The Young Ones

It is commonly accepted that the population of Europe would be declining in a pretty startling way if not for constant immigration. Unlike Americans, the people of Western Europe are simply not having very many children. Who can blame them? These are heady days for the European economy and I assume the citizens who work hard to make their nations prosper would like to benefit from their labors without having to think of the next generation.

When I walk around Edinburgh, though, what’s right there in front of me is at odds with these statistics. Experts say how the population of Scotland, in decline since the 1970s, will continue to shrink unless immigration reverses the downturn. When I walk around the city, though, I usually encounter many, many people who look like they are in their teens. Many of them are schoolchildren cutting class to shout and cuss around beautiful St. Giles Cathedral. Others are chavs (in Scotland called "neds") playing silly games between sips of Scotland’s famed hangover cure, Irn-Bru. Indeed, not a day has passed that I haven’t seen kids on Edinburgh’s main streets and thoroughfares loitering and whiling away their time.

Now, at my tender age, I must admit, I have little to warrant a dislike for the more unseemly behavior of foolhardy youth. At the expense of sounding like a stick in the mud though, I will say that sometimes I see kids here do things that I think are pretty stupid. For example, recently I saw a crowd of chavs congregate around a KFC, and two of these wannabe street toughs began to take swipes at each other. Their dozen or so companions watched as the violent horseplay escalated. The boys began to punch each other in the face: a brush on the chin, a cutting hit across the cheek, and so on. The kid’s smiles contorted into scowls and, as their punches got more and more audible, the crowd around KFC got bigger. I looked to my left and right and saw old ladies, men in ties, thirty-something-looking couples, all of us pulled to this spectacle by our shameless voyeurism. The kids continued to fight, until finally one pulled away, but fell. The other fighter, his faced stained red with exhaustion, lunged towards him. The boy on the floor jumped up and ran away, and then his opponent followed briskly, with a band of eager street-fight aficionados behind him in pursuit of the show.

Sometimes the aggressive urges of the urban young are filtered in other ways, as when a group of older teens scrawl angry political manifestos like "END LONDON RULE!" and "SCOTLAND IS NOT BRITAIN!" in chalk, usually after a drunken night out. Of course, feelings of nationalism are not limited to the young or the bored. Respected Glaswegian author, Alasdair Gray of Lanark fame is an avowed nationalist, as is Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister (the equivalent of a prime minister in the local parliament). The young Scots who make a patriotic mark on the sooty walls of their capital, in some not-too-distant future, might be likened, to the Irish freedom fighters of yesteryear, voicing the wills of a growing multitude. Their future countrymen may refer to these graffiti as a sort of shorthand "St. Crispin’s Day Speech," helping to rouse the feelings of millions of potential Bravehearts. For my part, I think it’s a better pastime than watching your friends get beaten up outside a fast-food place.

Still, it’s wrong to judge kids so harshly, I suppose. Most adults probably fantasize about getting into spats about nothing and punching their colleagues across the mouth. I imagine that some of those weekday warriors watching the fight, their ties wound up to 11 and their palms sweaty with anticipation, were probably living through those kids, thinking at the time, "God – beating my best friend up would probably be so much cheaper than fucking therapy." But then they immediately think of potential complications like apology letters and anger management and other things society demands of the civilized, and all those violent fantasies disappear the way the dreams of getting a hot wife and a yacht did all those years ago. Mr. "Maybe Next Year" sinking irreversibly into the quicksand of casual Fridays and postponed pleasure. At least those kids seem to get what they want: a big, visceral smack in the face, the publicity of gladiatorial combat and a feeling of idiot grandeur.