Dabbler Diary – The Folly of Youth

Whenever the younger generations become resentful of our elders, with their lavish pensions, big houses and long, expensive retirements, and wonder what is the point of the blasted old codgers, we should take a look at this graphic and apologise for our ingratitude:


71% of 16-17 year olds voted in favour of Scottish independence. 73% of those over 65 voted against. Glance along the line and, aside from an interesting blip in the 18-24 bracket (non-Scottish students?), what you will see is a numerical representation of the accumulation of wisdom. Goodness me, over the years the diligence of the greytops in tottering down to the polling booths every election day must have saved us from innumerable idealogues and chocolate unicorn-promisers. The only conceivable reason for Alex Salmond’s insistence that schoolchildren be allowed to vote in his referendum was that he thought they could be persuaded to go for the childish option – and so it proved.

From the above you will infer that I’m opposed to extending the vote to under-18s. The folly of youth vastly outweighs any nebulous benefits of ‘engaging’ them with politics.

On 23 October you can if you wish go to your local cinema and watch a live broadcast of ‘public figure’ (no longer ‘comedian’, note) Russell Brand in conversation with Owen Jones. To quote the blurb: “At this exclusive Guardian Live event, Brand will explain why he thinks revolution isn’t just possible, but inevitable.” If you do go along you will be able to see an audience largely comprised of ‘politically engaged’ young people. You will also be forced to listen to quite possibly the largest and most concentrated load of misconceived twaddle ever uttered in the history of the great city of London. Young people are very, very stupid. Especially the clever ones.

And that’s as it should be. When I was a revolting sixth-former I was appalled by the oldies’ mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Surely that’s a terrible attitude, I would argue, a much better approach is “If it could work better, let’s improve it!” Then over time I learned about the evil of unintended consequences, and the benefits of dealing with the world as it is rather than as you wish it to be, and all the other dismal truths that, so long as the old cognitive machinery is functioning correctly, gradually turn you into an irritable pragmatist with a mortgage, pension worries and children. Scottish separatists who look at the table above and believe they only have to wait until the current pensioners die off to find themselves in a majority make a simple, profound error. Billy Bragg always thinks the future holds a socialist revolution because the rallies he attends are always full of the young and hip. It never seems to occur to him that this is precisely his problem.

But while the white-haired idealist still chuntering about the revolution and flogging The Socialist Worker on the weekend is a ridiculous figure, so too is the teenage Tory, and rightly so. Remember tiny William Hague croaking about ‘rolling back the frontiers of the State’ as Maggie T beamed on? It was grotesque. The other side of the wisdom coin is disillusion, resignation, cynicism. Without the balance provided by the enthusiastic idealism of youth would we ever get anything worthwhile done? Oh well, something else to worry about as our population gently ages.


The best possible age to be is four. For C’s fifth birthday, to commiserate her passing of the unrecoverable golden number, I took her to London for a daddy and daughter midweek trip. This was in early August and I had not appreciated, until I walked its entire length from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace with a five-year old girl and a backpack on my shoulders in the sweatstreaming summer sun, just what very long road The Mall is. My God, London is a thunderous brainboggling Eroica of a city; how laughable seems the idea that a few million Scots buggering off could in any way harm England when this unfathomable gilded mammoth of history and money and power is at its centre. C liked the Tube escalators best.

We both hated Hamleys but the Disney Store on Oxford Street was heaven: C got to wave a wand in front of a magic mirror and make princesses appear, while I got to collapse in a comfy chair and enjoy the feel of the sweat seeping off my back and into my shirt. We took turns to pose for selfies with Princess Anna from Frozen.

In case you don’t have young daughters, Frozen is an animated Disney film with which all girls are obsessed. It has very good songs which they know all the words to including a proper showstopper, worthy of any of the big musicals, called Let it Go. I heartily approve of Frozen. It’s the only Disney girl-movie which doesn’t end with a wedding. In Frozen, the handsome prince turns out to be a duplicitous baddie and the moral of the story is: don’t marry the first smooth-talking man you meet, he’s probably a bastard. This is just the sort of lesson that fathers want to see hammered home more often. C was allowed to choose one thing for her Main Present. To my surprise she ignored the mountains of princessy crap and chose a cuddly Nala (the female cub in The Lion King). She’s barely been parted from it since.

