Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
You always feel the pull of home. Even after 37 years living overseas, 6000 miles away, the siren call is there. But it’s a home seen through a prism of nostalgia. I grew up in Hull in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of industrial strife, power cuts and the ever present cold war. Even as a teenager I understood we could all die in a flash of light. And yet, the memories that linger are of long summer holidays, walking the Yorkshire Moors. Even the hum of RAF Fyingdales early warning radar couldn't detract from the majesty of the moors. Then Spurn Point with its big Holderness sky on one side and the North Sea on the other. An endless strip of sand for exploring. Halcyon days.
I benefitted from the best years of the comprehensive system of schooling. Full funding, passionate teachers using the modern facilities given us. Chemistry labs, workshops, a full-size theatre, swimming pool and sports grounds. My school wanted for nothing. I reckon my cohort of students was amongst the luckiest.
This was before Thatcher slashed funding. Before the politicians started playing their endless games with exams and assessments. I left with a decent clutch of ‘A’ levels, also a sense of purposes that I could take on any challenge.
Yet, even then many in my school faced bleaker options. A good number left as soon as they could. Some to work and others to loiter at the gates. Lost souls. By the age of 15, I was witnessing girls go, because ‘she’s got a bun in the oven’. Talented girls who’d done better than me in language class, who’d excelled in drama. Then in a sudden, it's all stopped. She’s now a mother to be. Nine months later these girls hung around the school gates with their bairns. You sense their frustration. It's palpable, hanging in the air.
So it's sad that this summer, as I cycled through my old estate, the same forlorn girls are still pushing prams. The clothes aren't much different. Track suit bottoms or tights and an upper garment shielding any remaining dignity. These days a mobile phone joins the apparel. That’s about the only thing that references the modern world. O yes, the prams are now jazzier and some even double decker. Vicky Pollard incarnate, without the laughs.
Also in tow, is a dad. Well, dad to one of the kids. Baseball cap, tracksuit bottoms topped with football shirt. The uniform of the urban chav. He’ll probably also have a few poor quality tattoos. He’s perfected that ‘Liam Gallagher’ walk … lean back slouch and arrogant posture. Of course, he doesn’t have a job. Never had one. He did work at Asda once but got laid off for nicking stuff.
It’s depressing because girls who have a teenage pregnancy are twice as likely to live in poverty. Plus teenage pregnancy is associated with higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Then we’ve got the whole missing father issue linked to juvenile delinquency and crime.
What strikes me, is that despite decades of social policy, nothing has changed. These people are locked in a spiral. Shifting and absent fathers, with progeny of doubtful origins. Something is not working. We know that your parents influence how you grow up. Given this situation how do we break the cycle? I’m struggling on that one.
I found even having an honest discussion about this is difficult. Any suggestion that these people need pull themselves up draws roars of criticism. There victims, who need to be molly-cuddled with support. Of course, as an affluent white man, I’m immediately classified as insensitive or worse. My credentials improve when I mention I'd grown up in a terraced house with an outside toilet. In a single bed shared with two bedwetting brothers, I opted to sleep at the shallow end. Then I crash and burn because as an ex-cop I’m a fascist. That’s the level of the debate.
Now on my travels, I don’t see the same issue of teenage mums perpetuating social decline. Japan, Singapore and South Korea have about eliminated teenage pregnancy. But rates of sexual intercourse before marriage are high. So the kids are having sex but not getting pregnant. The Nordic countries have low rates, Italy and Spain do well. Whilst the United States and the UK have teenage pregnancy rates amongst the highest.
Whether policy propagates this situation is hard to say. In the UK girls with kids get homes and state support. I get the sense that politics rather than the practicalities of life take priority. No body wants to criticise, people are victims of their circumstances. Thus not accountable. Having said that, they must accept some responsibility for contraception. Why boys and girls can’t be told about contraception at the age that urges start is beyond me. It’s evident to me that a failure to communicate effectively, to be honest with kids, is part of the challenge.
I had the discussion with my two girls at an early age. I pointed out that condoms aren’t 100% effective, that's why I’m here (Sorry, Mum but I had to share that). And then we covered the fact that even one time is enough to get pregnant. I insisted on meeting their boyfriends. Usually, I’d have my revolver on the table for cleaning. I’d mention that in our household we believe in the barrier method of contraception … and I’m the barrier. Joking aside, have that conversation. The kids will squirm. They will hate you for it … at the time. Later, they will thank you.
How do I end this? Well, someone has got to have a conversation with girls to empower them to protect themselves. Having a kid as a teenager is not usually a great idea. The evidence suggests it doesn't have good outcomes. Abstinence is not going to happen. Christopher Hitchens best-captured what is needed. I leave it to him.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.