18 and Out…

29 06 2008

Having not written anything for a while, this post is more a continuation of my grievances regarding age. I have previously recorded my thoughts about the minimum wage and how unfair it is that, as a youngster in my academic year, I cannot earn the same levels of minimum wage as some of my academic peers.

Bearing that in mind, I was hugely annoyed to learn recently that I cannot hire a van until I am 21 years old (irrespective of how long you have held a driving licence for). Now this irks me for two reasons. Firstly, my licence tells me, on the back, represented by a series of letters and numbers, that I am eligible to drive a van (up to a certain size). Secondly, I have held my full licence for about 3 and a half years. Which I think means I have enough experience of driving to understand how to safely drive a van. The trouble is, I’m still only 20. Most hire companies that I have looked at will not hire me a van because I am under 21, and, by their rationale, therefore inexperienced, unsafe, and likely to do damage to any vehicle that they hire to me.

Which, quite frankly, is rubbish. What should be considered is the length of time the licence has been held for, and it’s ‘cleanliness’ (how many points it has on it). Not age.

In a bygone era, 21 used to mean something. It was a sign of maturity, children were reaching adulthood, and were ready to reach out in the world and stamp their own unique mark. It doesn’t mean that any more. In Britain we can vote (yes, we can vote for people and have a say in politics, but we are still too inexperience to hire a van) and drink at 18. Many people now have children in tow by the time they are 21 (as evidenced by “Britains Youngest Grannies” on the TV the other day). 21 is becoming more and more meaningless to this modern generation. It seems that it is only members of the older generations that see this birthday as still, somehow, important.

I was recently asked what I wanted to do for my 21st in the summer. I haven’t given it any thought in all honesty because to me, it is just like any other birthday. I am not gaining anything by being this age (other than the right to hire a van),  unlike I did when I was 18. I just wish there was some consistancy in the world, if I can do other things like vote, or drink, or raise a family, why can I not hire a van? Answers on a postcard please…


Glory, Glory…

23 06 2008

Football and race have rarely worked well together in modern times. There was the appaling monkey chants in the Spain-England friendly a few years ago. Trips to eastern Europe still see such ignorance occurring from an increasingly small minority in the stands. Whilst there are numbers of black players, there are few from Hinduism, or Sikhism. That said, racism is thankfully dying (albeit slowly), on a football stage at least.

The news today that Paul Ince is to be confirmed as the new manager of Blackburn Rovers is something which is painfully groundbreaking. Ince will be the first black Briton to manage in the top flight of English football. His two (yes, just two) black predecessors (Jean Tigana and Ruud Gullit) failed to have a real, lasting impact on English football (discounting, of course, Gullit’s “sexy football” comments).

To emphasise the importance of this step is both easy and difficult. On the one hand, we are in 2008. Race issues do still occur worldwide, but in Britain at least, we have long since departed from the issues relating to racial equality. It is obvious that black people can be promoted to high positions in companies. On the other, football is an interesting beast, removed slightly from the realities of society (a problem exacerbated by the increasing truckloads of cash being thrown around- how anyone can justify spending £50million [as Ronaldo is rumoured to be worth] on one man is beyond me). Race problems are still there, under the surface. Ince’s appointment is just one further step at eroding these problems. It will not, obviously, cure all the problems, but it will contribute in a meaningful way.

Ince is a beacon. Not only for black people, but for young people as well. He has worked hard, throughout his career. Whilst, it can be argued, loyalty was maybe not his strongest attribute, commitment for a cause was certainly one. Anyone remember his bloodied head following a match against Italy? Respected as a player by most people in football, Ince began his management career at Macclesfield Town. He then proceeded to keep them in the football league, something of a minor miracle. He followed that up by getting MK Dons promoted. Now he joins Blackburn. The step up is big, but Ince will make it with ease.

Quite why this appointment (not of Ince necessarily, but of another black manager) has taken so long is anyones guess. There is, of course, a dearth of black managers out there. Those who are there are have failed to move higher than League 1. These are the problems which still need addressing, how can we improve the situation for these people, what can be done to help black people make it in the game outside of playing it? Ince will act as a signal, a starting point. I hope we see more talented black managers making it big sooner rather than later.

Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Can’t, Teach.

16 06 2008

Every so often a story catches my eye. So it was the case here. Whilst browsing the various BBC headlines for the first time in about a week, I came across this story. I was taken by it, it is such a simple concept, yet one which remains largely unexplored.

The group of A Level students have taken it upon themselves to petition the PM to create a GCSE option in politics, a subject not available until A Level. I have written before on how young people should be before they get involved in any form of politics. I failed to reach a suitable judgement. There are many problems to the idea of creating a new option at GCSE, especially one relating to politics.

I didn’t study politics at A Level, with hindsight perhaps I should have (although if I had done all the A Levels I wanted to, I would have wound up with about 8). I know many people in my school (granted it was not a representative sample of the population as a whole) who would have loved doing politics instead of the compulsory language, or in place of either Art or DT.

Would a GCSE in politics encourage more people to take an interest in politics? I know I would like to think so, but there is a nagging feeling I have about it. Could it not have the adverse effect? Could it not put people off from a young age? There is the potential, but if the option is just that, optional, surely you would only have people who actually want to study it? At least more than German. I think the option could be a interesting one to have, if only to get more young people interested in political issues. Encouraging them to engage with various issues relating to politics perhaps is a good idea.

The trouble is, how many people would do it? If politics is not something which interests you, making it just another subject, on a par with German or French, or any other compulsory subject that young people dislike might be a bad thing. By the time they reach A Levels, any interest has been sown, and, as more mature individuals, are able to choose their options much more freely, and easily.

So I have my reservations about this idea, but I do admire the students for running with it, and wish them all the best. If you do want to sign the petition, it is available here.

Just one more quick thing. Whilst looking through the Downing Street website I was surprised by sheer number of petitions, which obviously mean something to someone, but, in reality will not get that far.

The Lamentation of Age…

14 06 2008

Whilst returning to the countryside once again, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a group of what I presumed to be colleagues grumbling about the internet (actually I could help it, but the conversation was interesting). One of the group, who appeared to be the nosy, talkative, office busybody observed that they were to be the last, and I quote, “private generation” due to social networking sites, which, according to another member of the group, seem to do more harm than good.

The idea of a “private” and a “public” generation was one which interested me, hence I kept listening to the conversation, until I had to get off the train. Essentially, the argument ran, due to the advent of the internet, the ease with which information can be obtained about someone has grown. Social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace, only serve to make this even easier, with everything from age, to phone number to interests listed in various forms. This ease, it was generally thought, was a bad thing.

And to some extent I agree. But only to some extent. I accept that it can be a bad thing, but, and here’s the important bit, the person responsible for their page can put as much or as little information as he or she wants. If you do not want everyone knowing that you absolutely love the Arctic Monkeys, don’t put it down. It’s simple isn’t it. The premise of the group on the train was that you simply have to put as much information down as possible, and have to make it easy for people to find out about you. This creates what the busybody termed the “public generation”. Where everything about you is available to the public to read and devour at will. The private generation was the older one (and I will generalise here by suggesting everyone over about 30) who do not live their lives through the internet or networking sites.

This whole conversation was though brought home when listening to the radio in the car. Radio 1’s Newsbeat reported that one of the adverts on Facebook was “sinister” and targeted young women, convincing them that they need to lose weight, when, in reality they are perfectly healthy. The written report is here. Young people (women especially, although not always) do seem overly sensitive to their weight, and adverts like this can have a negative effect on people who, due to the effects of puberty, exams, relationships and the media, are especially vulnerable.

Personalised adverts are not uncommon. Facebook has been using them for a while. I, for example, get adverts about how to manage my debt, telling me where to buy music tickets, and asking me whether I want to become a cricket writer. They are set to become more common, as BT and another internet company (I cannot remember the name though) are working on new technology to create specific adverts based upon your searched terms. Which I have no problem with, as long as they are responsible, and do not, like the Facebook advert, send out the wrong messages to the wrong people.

