Thursday, 16 December 2010

Issues About Issues, And The Reasons Male Students Buy Guitars.

So much for having a peaceful week at work. The phones go nuts today, and everyone is moaning about something, especially the usual suspects. If I hear the phrase, "I've got issues" one more time, I swear I'm going to become an axe murderer.

Some people have got valid points to make, though. Honestly, I don't think some students are working as hard as they claim to be. Not if all the constituents complaining about them are anything to go by.

"I can't take it any more," says Mrs Watts. "I haven't had a decent night's sleep for months."

She goes on to explain that the students who live in the terraced house next to her are driving her to distraction.

"They're completely nocturnal," she says. "When they're not coming in drunk at 3:00am and putting their stereos on at full volume, or sitting outside smoking and yelling their heads off, they're shooting things on those damned PlayStations. They just don't seem to understand that normal people work during the daytime, or that they are partying next to my bedroom."

"Have you reported them to the university?" I ask.

"Oh, yes," she says. "And to the Anti-Social Behaviour team. Doesn't do any good. The only time the university does anything is when it's another student who's being disturbed."

"Well, what did the ASB* officer say?" I ask.

"What attractive boys they all were. And how nicely-spoken. Of course, she only visited during the day when they were sober."

It isn't the first time that I've heard this from constituents. When the ASB team receive complaints about a bunch of youths on one of the council estates who are making their neighbours' lives a misery, they're only too happy to believe the complaining residents and to take a tough line. As they should.

But it's often a totally different story where students are concerned, especially those who are middle-class or who have cut-glass accents. You'd wouldn't think professionals would be so easily fooled, but drug and drink-fuelled noise and disturbance caused by partying students is often treated as high-jinks. It's as if neighbour nuisance is defined by class and educational attainment, not by actual behaviour.

"I'll write to the university and the council and ask them to take meaningful action as soon as possible," I say. "Mind you, if they put all the lectures on in the mornings, and made attendance compulsory, that'd probably solve the problem."

"Thanks. I wish they would," she says. "Oh, while you're at it, can you please find out why every male student thinks he can play a guitar?"

I must sound a bit non-plussed, because she continues:

"They leave home, rent a room in a shared house next door to a working family, and immediately go out and buy a guitar and amplifier. I wouldn't mind so much if any of them could bloody well play the damn things. It's like Chinese water torture listening to that ELO music."

"I think it's called EMO," I say. "ELO is The Electric Light Orchestra. Probably too outdated for today's students. But I know exactly what you mean about how awful it is."

I boast about my knowledge of "yoof" culture to Josh when I get home, but he is unimpressed. I'm just about to ask him why, when Ellen pops round to borrow the corkscrew. I fetch it as quickly as I can, so that I can keep her on the doorstep instead of being forced to invite her in.

"Drinking again, Ellen?" says Max, who seems to have casually wandered into the hallway at the sound of her voice.

"Own your issues, Max, own your issues - that's what I always say," she says, and blows him a kiss as she walks away.

I kick the door shut behind her, and follow Max and Josh into the living room.

"Own your issues? Own your f*cking issues?" I say. "God, that woman talks crap."

"Get a grip, Mum," says Josh. "Now who's being juvenile? You're worse than a student."

"No, I'm not," I say. "At least I don't torture my neighbours with hideous guitar music and self-pitying lyrics."

"Well, they're unhappy because they've obviously got mean parents like you and Dad," he says. "So they have to grab the opportunity to play music the minute they leave home. If you'd let me buy an amplifier, I'd have been famous by now."

"Infamous," I say, but Josh isn't listening.

"You're supposed to nurture your kids' talents, not stifle them," he says, throwing himself onto the sofa and turning on the TV. "Failing to do so probably counts as deprivation, or neglect."

I look to Max for back-up, but he still seems too depressed to speak, so he's no help at all.

"Well, report me to Child Protection, then," I say. "They'll probably give me a medal for services to humanity."

"I may just do that - via these guys," says Josh, gesturing at the advert for the NSPCC that has just come on. He pays close attention as a young girl explains the terrible experiences she has endured.

"But now I know I'm going to be okay," she says, as the image fades.

"Except you bloody won't be," says Josh. "Will you?"

I stare at him in amazement, and even Max looks a bit surprised.

"What on earth d'you mean?" I say.

"Well, she isn't going to be okay, is she?" says Josh. "She's going to have a shitload of issues."

I really don't know what to say to that.

*ASB - Anti-Social Behaviour. I'm embarrassed to admit it's a virtually meaningless phrase that New Labour thought up.


  1. Another saga. Feel free to skip.

    This business of nocturnal students & their guitars certainly strikes a chord (hah!) in this house. Favourite elder son (FES) conducts the bulk of his paternal email correspondence between the hours of three and five am.

    He's been trapped with us by the snow since Saturday morning and has been getting increasingly grumpy about not travelling home to hug his mother/girlfriend/music studio.

    This morning, after the requisite whinge against the gods and me (bonus abuse today: Dad gets hit over the head with a squeaky plastic cheeseburger) he asked to use the phone. Half an hour later FES shuffles in and says ...

    "Here's the thing. After going to the pub on my last night at Uni we stole a reindeer from a Santa's grotto. And an anchor. Anyway we felt a bit hungry and stopped off to buy some fried chicken. When we came out the reindeer (which I had tied to a railing even though it wasn't a real one) was surrounded by police."

    Turns out that he was given a caution and an £80 fine and has until Tuesday to pay it or his head will be on a spike outside the police station.

    Not having access to the original slip with the incident ref number – it's at his mother's and he's afraid to talk either reindeer or anchor with her – means that he has been put through a Kafkaesque telephone relay by the various police authorities, who quite naturally do not want his money and have no advice to offer.

    Thing is Bennett, I feel irresponsibly proud of FES and so does Old Girl. Not just the whole cliche of the stolen reindeer (which, to repeat, was well cared for during its adventure, as indeed was the anchor, though confess not entirely clear why sea faring hardware should feature in a Christmas grotto) but that he has entertainingly added to his portfolio of brushes with the law; all of which have invlved the pursuit of fast food at key moments.

    Bit off-message. Sorry.

  2. Rather relieved to hear that it's not just my son who has surreal experiences. £80 for a reindeer sounds like a bargain ;-)