I’m always slightly surprised when an entire demographic becomes stigmatised. Show me your working, I want to yell, with my empirical hat on. The Young People, who are so glorious in my eyes that they deserve capital letters, constantly get it in the neck. Oh, the young, with their texting and their gaming and their rising inflections and their like whatever, their inability to write a coherent sentence and their ‘Gr8 to c U’. Oh, oh, the youth of today, who are so coddled they do not know they are born, with their selfies and their instant messaging and their internet obsession and their tragically short attention spans.
This is, of course, old news. If you look at the letters and diaries of the Edwardian generation, the parents of those famous Bright Young Things from the 20s and 30s, you find them filled with despair for the fecklessness and self-indulgence of the pleasure-seeking generation. Many of those same young things went on to fight and die in the Second World War. They turned out not to be quite so feckless, after all.
I’m a huge fan of The Young People. In my experience, they are thoughtful, polite, generous and industrious. The ones I have met cannot all be freaks and anomalies. In my work at HorseBack, I see a lot of the young. Some work as volunteers, some raise funds, some participate in the Youth Philanthropy Initiative. One group walked, cycled and canoed clean across Scotland in aid of HorseBack. The grown-ups who were with them came back inspired, their faith in human nature raised sky-high. The teenagers on that hard challenge never faltered, never complained, and offered help without being asked. I refuse to accept that they are outliers.
I have two lovely young people stories for you today. Both of them are very small stories, but they gave me a pleasure so profound that I wanted to tell you of them.
Yesterday, I promised my mother I would cook her a chicken risotto. I went to the shop. Disaster. No Arborio rice.
A young man was stacking the shelves. Dared I ask him? He would surely think that I was one of those poncy middle-aged, middle-class women, asking him for fancy rice. What was wrong with some nice mince and tatties? Besides, he was busy.
I scuffed my feet and diffidently asked whether he might not have a secret stash of risotto rice in the back. To my astonishment, he did not sneer. Of course he could go and have a look, nothing could be less trouble.
He came back, his face fallen. There was no secret stash. He could not have been sorrier if it were for his own mother. Never mind, I said; thank you so much for taking the time.
I wandered off to gaze at the shelves and replot the lunch in my mind. Perhaps a nice pilaf instead? Pilaf seemed a very poor relation, somehow. I was oddly demoralised by the whole thing.
Suddenly, the young man appeared, beaming and breathless. He brandished the very last packet of Arborio rice in the shop. ‘It was hiding behind the Basmati,’ he said, barely able to conceal his joy.
I could hardly believe it. He had not given up. He had gone and rummaged about on my behalf, and appeared with his prize. I stuttered and gushed. I told him of my delight, of my amazement; I said that he had just made one old lady very happy. ‘I hope your mother enjoys it,’ he said, still grinning all over his face.
‘You have made my day,’ I said.
The smile blazed brighter. ‘Then my work is done,’ he said.
Two days before this happy moment, the post arrived. The post is usually a grave disappointment. It consists of intrusive flyers, charity appeals, cross messages from the council, which clearly believes I am hiding a family of five in my attic and thus cheating on my council tax, and bills. Nobody writes letters any more. Most especially, according to the groaners and grumblers, the Young People do not write letters, because of course they are far too busy composing illiterate texts to pick up a pen.
There was a letter. It was from a Young Person. This particular gentleman had just left university. I had met him at the birthday party of my younger niece a couple of weeks ago. He was exactly my type: witty and thoughtful and very slightly subversive and absolutely his own person. I had done my crazy aunt schtick, and hoped it was not too much.
Apparently it was not too much. The young gentleman had written a letter simply to say that he had loved meeting me. That was the burden of his song.
Another old lady was made very, very happy.
Although I am approaching fifty, most of the time I do not feel that old. Some of the time I feel quite young and quite foolish. But I am keenly aware that to a twenty-one-year-old I must seem perfectly ancient. I am always in danger of falling into the PG Wodehouse aunt trap, and flashing my cloven hoof, and embarrassing the poor niece in front of her friends.
The young gentleman reassured me that this was not the case. What sweetness.
I love these stories because they fit in with my theme of the small things, the tiny, daily, unimportant things which would never make the headlines and yet bring me dancing joy. I like recording the small things, so that I may look back and remember, on the days when the clouds come. But I also love these stories because they are happy reminders to all those grumbly grouches that the Young People should not be written off. Despite all rumours to the contrary, they delight and surprise. I take all my hats off to them.
Too busy for the camera today, so here are some photographs I took of the glorious young people who came to my sweet niece’s 21st birthday weekend. You can see why I was so taken with them:
And one of my favourite candid shots of the niece herself, looking, I think, a bit like Julie Christie:
The thing that struck me about this group was how affectionate they were to each other, how courteous they were to the older generation, and how particularly touching they were with the very little children. You can see in the pictures one set of boys being perfectly enchanting with my great-niece and nephew. They had been dancing till dawn night, and they had all their friends there to talk to, but they took time to play football with the smalls. That’s right up there with the waiter test in my book, as far as character goes. Five gold stars, of the most glittery variety.
Oh, and here is the old aunt, at the party itself, with the glad rags on, just so you can see that I am not always cantering about with hay in my hair and mud on my boots:
But still, PG gets the last word:
“It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof. ”
Ha. That is why I cropped the picture.