Anybody familiar with the Lancashire seaside resort of Blackpool will know that the town boasts three piers – the North, the Central and (wait for it) the South pier. All were constructed in the latter half of the nineteenth century and rapidly accumulated amusements to cater for the trainloads of mill workers that holidayed from the likes of Wigan and Salford.
Competition between the three piers was fierce. If one installed a helter-skelter, the others had to have the same. When the South Pier unveiled a Whack-a-Croc, the others quickly followed suit. Thus began what we know today as ‘pier pressure.’
Schoolchildren, more than slave-traffickers and drugs barons, are the cruellest things on the planet. The marauding lion that hauls down the bucking wildebeest on the plains of Serengeti is a comparative pussycat in comparison. At psychological warfare, they leave Josef Goebbels in the tuppence ha’penny place.
Even in what us old fogeys like to term ‘the good old days,’ it was ever thus. There was a kid in our class with a glass eye who we named Isaiah, because “one Isaiah than the other.” We poked fun at the kid with calipers, telling him to “hop to it,” and woe betide the boy who cried in the schoolyard.
Looking back, of course, I feel ashamed of my part in these actions, although there was no real malice in them. It is one of the great mysteries of life that the children we look down on in school are often the ones we most admire when he have matured a bit, particularly if they cut up our Micras in their Merc.
One of our classmates didn’t share our interest in pop music or football. He rarely came out to play as he had to spend a lot of his spare time helping his father with the pigs. Naturally, and with complete absence of logic, we decided he was smelly and had fleas and more or less shunned him. Now I look back, disgusted with myself for my shallowness and truly admiring the lad for his refusal to bow to peer pressure.
As a parent, I fought a long and losing battle with my children over the need to emulate Mama Cass and be in with the in crowd. I could never understand why a pair of runners with a tick costs €100 more than a pair of runners without the tick. My offers to paint a tick on their runners were met with derision, and did I not realise that they would be the only child in school without this tick? Obviously, I was the t’ick.
I have often been accused of being tighter than a fish’s rear quarters, but it seems to me that the peer pressure exerted in today’s schoolyard is more to do with money than in our day. It was our attitudes that determined coolness. A kid in tatty plimsolls who could vault the horse (ask your parents) was pretty okay – the duffer in snazzy runners was derided. Basically, anyone had the capacity to be cool, whether prince or pauper.
Nowadays, it appears that only those with reasonably well-off parents, or possible those adept at shoplifting, can escape the ridicule of being uncool. Nerdy Kid suddenly transforms into SuperCool Kid by virtue of his gym top having a silly little green crocodile on it. If he splashes Joop onto himself after the shower, his legendary status is assured.
The big difference though is that in our day, we accepted our lot. There was always one kid in the class who got a Scaletrix for Christmas. For the younger generation, a Scaletrix was a racing track with remote control cars that shot onto the carpet at the first bend. Oh yes, we envied him and even pretended to be friends with him so he’d let you have a go, but it was more than our lives were worth to go home whinging and whining to our parents that we wanted one too. We’d have got a good clip around the ear and a lecture on the value of money, and we knew it.
No, we just got on with tying our gaberdines around our necks and racing around the playground yelling the theme tune from Batman. We didn’t feel excluded because we didn’t have a Scaletrix. That’s just the way things were.
Nowadays, in a much more affluent society, with parents who strive to compensate their children for their long periods of absence, children get most of what they demand, particularly if they keep harping on about it in a wheedling voice. Parental refusal is inevitably countered with comparisons with other more enlightened parents.
My wife and I were rounded on for being the only parents in the class who would not let their daughter get her belly-button pierced until she was sixteen. Naturally I was unable to verify this assertion and would probably have been arrested if I had attempted to do so. The fact that I once told my mother just after “Pinball Wizard” came out that I was the only kid in the school wearing flat shoes is neither here nor there.
But it is a totally different world. The other day, I heard my eight year old nephew deriding another boy, not because he didn’t have a mobile phone, but because he had the wrong make. I imagine the second boy running home and complaining bitterly to his astounded parents that he wants a new phone. At eight years of age.
Yes, occasionally I thank my lucky stars I’m not young anymore.