Last Saturday evening I was foolish enough to allow 50 London teenagers into my home and treat it as they wished. My daughter’s 18th birthday fell on the Sunday, and due to the impossibility of hiring a hall, club, disco bus or marquee for such an occasion, we resigned ourselves to her favoured option – a house party.
Friends and family decided we were very brave or very foolish, and I confess I was somewhat nervous. Our daughter attends college – admittedly this is a music college, but the impression I had was more Class of 1984 than The Kids From Fame.
By these references, you might have guessed I grew up in a very different time, the early 1980s. I also grew up in a very different place, a small Yorkshire town, but despite or because of this, most parties I attended as a teenager ended in mayhem.
At one party, the hippie whose spare room I rented with a mate was smoking dope with his friends when he noticed a chair fall past the lounge window. Going outside to investigate, he was bemused when a bed landed on his head, more so because I was one of the culprits. He then went back in to discover a punk from Halifax methodically spreading margarine across the kitchen wall.
On another occasion, a fairly posh house was methodically wrecked by uninvited guests who urinated in cupboards and stood on the turntable to see if it still revolved (answer – no). When the boy’s parents returned home, they stood transfixed by the carnage when someone vomited off a mezzanine onto their heads.
Surely, I had assumed, today’s teenagers would be worse? After all, we have all read about knife crime, drugs, drill music and the inchoate rage young people demonstrate when being misgendered. Against our daughter’s wishes, we decided to stay home and commandeer the kitchen, just to ensure no one could get at the utensils.
In the event, we needn’t have worried. Our daughter’s friends – diverse in terms of their ethnicity, sexuality and class – were to a fault friendly, funny, courteous and kind. Soon I was engaged in a conversation about Murakami with a guitarist who, unlike me, had actually read him.
My wife and I found our party “tape” – Bobby Womack, Deee-lite, Grace Jones and old school House – went down a storm. In fact, when pressed, most agreed our music was better than the modern stuff playing in the lounge – though perhaps they felt obliged to say so.
Our worst fears – that the evening would descend into some sort of riot – were quickly assuaged. At one point, hearing a loud crash from our daughter’s room, we raced upstairs to discover partygoers engaged in an energetic game of Jenga (and no, that’s not a euphemism).
When Domino’s delivered a leaning tower of pizzas everyone formed an orderly queue and thanked us for the napkins. (This was when the only mess was created – someone stood on a mayo tub). Not a glass was smashed, nor a carpet fag-burned, because the few who smoked did so in the awning we erected outside.
The other (and contradictory) perception of today’s teenagers is that they are all pious, po-faced teetotallers, and this also seems wide of the mark. One girl brought a selection of shot glasses (pity she forgot the shots), another, a fan of tequila slammers, brought her own Sierra Reposado, limes, and a pot of salt, in case we didn’t have any. Rather different to my days, when I would happily chug home-brew, sherry and on one occasion methylated spirit.
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This is not to say that everyone got drunk, or even tiddly – some, like my daughter, who never drinks or smokes, were treated as normal people, another aspect of youth culture that has changed for the better since my day.
As midnight neared, we counted down the seconds, and our daughter, now an adult, blew out candles on her cake. As her friends cheered, I found myself less worried about young people than I have been for some time.
Given the right opportunities, responsibility, and resources, I am convinced they will make ours a better, cleaner, more tolerant world. In fact, my only criticism of young people today is that they are lightweights when it comes to booze – by the night’s end my wife and I were the last ones standing. But then, we had better music.
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