This statement inevitably applies to today. In Belfast on St Patrick’s night in the University district, a proportion of drunken students, had pitched battles, as part of a night out. When constantly complaining about youth behaving either badly or criminally, it is generally considered that it is in the poorer districts, where parental control is lax, and young people have no means, financial or otherwise of enjoying themselves. I see no justification whatsoever why students brought down mayhem on the residents of that road. As a one-time university student I believe there were times when a little high spirits were accepted almost universally, such as boat race night and Rag Days. It was relatively harmless, possibly mildly antisocial, but generally fun, and in my experience in my day, the general public often joined in.
Do you remember the Short Sharp Shock, (SSS) which was a form of remedial punishment for serious misbehaviour not likely to warrant a prison sentence. They sent miscreants to the army for a basic training course that had all the unpleasant features depicted of frictional American army films, to show how tough soldiers are. I had been at the receiving end of SSS both from the Grenadier Guards and the Royal Navy, and have always considered it mindless bullying, and physical aggression for its own sake. Once, when I was looking after the cells in the Navy in charge of two men charged with attempted murder on different occasions, but the same man because of the mindless aggression of that chief petty officer who was drilling us. He felt he had something to prove, come hell or high water, he was going to do so.
I want to go back to 1933 when I sat what was to become the 11 plus examination. If succeeded, there were three options, one could choose to go to a secondary school with fees and books paid for, thus setting one up for University, as articled to a profession, or choose to go to a technical school and learn a trade. One could stay in the elementary school until 14, then go to work as a labourer, or an apprentice etc. If one failed the exam, one had three different options, wait until one was 13 and re-sit the examination, if successful one could the go to a secondary school, or technical school, or when 14 leave the elementary school. Those who failed this would leave the elementary school and go to work. This shows that 14-year-olds had not much time to kick about the streets, if they were at College they would have homework, and if they were at work they wouldn’t get home until six o’clock, have a meal and it would be late on before they would be on the streets with their friends, possibly tired. The one thing they would be is stimulated. I question whether the step by step raising of the school leaving age is as beneficial, taken in the round, as predicted.
With the vandalism in mind I started reminiscing about my time at sea on the lower deck of a very small destroyer, with too many crew-members for the original design. What this taught one was man management – how to behave in a tightly knit environment, self-control, consideration of others, and an ability to turn off what was going on around one and concentrate within one’s own bubble. In effect this was a lesson in community living, which is what I believe is missing in the lives of so many of these young miscreants. They are not being given the right sort of stimulation, and in many cases are being stopped and searched for no apparent reason, which induces a chip on the shoulder. I’m not suggesting that people who misbehave should be sent to sea, but possibly to an environment very similar to what I have described, might be worth experimenting with. Some could indeed go to sea, others could work in difficult environments like mining, that are naturally stressful, fatiguing and restraining.
It is just a thought fostered by my own experience, which I think might be worth consideration and perhaps even trying on a small scale. These youngsters need to stretch themselves, to achieve something that is within their capabilities and current environment, but is mostly impossible because the facilities are too limiting. For six months I have been severely confined as a result of a serious accident, and what I have discovered is that if I try to achieve something new either everyday or as soon as possible, the fact of achieving it gives an incredible fillip to the self-esteem, and builds like child’s building blocks. This is what these young people need, the possibility of widening the horizon week after week and achieving something, nothing stupendous, but something that they think is worthily.