Hegel infamously said that history was a process of thesis (the current paradigm) bumping up against antithesis, which then (through war, debate, demographics) becomes a synthesis, a resolve, whether it be chaos or calm. The rite of passage of a child is similar. The typical model is the young child being totally dependent on the carer, living by the values of their parents; they are helped, to walk, to speak, to read, etc.. Then, when reaching their teenage years, they become independent, at least in their eyes; wanting to go out more, liking different things, rebelling even. Eventually, in this theoretical scenario, the synthesis is interdependence, or rapprochement or mutual relationship of empathy; the young adult, gets a job, a family and realises what the other side of the coin looks like. (more…)
It was Larkin who famously said in his poem Annus Mirabilis: “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ (which was rather late for me) -/ Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.” Teenagers for the first time were heard and given a glimpse of freedom, which as teenagers are wont to do, grabbed it by whatever they felt in reach, another person’s body, music, protest, and drugs of course. When I think about the first portrayals of the working class in the early 1960s in books and films, they are often rites of passage, where there is a clash of ages, with authority, and opportunity presents itself to our young confused adult protagonists.
Billy Liar does his eponymous best to escape the drudgery of northern working class life by playing on the fields of his mind as well as women he is in sentient contact with. Bumping up against his parents, grandparent, and boss, the wonderfully named Mr Shadrack. And at the end of the film, we so want him to leave with Julie Christie and go to London, but at the same time know that would undermine the film’s premise. Similar stories are told in such films as Taste of Honey, where Rita Tushingham fights with her drink-happy mother, gets pregnant by a black man, and is looked after by a gay man, which given the fact this was first written in 1959 by an eighteen year old Shelagh Delaney, four years before sexual intercourse was said to have begun, is remarkable. There is a wonderful line in the film from Murray Melvin, her ‘gay saviour’, when saying: ‘You need somebody to love you while you’re looking for somebody to love’. (more…)
Testing, testing, one, two three. Here in the UK (and elsewhere I am sure), we are in the testing season; ‘tis the season when the educational lives of teenagers (as well as pre/post-teens in many cases) are put under scrutiny to ‘determine’ their future. This ritual, particularly written timed exams, puts huge pressure on young people, often when they are at a critical time of their emotional development. A survey in 2016 carried out by ChildLine, found a 20% increase in the numbers of children needing counselling, because of fear of failure, wanting to please their parents; that triggered eating disorders, anxiety attacks, depression and inability to sleep. The Conservative government has even increased the type of written testing that causes this worrying increase in stress for young people.
The second decade of a person’s life is one of the most important; it is when they move from dependence towards independence, before in later years hopefully moving to interdependence in their familial relationship. And of course, with the Internet their lives are displayed on social media – their peers can amount to thousands of people. It is when the extremes of experience are at their height – when they are doing many things for the first time (sex, drink, drugs, travel, voting, working).
Julia Webb’s poignant (and wonderfully titled) poem ‘because my home town has a hand between its legs’, encapsulates this precarious, exciting, and frightening time from the perspective of girls/young women, “we spend too much time in public toilets – /smoking, scratching boy’s names onto cubicle doors,/rolling clear lip gloss onto kissable lips.” We all remember hanging out on the streets, when there may have not been a youth club, and the pubs were beyond reach. “Spaces find you: the concrete slope under the road bridge,/the shadowy space beneath the walkways at the bottom of the flats.” And sadly, the vulnerability and dangers that one can be open to, “make sure your Mum’s friend never gives you a ride home alone.”
This all makes me wonder what decade is the most satisfying, rewarding, of our lives; is it those teenage years of first-time experiences, the independence of your 20s (and30s if you’re lucky), or the later freedom of old age if you have made it that far with your suitcase of faculties still intact?
Julia Webb grew up on a council estate in Thetford, Norfolk. She graduated from UEA’s poetry MA in 2011. She has had work in various journals and anthologies. Her first Collection “Bird Sisters” was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016. She is a poetry editor for Lighthouse.
because my home town has a hand between its legs
we spend too much time in public toilets –
smoking, scratching boy’s names onto cubicle doors,
rolling clear lip gloss onto kissable lips.
Imagine the shock of touching an unexpected pickled egg
buried deep inside his hot wrapper of chips.
No myths here, only rumours, streets you can’t walk down
because you have been warned off, boys it’s best not to look at
if you want to avoid the girl with frizz-hair and her pummelling fists.
Spaces find you: the concrete slope under the road bridge,
the shadowy space beneath the walkways at the bottom of the flats.
You’d rather lie through your teeth than confess your sins –
you might get a good hiding or your friend stops being your friend?
There’s a spyhole in the wall of your best friend’s bedroom
through which her brother watches her get undressed.
Shake the boy on the pushbike off at the entrance to the estate,
make sure your Mum’s friend never gives you a ride home alone.
The teenage years are those where you spend most of your free time outdoors. Having spent the first twelve of them corralled in parental protection, you are finally allowed out with your friends. And what does society have to offer you? Well, not very much. You can’t go to the pub (not until you’re at least five foot ten with a fake I.D.), the gym isn’t exactly welcoming or cheap, and having been in school for the day, ‘organised’ activity has limited attraction.
This is why teenage children have always been great walkers. With nowhere to go they end up wandering aimlessly into town, looking furtively at other girls and boys, going into the shops and not being interested in very much. Then when that gets boring they go further afield; into other areas where they find ‘secret’ places – a disused shed in a wood or allotment, deserted school playground, or a house party on the other side of town, where they finally get to experiment with all the things they are not meant to, both human and chemical. Before facing the long bedraggled walk home to that porch light which they hope signals their parents are asleep and not waiting on the sofa in the dark.
Julia Webb’s poem Redcastle Furze is a wonderful evocation of one those journeys; on this mini travelogue you will mix the urban with the rural, “down St Martin’s Way/under the crags/and/overhangs/of the industrial estate/to the place where yoghurt pots/spill their raspberry guts across warm black tarmac.” You will encounter waste alongside nature, “past the tip/spewing doorless fridges foetid carpets/then on down the hill/past/the Edkins/the Snows/and the Tockers /and into the woods /through the thick smush of lilac.” And not forgetting the famous landmarks, “spy hill where only the bravest climb,” “helicopter tree corner,” “Witchy Waghorns,” past “the old police house.” As is often said in another context, ‘you couldn’t make it up’. The detail is magical and clearly unforgettable. (more…)