My bookshop has two entrances, one of which is next to McDonald's. This means that some of the least desirable members of society use the shop as a short cut when they feel the need for a Big Mac. I can tolerate seeing spotty, tracksuited chavs marching across the floor oblivious to all the wonderful books surrounding them, but what I can't stand is their attitude. Although they are only in the shop for less than half a minute, they feel the need to shout some humorous comment about the incongruity of them being in a bookshop. Then they knock a few books off the table, just to prove how hard they are. Sometimes they climb in the window or play with the lift, which invariably breaks down shortly after.
I suppose I should be grateful. There are no knives, the abuse is mild and so far I haven't really felt threatened. Isn't this just a case of boys being boys? Perhaps, but I know that these lads cause a lot of trouble in the town and I hate their complete absence of respect for others.
Scarily, these young men share the responsibility for one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. The media like to focus on the Vicky Pollard-like single mums - baby in one hand, cigarette in the other - but it takes two to tango.
I'm not really angry with the chavs. I know that most of them have had a poor start in life and many will have suffered some form of abuse when they were young. At Feltham Young Offenders Institute, the prison officer said that the figure was around 70%.
I'm not even angry with the feckless mothers and absent fathers. After all, as Larkin wrote:
Man hands misery onto man
It deepens like a coastal shelf
But I can't accept the bleakness of Larkin's words. Three generations ago my mother's family were made up of alcoholics, gamblers and wife-beaters. My great-grandfather had no idea how many illegitimate children he had. But as social conditions improved each generation was an advance on the one before. My mother's father was only a clerk at a railway station, but he read Dickens in his spare time. My mother passed her 11+ and went to grammar school.
This is the story of thousands of families in Britain. We are in clover. Never before have so many people had so much access to education and the arts, so why is there such a huge underclass? I can understand it in grim, innercity environments, but in a genteel town in Sussex?
What's it all about, Alfie?