Latchkey, loneliness, criminality

I write the following as a result of the boy being stabbed outside a youth club. At about ten, I visited a youth club, not of the quality of the one referred to in the press, but a miserable little room, in the loft of an old stables, dark and poorly equipped. I never went back

I have not written this before, because for the last 76 years, I have never thought of that night without shame. It happened during a very unhappy few years in my life, when my mother and I had been separated due to our financial situation, and now we were together. She had higher moral values, was highly intelligent, and was a fighter. Prior to that she had worked through the day, and at night attended an evening class to obtain a City and Guilds qualification as a pastry cook. She was now able to support us both, but this involved leaving the house early to walk, and travel by tube to Mayfair, where she demonstrated cooking for the Women’s Electrical Association. She returned any time after six o’clock. We lived in a two room flat, consisting of a joint bedroom and a kitchen. I had to prepare myself for school, was probably provided with lunch by my grandmother who lived more than a mile from the school, and from the time the school broke up in the afternoon, I was expected to go to the flat and do my homework, until my mother returned. Needless to say this was not always the case, in the summer months a group of us would play cricket on Clapham Common, but in the winter we tended to roam the streets.

I drifted into a gang, not entirely welcomed, because I had not grown up in the district, I believe I was merely tolerated, and I don’t think I had any real friends among the people I knocked about with. It was pitch dark, probably about five o’clock in the evening, when the caper started. I personally was not privy to all the facts, until the activity was well underway. The father of one of the boys had been sacked by a local entrepreneur and our gang was apparently going to extract retribution. A game was organised on the forecourt of a grocer’s shop which had a large number of boxes set out in the street, among them was a box of eggs. It turned out the game was to have two teams playing a game of catch using a large leather glove in lieu of a ball. The game went on until the glove landed, ‘accidentally’, on the egg-box and when it was retrieved eggs were stolen at the same time. The leaders then proceeded in a state of glee to the house of the entrepreneur, and his Rolls-Royce sitting in the street. They then ceremoniously broke the eggs over the radiator and smeared them as far as possible.

The point I’m making is that I, would not have joined in had I been in possession of the full facts, but I was an outsider tagging on for company. The scale of vandalism was relatively harmless, the eggs would have washed off, and a couple of eggs stolen was not in the upper ranks of criminality. What it does demonstrate is how easily an innocent member of the gang, permanently on the periphery, can be inveigled, unwittingly, to be party to a serious act of vandalism, or worse, that they would have had nothing to do with, or contemplated, if they had been in possession of all the facts. Gangs I believe generate their own momentum through the psychopathic tendencies of one or two strong-minded leaders within the group. It is loneliness that draws the remainder to the group. They have three choices, to join that group, or another, or spend their free time in miserable loneliness. Gangs once formed, if they have some form of glamour, will not only grow but they will persist through time. The interests of a computer will inevitably be short lived.

I’m not writing anything that the authorities don’t know, it is the way our society operates now, where we are more insular, the extended family is almost a thing of the past, we have less time for the social graces, and less facilities like parks, Commons, and well-run youth clubs, where the innocents can enjoy and pass their time.

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