The next morning we went on the London Eye, which I talked up as a very big ride on a very big wheel. We enjoyed it well enough, but C was disappointed that it didn’t go round really really fast.


Of course the glorious architecture of politics and royalty means nothing to a five year-old. What an interesting Prime Minister David Cameron has turned out to be. Prone to blundering in rashly, largely devoid of conviction (not necessarily a bad thing), sometimes inexplicable, but in the big moments remarkably direct and decisive. I thought his 7am post-referendum speech when he bluntly vowed to resolve the unresolvable West Lothian question was as disarming and brilliant as his invitation to the Lib Dems in 2010. Cameron is definitely one of those ‘fall-at-every-hurdle-except-the-last’ Englishmen. Contrast with Alex Salmond, the precise opposite. I did feel sorry for Salmond – not many fail so close to achieving their impossible lifelong ambition. Being in the SNP must be a Sisyphean torture.


On Sunday a pipe in the bathroom began to leak. The home cover people promised to send an emergency plumber between 1pm and 5pm. At 5pm we called again, and they admitted he could arrive any time up to midnight. We put new towels down. At approximately 8.45pm, about the sort of time on a Sunday we’d be wanting to open a bottle of Aldi red and settle down in front of Boardwalk Empire, a terrible scream rent the air asunder. I raced into the girls’ bedroom.

C was holding a piece of princessy crap against her mouth. It was a hair grip, and a long needle protruding from it had apparently pieced right through her bottom lip. I looked at it, Mrs Brit looked at it, and we decided not to attempt the removal but to take her to A&E. ‘What about the emergency plumber?’ ‘Ah. Let’s phone 111 first to see if a doctor can come round.’

Eight minutes of pointless computer-generated questions about whether she had a temperature or blurred vision later, 111 told us to take her to A&E. The screaming continued all the while. ‘What about the emergency plumber?’ we asked each other, again. In the end I bundled C into the car, with Nala for moral support, and drove into Bristol. C was very brave, she held the hairgrip carefully against her mouth as I tried to drive without bumping. ‘Don’t crash, Daddy’ she advised from the back. ‘Or I will really hurt my lip.’

Parking by Christmas Steps I carried her and Nala across Park Row to the Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital. They both seemed to have grown a lot heavier since that walk down The Mall. The triage nurse examined C’s mouth, frowning. ‘Hmmmm’, she said. Sweat slithered down my back and spread unenjoyably into my shirt. The nurse took us unto an operating room. I lifted C onto the bed where she lay, tiny and quivering, clutching Nala under her arm and the hairgrip to her lip. The nurses debated. ‘Have we got wire-cutters?’ asked the Senior, a short sensible squirrel-like lady. She had a metal implement in her hand, like a sort of blunt scalpel. Or at least I thought it was blunt. ‘They’ve got some next door,’ said the Junior, and went off. While she was gone C and I squeezed each other’s hands. For some minutes the Squirrel peered very closely at C’s mouth. Then in a sudden movement she pushed the scalpel under the wire and lifted. C howled, the grip was gone and no blood flowed. It turned out that there were two wires clamped around her lip, one doubled back on itself, not a single wire penetrating it. That old magician’s trick. “Would you like to keep this?” asked the Senior, holding out the grip. “No thank you, please throw it away,” said C and I in unison.

Walking back to the car after I’d recovered, I called Mrs B to relay the good news. She said that the plumber had fixed the leak and that E was still awake at 11pm. I hoisted C into her seat and we drove off. The Sunday night roads were empty, streetlight and shadows streaking in turn across the windscreen all along the M32. In the rear-view mirror C was gazing out of her window, holding her lion cub in one hand and her pink ‘Star Patient’ Bristol Royal helium balloon in the other. I felt about a hundred and forty years old. “Well, that was a fun adventure!” said C to Nala. I kept my eyes on the road and, like a Scottish pensioner in an opinion poll, my thoughts to myself.

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11 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – The Folly of Youth

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    September 22, 2014 at 10:12

    So that’s the reason, wrinklies outvoted the spotty ones, the back seat of the Shearings omnibus saved the day, the SNP was busted by the baby boomers. Three cheers for us, accolades aplenty for the dowager’s humped, prostated, incontinent drainers of the family inheritance.
    Never, in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to a bunch of old codgers and dotty old broads.

