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention, "would you please turn your iPod down?"
"Would you please get your hand off me?" he spat back. But he did turn it down. No one on the train thanked Ruth or even acknowledged her. Before and after she made her stand they studiously avoided eye contact.
Of course, intervening can get you your head kicked in. But where's that Blitz spirit that defeated Jerry? And anyway do you really want to live forever? Or die without making the front of the Daily Mail?
These are just anecdotes, useless in terms of larger social policy. But we fight anecdote with anecdote, and so the British papers this weekend were full of righteous indignation that Time magazine could dare to criticize the fair youth of Albion. Typical was the column in the Sunday Times by Rachel Johnson. I'm pretty sure she must be one of the models for Private Eye's "Polly Filler," the ridiculously self-centered "yummy mummy" columnist who goes on about how great her children are and how hard it is to find good help. In her column, Johnson describes how active she is in her kids' lives (table football in the barn of their country house!) and extrapolates from there that today's young generation has never had so much parental involvement. Like most of the columnists refuting the Time story, she has to include little caveats, including the fact that 27 teenagers were murdered in London last year and innocent people seem to keep getting stomped to death by 15- and 16-year-olds. However, she writes, "such atrocities are still--mercifully--rare."
Not rare enough, I'd say.
It wasn't all gloom and doom yesterday. In fact, weatherwise it was a day that suggested spring might actually come. I know that Washington's cherry trees are a blaze of pink around the Tidal Basin and I'm sad I can't walk among them, tripping over Japanese tourists. But Oxford's University Parks provided some solace yesterday, a few cherry trees putting on their own show for a homesick Washingtonian:
I hope I didn't embarrass Charlie too much by making him pose for me in a bed of daffodils:
I wondered if the new ballpark would really be ready in time for the Washington Nationals season opener. But it was, and so far the baseball team is undefeated in its new home. The tone of the coverage I've read has been nothing short of fawning, but a sour note is struck in today's Washington Post by architecture critic Phil Kennicott. A "colossal symbolic failure with national and international import," he says.
I found the artist's conceptions a little underwhelming myself. The ballpark doesn't ape traditional styles, as so many new stadiums do, nor does it mesh with Washington's monumental architecture. Does it look a little too much like a Best Buy? But even in his criticism, Kennicott admits that seeing games at the park is a transporting experience. It's a building built to showcase the efforts of the players on the field. For most people, that will be enough. I can't wait to see it myself. Maybe a mid-July series against Arizona or Houston?