Are we the first “public” generation then? The answer is probably a yes. The real question is whether this is a bad thing. I would argue not. As long as there is a sense of intelligence to what is available, and how easily accessible this is.

The Merits of a Good Education…

9 06 2008

Summer is traditionally exam time for many thousands of students across the country. For many years they have had it drilled into them that exams are important markers in your life. Without good exam results you cannot get anywhere, and only the best results get somewhere. It is with this ethos in mind that I will watch the final of the BBC’s series The Apprentice on Wednesday.

In case you do not watch it, there are four candidates left to fill one role, namely that of the title (although I remain unclear as to exactly what the role is or indeed entails). All four candidates have, over the course of ten or so weeks proved themselves to be very able at different aspects of business, and all would be a significant gain for most multi-national corporations, in my opinion at least. Of these four candidates, two went to university (one did ‘Managerial Administrative Studies’ and the other did ‘Equine Studies’), the other two dropped out of education after their GCSE’s. As far as education goes, these appear to be (with the one exception) reasonably distant from the creme-de-la-creme of the British educational system. It is these four people who are vying for a position working with Sir Alan Sugar. It is not the guy who was the most qualified (he was fired in week one).

Obviously in the world of business, experience will get you far. Other attributes count for something rather than the letters on a page handed out in August. A rounded individual counts for something more than a person who has 5 A Levels but no other interests.

That is not to say education does not count, far from it. However, as students up and down the land are in the middle of stressing about their exams, it perhaps should be reminded to them that, despite their thoughts, exams are not the be-all and end-all that many adults like to pretend they are.

When Trash Ruled the World…

6 06 2008

So it begins. Summer is finally here. After many weeks of waiting, we need wait no longer. Sorry folks, whilst Wimbledon remains a week away, the television trash that is Big Brother has returned to occupy pretty much all of Channel 4’s programming until August.

Now I really dislike such programmes. This dislike isn’t reserved exclusively for BB, no, I dislike all reality TV. My tastes are suited to something with a bit more…effort. Cheap, easy television is, in my opinion, rubbish. Granted when BB was new, it was a revolutionary concept, an interesting social study into relationships and how people interact. Now the format is old, desperately old. Despite attempts at sprucing it up (making Big Brother more and more insanely evil, or putting in as many freaky people as is possible), the show, to my mind at any rate a sad indication of the nature of our celebrity fuelled culture.

Andy Warhol once proclaimed that everyone should have 15 minutes of fame. However, if we are to believe the television listings, the people in the new house probably get about 18 weeks of initial coverage. And then whatever else they can get, mainly through the pages of weekly gossip magazines.

Take this years batch of specially collected folk. They include a blind man and an albino guy. Is this good television? Really? To me it’s an advanced form of the olden day freak shows. The only difference is there are cameras. Offer me the chance to watch something else (even a BBC Four documentary) and I would snap your hand off to avoid watching BB.

What amazes me though is that it remains so popular. Quite why so many people avidly watch a bunch of nobodies sleeping is beyond my comprehension I’m afraid. There is nothing entertaining about it. It is a group of people. They eat, sleep and s**t. Yet so many people find this fascinating. Why? What is so enthralling about people living in a contained environment and being subjected to various mental trials? If it were guinea pigs, the animal rights protestors would have a field day.

I’m going to stop there, partly because I am annoying myself too much, and partly because I don’t want to bore you. Suffice it to say, I will strive to avoid Channel 4 for the next few months. I just wish more people thought like this, so that the programme could be cancelled due to declining viewing figures. Trouble is, they don’t.

Binge Drinking…

2 06 2008

Everyone does it. Don’t they? It is, after all, fun, sociable, and relaxing. People will consume alcohol, and the problem will probably never go away. The problems I have with binge drinking are age related ones. There has been a lot of talk over the past week or so on BULS about this issue of drinking, especially young people drinking. Two people advocate allowing young people into pubs, thereby taking them off the street, and putting into a more controlled environment, where the amount of alcohol is regulated and the bar staff have the right to refuse drinks. Whilst I can see why they think this is a good idea, I hold the opinion that this ‘solution’ doesn’t really solve anything, it’s more a sweep-it-under-the-rug tactic.