    Could it possibly be Brit,..C has simply reached the rebellious stage earlier than most and wishes to become a Goth. Best hide anything in black.

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      September 22, 2014 at 13:19

      Yep, the wrinklies saved the day, except for that 18-24 bracket. I’d love to know why there’s such an extreme difference between the sixth-formers and the undergraduates.

      • Gaw
        September 22, 2014 at 21:25

        Apparently the sample was ridiculously small – there were about fourteen 16-17 year olds. I’m afraid that means it’s not statistically valid (always a satisfying phrase to deploy).

        I forget where but I came across an alternative view of the young Scots: that they were more likely to vote No as they include all those future ex-pats who will soon be buggering off to London and are necessarily less inclined to parochial nationalism (“the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees etc.”).

        [Checking that last quotation I came across this magnificent compendium of Dr J’s insults against the Scots: http://www.samueljohnson.com/scotland.html.

        Here’s a good one:

        Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they would choose it. Johnson: “Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren.” Boswell: “Come, come, he is flattering the English. you have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there.” Johnson: “Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.”
        Boswell: Life

        Incidentally, just to even up the insults here’s a remark from N Stone:

        ‘For the English the Scots are either fawning at your knees or grabbing for your throat; the Welsh however don’t even reach up to your knees.’]

  2. henrycastiglione@hotmail.com'
    Henry Jeffreys
    September 22, 2014 at 11:25

    Helena – nearly 3 – has just got into Frozen and I can’t stand it. It seems to have been written by someone who has only ever listened to other musicals and the songs are projected rather than sung. Despite watching it about 150 times, there are no songs that I want to hum.

    Still the trolls are funny.

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      September 22, 2014 at 13:13

      That’s a shame, Henry, I was rather hoping we could do a duet of ‘Love is an Open Door’ at our next booze-up…

      I’m afraid you’re going to have to learn to love Frozen, for your own sanity over the next decade or so

  3. Worm
    September 22, 2014 at 11:55

    I am glad that I have a son who (currently) has no interest in films at all, so hopefully I should avoid any of these disney things with cheesy musical numbers in – unless of course it turns out that he’s theatrical…

  4. nigeandrew@gmail.com'
    September 22, 2014 at 12:31

    Another interesting figure in those stats – 14 percent of Nats (i.e. 1 in 7) voted No, i.e. voted against their party’s sole aim and raison d’etre. How does that happen? Even in Scotland?

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      September 22, 2014 at 13:10

      I suppose the prospect of independence was more attractive when there seemed no real danger of it actually happening.

      A bit like the Lib Dem supporters deserting in droves when they actually got into the government.

    • Worm
      September 22, 2014 at 15:03

      Similar thing happened in Oz in 1999 when they had their last vote on becoming a republic – plenty of people who previously identified with being republicans voted against the switch as they didn’t like the terms of the particular deal being offered or the person who was offering it

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      September 22, 2014 at 15:43

      One in four Glaswegians stayed in the pub on polling day, approx 500 spoiled their ballot papers, way to go, when the soviet socialist republic on the Clyde is infiltrated by rabid nationalism. Young Rifkind has, at last, come of age, this is his summation….

