The world appears to have gone insane. Not a little bit try-hard “Oh, I’m so kooky – look at me!”, but full-blown “Get thee to an asylum” mad. I say this because strange things are occurring with society’s treatment of Yoof (for you educated folk who are above such terminology, this pertains to ‘Youth’, but in Estuary English). They are being encouraged to perfect utterly routine tasks by means of bestowing records of achievement upon them, which is nearly as patronising as David Cameron’s ‘Care Bear’ approach to teen management.
I shall set the scene with two examples:
Exhibit A: My nephew – who, for the purposes of this article, I will refer to as ‘James’ (largely because that is his name).
James is a seventeen-year-old boy from Stoke-on-Trent. In order to earn a bit of extra cash, he has got a job at a local pub. So far, this seems reasonable. However, he has just been required to participate in a course which teaches him how to answer a phone. Now I may be some form of telecommunications prodigy, but I was able to competently pick up a telephone and speak into it from a fairly early age (parental consensus pending on exact year). Some more precocious than I may even have been able to accurately interpret what was said to them and convey a message to its intended recipient. So the reason for a person more than a decade older needing to be specifically taught this most mundane of activities completely eludes me. Even someone with the barest modicum of intelligence would probably realise that opening a conversation with “Fuck off” is probably not the best way to gain custom for the establishment that pays your wage. Presumably, some Ministry of Daft Ideas has decided that teenage employees of public houses are the council estate equivalent of Bethlehem’s most infamous inn-keeper, and – after a particularly fruitful pub lunch – decided that such a scheme might help raise them to the dizzying heights of call-centre etiquette.
Exhibit B: A boy named Bobby, from Bury (believe it or not, the alliteration there was actually unintentional.)
Bobby was recently awarded a certificate for having competently achieved the most momentous of undertakings: he successfully boarded a bus, paid his fare, and allowed it to bear him away to the unknown pleasures of a different part of Greater Manchester. This is all very impressive; the fifteen-year-old has since moved onwards and upwards from this experience to become Head Boy at his school. Clearly the way he managed to ascend the steps of the vehicle “in a calm and safe manner” (as detailed in the assessment criteria) particularly impressed his peers. As his father said, “We think he may go far.” I can only hope his tongue was positively tearing through his cheek at the time.
The strange thing about this occurrence (aside from the obvious) is that he had not even signed up to be graded on his performance in such an endeavour. It seems that a representative from the awarding body (who, incidentally, is the AQA – England’s largest exam board) was simply lurking about at bus stops with a notepad and camera, watching unsuspecting teenagers blundering their way around the unfamiliar territories of their hometown. What is more worrying is that to have completed a truly exemplary trip on a bus, one must have boarded the correct number and alighted at the correct stop. In order to invigilate this properly, it is only logical that someone, somewhere, is employed to stalk young people on public transport. Sinister.
Bobby, at least, has enough sense not to accord an undue sense of gravitas to his certificate – he reportedly “fell about laughing” upon its delivery, and “[hasn’t] bothered framing it”.
But all this leads me to wonder why I, as yet, have been awarded nothing of the kind. I regularly catch the 34 bus, yet still nothing. Perhaps it’s because I keep ending up on University Park Campus rather than the Maldives (which is where I usually aim for), or maybe I simply do not deliver my £1.50 into the box with sufficient aplomb. Either way, I am smarting from the lack official recognition I feel is due to me.
But what other insane qualifications now exist? Is there, perchance, a test for wiping your arse in a manner deemed appropriate by society (not using a kitten, for instance), wherein you progress to the coveted level of Advanced Wiper at which point you can victoriously flit between Andrex’s Super-Duper-Quilted-Kiss-Your-Butt-Good-Morning and Public Toilets’ This-is-Barely-Crêpe-Paper toilet tissue without immediately breaking through the latter in a thoroughly debasing manner (the trick, incidentally, is the patented Horizontal Fold). This, sadly, is not as far-fetched as it seems. There are already other awards for using a café, dressing and undressing, washing hands and ‘making’ a cold drink.
Will future employers scan a CV including such things, gaze in wonder upon the veritable plethora of testaments to human achievement typed on the page before them and think, “Yes – this is the employee for me”; or will they simply invite you to interview, note that you are not entirely devoid of mental cogency, and permit you to pick up their telephone without requiring the comfort blanket of knowing that you are appropriately trained to do so?
What if, in fact, when the time comes for us to stop sponging off the government and make a living, companies are more impressed that we’ve been coached in how to survive the dark world of public transport than they are by the fact that we know The Iliad by heart, can recite an hour’s worth of Pi, or speak three languages?
As Radio 4’s The Now Show reliably informs me, “We’re doomed.”