Outdoor evening practice in the winter for no1 son’s football club means a trip to another town. It’s not a popular duty and so parents band together. I take my turn every fourth week.
While I spend a lot my time around kids, the commute there and back each month is a different kind of exposure. I experience them up close, interacting on their own terms.
Each journey I’m reminded how life amongst peers for boys is a struggle for oneupmanship. At times it’s physical as blows are exchanged and throttling manoeuvres essayed on the back seat. Other times it’s blatant belittling and mocking. In these journeys I’m monitoring for a fair distribution of animosity, to make sure no individual is bearing the brunt.
But it does remind me of my school days, where the safest tactic was pre-emptive mocking. If you weren’t speaking derisively of somebody else, you’d risk being the object of scorn.
This year, my passengers are all grammar school boys. A different group of no1 son’s friends and a big reduction in aggression. But the oneupmanship is still the thread of every conversation. Music, computer games, TV, football, films, even schoolwork are dealt with in a series of position statements, usually escalating in whatever value is deemed important. There’s no exchange or synthesis or growth, but a trade in positions, a jostling for hierarchy. One subject seems to have primacy, appears most capable of defining status: mobile phones. It’s not the phone each lad owns that is the determinant, but what they know about their own, each others’ and their mates’ devices. Knowledge and the convincing articulation of things ‘known’ are their currency.
And if that sounds too precious for a group of boys travelling to and from football training, let it be understood that they are never more than one careless sphincter away from raucous celebration and condemnation of their flatulence.