      The online Yes fanatics sought out only like-minded opinions – and refused to believe they could be heading for defeat
      Spare a thought for the cybernats. Whither now, angry Scottish men with your furious fingers and reservoirs of bile? Will you spill out across the rest of the internet as roaming jihadis below the line? One thinks of the Tuaregs, spilling out of Libya after the defeat of Gaddafi and destabilising Mali instead. Will you all be learning Spanish? Mandarin? Or, will you keep on keeping on, with the same auld fight?
      I think these people have been more influential than they know. Perhaps terribly so. True, there have been unionist trolls — ask Andy Murray, and then leave the poor sod alone — but they have been as children next to their Yessy foes. Some unionist blogs, also. Yet the Yes side has recruited online, fought online, arranged flash mobs and demos online, and on and on. Convinced of a mainstream bias, moreover, it has almost built a whole alternative Scottish news media, albeit one occasionally run from surprising places, such as Bath.
      I haven’t really slept in a month, it’s true. As a hack, though, I’ve loved this referendum. Never have I worked on a story like this, where almost every conversation — real conversations, not online — is a corker. You’d stop somebody on a street corner to get a quick quote about their rosette, and half an hour later you’d still be there, deep in conversation about currency unions, or the difference between Catalans and Basques, or why so many Scots seemed to be suddenly called Blair.
      The Yes guys tended to have the best chat, I suppose, because they were actually interested in the process and didn’t just want it all to stop and go away. Some were thoughtful. Others were more cultish, reciting by rote, but it could take five minutes or so to figure out which was which. Yet there were a few things that most seemed to have in common. Such as a passionate dislike of Nick Robinson, the BBC’s politics editor. Will any bald man with spectacles ever feel safe walking Caledonian streets again? “Moby has cancelled tonight’s concert in Dundee,” the news might be saying, years from now, “because of the mistaken lynching yesterday of Harry Hill.”
      They all largely thought the same things about a currency union, which was that George Osborne was bluffing. They largely thought the traditional media was all biased, even if it didn’t have any bald, bespectacled men in it at all. And, most strikingly of all, they all thought they were going to win. I don’t think they were pretending. They really did. They saw the No lead in the polls, but they didn’t see the people it consisted of. And slowly and surely, I think they began to convince themselves these people didn’t exist.
      There’s a trauma, I’m sure, and maybe a humiliating one, in the sudden realisation of your own minority status. It’s the great contradiction, really, at the heart of whatever the hell has been happening with Yes. On the one hand there was wilful delusion in every direction; about numbers and oil and currency and everything else. And yet, on the other, it was such a great civic project of political engagement and education that yesterday, on Twitter, the phrase “West Lothian question” was trending for an hour.
      Granted, it doesn’t seem to have worked everywhere. Glasgow, where one in four voters stayed at home, probably ought to be taking a good look at itself right now. Of those who turned up, a staggering half a thousand people managed to spoil their ballot papers, perhaps by rolling them into cigarettes or spelling their X wrong. That shame seems to have been a blip, though. Elswhere, the engagement was deep. What it wasn’t, though, was broad.
      More than once towards the end I heard nationalists joke about their own cybernats; their willingness to subvert every online poll they could find and to troll every unionist blog or newspaper website comment piece they could lay hands on. Perhaps this did, indeed, drag waverers over to Yes, in the belief that if everybody else was doing it, they’d have no excuse to hold back. But it also must have given many existing Yessers a wholly misleading impression about their own strength and ubiquity.
      Passion came from the cybernats, and by passion I mean nationalism. It was their job to inject that tone and menace into the conversation, freeing their comrades above the line to talk simply of democracy and accountability and all the rest, while the nastiness lurked and leered in the shadows behind. Several commentators have noted that, while the binary tub-thumping of the Scottish referendum has been unfamiliar and upsetting to us mimsy, genteel Brits, it’s more or less what the Americans do all the time.
      To me, though, this doesn’t feel like much of a recommendation. How many years, I wonder, does it take for hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck politics to turn into a ritualised combat between two identical men in slightly different ties, irritably telling each other how much they love America? Because I don’t think I want that much.
      The cybernats reminded us that it has become easy to live in your own world. Via Facebook and Twitter we select the news we want to hear and ignore what we don’t, hardening our certainties under a carapace of certainties borrowed from others.
      We can, as so many in the Yes camp seemed to do, sniff for bias like a bloodhound working for a witchfinder. And finding it — because a biased nose always will — we can then shift to websites that smell exactly as we do, and thus to us not at all. And, in doing so, we begin to comprehend less about the other side, and in time may even forget, except for in the most abstract sense, that they are even there.
      That’s what has happened, in this debate. Walking through Edinburgh’s Grassmarket on Thursday night, there were times when it felt as though every third person was some brand of separatist Spaniard with a flag as a cape and an accordion. Had I been a Yes, I suppose I’d have found their presence exhilarating, allowing me to tell myself that I was campaigning not just for myself, but on behalf of peoples around the globe.
      Yet how strange and sad it must be when you think that, and believe that with every fibre you have, and then it turns out you don’t even represent the folk next door.

      • wormstir@gmail.com'
        September 22, 2014 at 19:43

        that was good reading – thanks for sharing Malty

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