True Gripes: Seen and herd: Teen tribes make holidays a nightmare

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With the school holidays about to end, I'm looking forward to life returning to some sort of normality. Don't get me wrong. I love children, the little darlings - it's just that sometimes I feel like Noel Coward, famously intolerant of badly behaved brats. Driven to distraction by a movie star's hopelessly indulged offspring, the playwright proposed giving the boy a Christmas present of a chocolate-covered hand-grenade.

Round our way, it's at the swimming pool that you first realise school's out with a vengeance. Adults calmly swimming laps are dive-bombed by nine-year-olds whose leaps threaten to compress one's skull on the pool floor.

Having endured the kicking, scratching and punching, and queues for the showers, one is met in the changing rooms with a barrage of ear-splitting shrieks and the kind of language which would make Ben Elton blush. These days they do answer back. The other day I saw a seven-year-old sitting on an open window ledge on the seventh-floor of our block of flats. When I told him to get down, he and his older sister came over to rap my shins with bits of stick. I left them to their suicidal play.

Shortly after, I watched a girl come careering down the Tube escalator on her skates. Against my better judgment, I said, 'Don't come running to me if you break your leg.' 'I wasn't thinking of coming to you,' she retorted.

But it's out on the street that the danger really lies, with screeching skate-boarders or chuckers of explosive crackers, and street-corner gatherings which last into the night.

Don't these kids have homes to go to? Or are their parents just relieved to have a few hours of peace to themselves? By late August the teen tribes - with their peculiar mutated wolf whistles and tagging pens - are running amok. Recently I watched as a passing posse wrought havoc along our street, setting off car and office alarms, setting fire to a skip, and smashing a few bottles for good measure. Their wake of destruction was followed minutes later by bemused fire brigade and police.

Urban dystopias and lack of facilities notwithstanding, I find it hard to imagine that I might ever have joined one of these careening under-age hordes.

As I say, I'm not anti-child, although they usually have to be under five to engage my goodwill; after that, when usefully employed at school, they're fine in small doses. But let the cages of education open and the most liberal tolerance levels plummet to a misanthropic low.

At such moments I turn again to the Master's words.

When asked his opinion of a play which featured an infant thespian, Coward advised: 'Cut the last scene, and the child's throat.'

Thank heavens for September, when the streets of London will be safe again.

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