“SOMETIMES we feel like cats,” my teenage daughter said. “You know how gardeners chase cats, putting chemicals in flowerbeds to keep them off?
“It’s the same with teenagers. We can’t even stand on the pavement because shops have devices called Mosquitoes that make a sound only we can hear. It’s horrible.”
Young people do seem unwelcome:
whether it’s ‘No skateboarding’ in Armada Way and the Hoe, locking them out of car parks (Devil’s Point), cutting down Central Park shelters so they can’t congregate, or imposing Draconian dispersal orders.
Here, as a cautionary tale, is my version of Robert Browning’s famous Pied Piper of Hamelin.
The Pied Piper of Plymouth
Plymouth Town’s in Devon,
By famous Exeter city;
The river Tamar, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the western side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost two hundred days ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.
They rode their bikes and drove their cars,
With noises fit to wake the nearly dead,
And scared the good burghers of the town
Who thought each one must be an acid-head.
With shouts and jeers they put their skateboards down,
And spun and twisted fit to burst
Around old men who shook and cursed,
And cried out loud, “By God!
That girl is listening to her iPod.
Of all the filthy louts, she’s the worst.”
At length people on the internet
To the council hall came clicking:
“Its cLEre”, they wrote, “our Mayor’s a muppet;
“And as for the council – next time we’re picking
Another lot who’ll make a better job
Of ridding us of each and every yob.
Wake up and set your brains a-racking
To find the by-laws that we’re lacking,
Or, come next May, we’ll send you packing!”
At this the Leader and Corporation
Turned to Master Keel* in consternation.
A year or more they sat in council,
Passing laws and banning pleasure,
Collars steaming, voices high and shrill,
Making sure the only leisure
Was hedged about with rules and gout –
Completely health-and-safety’d out.
And still the yobs were young and wild,
Rude and in the way – quite unlike a child
Who should be always gentle, meek and mild.
So close the car parks, raze the trees,
And bring the youngsters to their knees.
Ban their skateboards, crush their noisy cars
Without a peep from judge and jury.
Herd them! Drive them from the streets and bars
Smash park shelters and show your fury.
We gave them everything, now give them zilch,
Then watch and catch them when they try to filch.
And blame them when they meet and chatter
How dare they litter in the street and clatter?
This high-pitched sound-box will make them scatter.
Then shake your heads and curse the thugs
When the little darlings turn to drugs.
To cut my story short – don’t snigger –
One day did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat, like day and night
Was half of black and half of white,
With sharp brown eyes, each like a pin,
And black hair over swarthy skin.
Designer fuzz on cheek and chin.
Whispered in the Leader’s ear (took her hand):
“Sweet lady, are you free? My name is Brand –
Russell Brand. You’ll know me from the box.
I’m hot as mustard, cunning as a fox.
“Note that I have charm enough for thirty.
All vermin who live slimy, rank and dirty,
Will creep or crawl or fly or run,
And seek me like the shining sun.
If I can rid your town of rats
Who fight the dogs and scare the cats
Will you give me just £1,000?”
“One? We’ll give you 50,000!” said
The astonished Leader and those she led.
“But quit your rats and vermin-ating.
It’s the children we want exterminating.”
On Royal Parade the Piper strode,
With a cruel smirk upon his lips.
All those who walked and all who rode
Lined up behind those wiggling hips.
Well, you may easily guess it right.
The Piper put pipe to lips and struck a light,
And before three puffs from the pipe of Skunk,
Over North Prospect an army slunk;
Of Chav and Goth, Emo and Punk,
Skaters on their boards and dudes in shades,
Nerdy lads and well-bred Cornish maids.
You should have heard the Plymouth people
Ringing the bells till they cracked the steeple.
But then an eerie silence fell
Upon North Hill and Citadel.
And old folks walked on old folks’ feet
Wandering, blinking, down every street.
Then through the hush a whisper crept:
“He took my Johnny”, a mother wept.
“And mine. And mine. I never said, take mine.”
“He might have been a little wild
But he was just a normal child…”
*Barry Keel, the chief executive of Plymouth City Council
This article first appeared in The Herald in Plymouth in November 2007