The kids aren't alright
Despite parental protestations to the contrary, some kids are feral little brats with no business being inflicted on the rest of us in public spaces. But if they're bad, the parents are infinitely more irritating, writes BASEMENT JACK.
THERE ARE MANY, MANY THINGS THAT IRK, irritate, peeve and perplex the well-meaning majority of this fair land. Taxes, Tories, Titchmarsh on TV...to name a few personal favourites. However on a societal level it seems that ankle-biters - children to the rest of you - are unrivalled as touchstones for social unrest (although coffin-dodgers run a close second). You would hardly credit the levels of anger that these little folk can generate in others. In many, if not most instances, the level of rage is quite disproportionate to the severity of the individual incidents. But this is because of a common factor shared by [some of] the young and indeed the elderly: a refusal to adhere to the principles of the social contract - i.e. they don't play by the rules of normal, fair, decent behaviour. They are either unaware of them (children) or they don't believe such rules apply to them for whatever reason (old folk and parents of said children). To reiterate, we are only talking about irritating splinter-cells within these two vast groupings - but then the actions of the pain-in-the-arse minority often overshadow the reasonable majority.
The trouble is when such breaches of the social contract occur, explosions of temper go hand-inhand like compromised principles and Liberal Democrats.
A representative example was relayed to me by a colleague just this week...and even in the re-telling I can feel the old blood pressure rising. Journeying home from a visit to relatives he had sought a peaceful trip by booking into a first-class 'quiet coach' (no mobiles, stereos etc.). Despite these general restrictions, a family with two youngish children sitting across the carriage promptly set up a portable DVD player. Being an altogether more reasonable fellow than your columnist, he took this development in good heart.
However when the volume of the cartoon being played reached ear-bleeding levels he requested that they turned it down a touch. This polite entreaty provoked the markedly less friendly reply: "Well there are other seats up there!" (The carriage tension ratcheted up a notch)
"There's really no need to be like that," my colleague replied a little more heatedly, "this is a quiet carriage; I honestly don't mind that thing being on but could you just turn it down a bit please?" (Up another notch)
"Well maybe I should just switch it off and let them scream?" came back the mother's waspish reply. (Tension at failsafe limits, explosion imminent) Fortunately at this juncture the father intervened before the ill-feeling went thermo-nuclear. The volume was reduced and the tension was reduced to an even simmer. Unfortunately there was not much of a lull in hostilities. The volume of the DVD got incrementally louder until another passenger, an older woman, asked for it to be turned down. What followed can only be described as a monumental hissy-fit followed by a pronounced flouncing up the carriage by the mother ("We'll sit up here, there's a nicer table with some proper adults who understand what it's like [cue baleful look at my colleague and his partner]! That woman really should have known better, though..." Apparently it all got a bit shouty thereafter.
As a parent myself I don't think any force on earth would have stopped me from giving the mother an earful in response to that blinkered, pig-ignorant remark about switching off the player and "just letting them scream". Her total lack of consideration and aggression in the face of politeness was an appalling example to her kids. Was she honestly saying that she wasn't able to control her offspring without the aid of audio-visual equipment? That being the case she had no f-ing business being a parent in the first place. Pick up a book, maybe, if for no other reason than in the hope that by encouraging them to read they, unlike their parents, might not end up too stupid to read a 'quiet coach' sign? And why would she think that the presence of her children made the family exempt from the train's regulations?
It is this last all-too-common attitude among some parents that I really hate: the notion that the world needs to accommodate the unchecked whim of their kids, simply because they are too young to know better. Yes, children are too young to know better which is precisely why they rely upon their parent or guardian for guidance, motivation and (where necessary) intervention.
The level of intervention required is, of course, entirely dependent on the circumstances. Echoing this very issue, the publication last month of Harden's Eating Out With Babies And Toddlers stirred up a hornet's nest of contrasting opinion.
Inevitably there were ridiculous hardliners on either side of the debate. On one side you had those advocating a blanket ban on kids in any restaurants other than fast food chains. On the other were those who seemed to feel any imposed control on their kids was tantamount to heretical cruelty. Actually both sides miss the point. If a parent wishes to take their offspring to a restaurant, that is their right. But the manner in which the children's behaviour is controlled should be conducive to the ambience of the establishment. As such far greater and faster parental intervention would be required at a Michelin-starred gaff than at a pub carvery. You want a place where the little buggers can get down between courses (personally I don't think they should) then don't take them to La Gavroche. It is all about consideration for others.
That said, this consideration is a two-way affair. If a parent is clearly making every effort to prevent his or her kids' behaviour from impacting on others then they too deserve some thought and patience. Strangely enough little sarcastic comments, exaggerated sighs and impatient tutting or eyerolling won't actually help a mum or dad stop their child from crying. Nor will it help them pack their shopping any faster. If you're one of those who like a good tut, on behalf of the millions of hard-working parents doing their best across the UK, let me say this: stop it. Stop it right now, for your own sake as well as ours - take it from me you're a hair's breadth from getting clocked around the chops with a tin of ravioli.
If you'd like to comment on any of Jack's article or share rant about something that irritates you, email email@example.com. It might tempt him out of the cupboard, and maybe he'll write about what annoys you!