There are two problems here as I see it. Firstly, we need to work out how young is too young. Once we have established that then we need to work out what can be done about it.

Firstly then, at what age is it acceptable for young people to drink? A report by Positive Futures, cited in this article, says that 42% of the sample began drinking under the age of 13. I am sure that this is too young. In the UK it is well known that you can order alcohol with a meal in a restaurant when you are 16. This is therefore an indicator that it is thought that 16 is old enough to allow people to drink. As long as they are in a regulated environment. The bracket therefore is just three years. If 13 is too young, and 16 is old enough, what about 14 or 15? Personally I would suggest that 16 is the first time you can be considered old enough to drink, therefore meaning anyone under 16 is too young, and should not be drinking.

In 2008’s report into the Statistics of Alcohol, it was found that in 2006 (the last available information) the average amount drunk in the week (by those who had drunk) prior to the survey by people aged 11-15 was 11.4 units. The survey also showed that people with emotional problems were more likely to drink. The survey highlighted that of those who had obtained alcohol, 26% had got it from friends, 23% from parents, and 20% had got someone else to buy it. Only 7% had bought it themselves. There were links found to truancy and drug use. 56% thought it was “ok to try drinking alcohol to see what it’s like” and 36% thought it fine to drink once a week. Of these, 12% of 11 year olds thought this to be the case, and 59% of 15 year olds. Also, interestingly, 53% thought their families wouldn’t mind them drinking “as long as they didn’t drink too much”.

Obviously this is only half the picture, the report does indicate that only 21% admitted to drinking alcohol in the previous week, and those who said they had never touched alcohol had risen to 45%. This latter figure, I believe does indicate some success. It does though mean that 55% of 11-15 year olds have drunk alcohol.

So why do the young people drink in the first place. I think there are three elements to it. The first is the rebellious nature of drinking under-age, coupled with peer pressure. The second is the feeling it gives to you, a sense of enjoyment, freedom and fun. Finally I would suggest that there is also an element of nothing better to do. I think these are all reasonably self explanatory, and won’t go any further into them.

What therefore needs to be done is to combat these issues. As it is nigh on impossible to solve the first two, it is only the third that I think can be dealt with, the article cited above also indicates that 46% felt better diversions were needed. That is, the young people need something to do other than drink. Whilst this will not eradicate the problem, it will, I feel, help some of the problems. Youth clubs or sports clubs would play a big part in this I think. Occupying their spare time with something other than drink is the best option.

I do not though buy into the idea that simply allowing them to go into pubs will solve problems. It is too simplistic to suggest that putting the kids into a controlled environment will go some way to solving the problems relating to young alcohol abuse. 75% of young people admitted to either getting violent or into trouble as a result of drinking. That is not an insignificant number. The article does not go into detail of where this violence or trouble takes place, most, I would expect would be on the streets, some in the home. I am sure this would continue regardless of whether they had been drinking under supervision or not, as, lets face it, they problems start when they are already drunk. If they have been refused service at a bar, it means they are drunk. Consequently they leave the pub where they were supervised and move back out onto the street, or wherever they are familiar with. Then, it is likely, they will resume causing the problems again.

I maintain the solution does not involve simply making it easier to get hold of drink. The solution is a longer term one with far wider implications. We need to do something to engage the young people, improving social relations between age groups is needed. Take them off the streets is easier said than done, but putting them into pubs? No thanks. Putting them into youth clubs, sports clubs, or indeed any other clubs, I think, is perhaps the best option.

This therefore means that there needs to be an improvement in these facilities, and this will, naturally take time. I think though, that this will be worth it in the long term. In the short term, well, I know it is easy to say, but more policing of young people is needed. Give sellers the abilities to refuse to sell to someone if they suspect it will be given to young people. And perhaps even make it more expensive to get hold of alcohol.