Youths who are bored cause trouble

2011-08-11 07:42

In 2001 Northeast London, living was easy. Or at least that’s how it looked to us post-university South Africans who landed at Heathrow airport with nothing but a working-holiday visa and an address in Walthamstow – the dodgy northeastern part of the British capital.

For us, the luxury that the British government afforded its youngsters was breathtaking.

Teenage pregnancy was not shameful or really even regretted the way it would be in South Africa.

In Walthamstow, High Street 17-year-olds strutted proudly with a baby carriage – some holding two toddlers – and a bulging tummy.

I used to admire the diversity of British society when one toddler was white and the other black. Wow, I used to think, this is what society should be like.

Young men were also in no rush to get on with life – life right here was entirely comfortable.

Most of them could live with their parents in three-bedroom homes with enough electricity, water, food and satellite television to keep them going indefinitely.

Teenage mothers were given preferential treatment wherever they went and received free healthcare. With the grants they received for their kids, they could afford fresh food from the Walthamstow market and frozen foods from the popular Iceland, where frozen pizzas always went for less than £1 (R11.50) for four.

After baby formula and clothes there seemed to be enough money left over to keep mom kitted out in the latest Gap tracksuit and funky hairstyle, with makeup to boot.

Work and further education was an option rather than a necessity, because all the basics were covered, even the ever-present chewing gum and MP3 player.

My friends and I, who were poor to the point of feverishly calculating the Rand-value of every Coke we bought, found it fascinating that for others our age, simply born in a different country, life could be so good.

But of course it could not stay like that forever. Too much time and too little ambition brought boredom, and that is what gave Walthamstow its dodgy reputation. Youths who are bored cause trouble.

In Walthamstow, they killed the boredom by waiting at the tube station to accost a late-night traveller for some cash to buy a packet of cigarettes.

Groups of hoodie-clad types guzzling Becks beer would loiter around shopping centres, glaring at anyone who would come too close.Now, 10 years later, we know what they were waiting for – a spark that would unleash years of frustration about having everything to keep alive, but too little to live a life.

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