Is the same as it ever was. Nothing to see here. Move along, please.
For the first time in a lot of years, I now have a train journey to work. It’s a nice train – a local stopping service, going the opposite way of London, which meanders picturesquely along the coast. I always get a seat and the old conductor is kind and friendly (and has been known to hold the train for a few seconds if he sees me or anyone else running frantically late in the morning, sprinting flappily for the closing doors).
The only time the train gets busy at that time of the morning is for the last twenty minutes or so of my journey. At the stop before mine, hordes of school children flock onto the train. The girls from the girls’ school in their navy blue uniforms, the boys in bottle green, all senior-school age.
The other day, when the train was so crowded that many people were standing, a seat became unexpectedly free. With people standing all around, the teenage boy sitting opposite used the seat to put his feet up – it obviously not occurring to him that other people might want to sit down. He had to be asked to move his muddy trainers, which he did very grudgingly and impolitely, so that a lady could sit down.
That’s the problem with teenagers today – they are all so self-involved, they have no concept of other people or the outside world, no empathy, no manners.
Except, um, it’s not.
That same day, I was bodily pushed out of the way by a middle-aged man in a suit, just so that he could get on the train before me. There’s a woman about my age who infuriates me every single evening by barging past people to get her regular seat.
Nobody uses them as examples of why middle-aged men are bringing down the world, or that the standards of professional women of around 30 are slipping disgracefully.
I’ve noticed this double-standard at work a worrying amount. Old ladies now talk on their mobile phones loudly in a busy train carriage – and people look on fondly, like this is hilarious – but if someone under 21 does the same, people roll their eyes and look pained. Like clearly this is why the world is going to hell in a handcart – a handcart, I tell you.
Teenagers are bloody lovely. They bring me joy every morning as I eavesdrop on their conversations (examples from this very morning: ‘Cleo so fancies Josh’ and ‘your family are Bible-bashers, right?’ each followed by intense discussions on said subject) and observe their complicated hairstyles. Sometimes, conceptually, I worry that they’re so different from previous generations – with their iPhones and their premature confidence and their reality TV – and then I am always pleased to notice that they are exactly the same as we ever were, only – let’s face it – just a tiny bit better. The girls still have weirdly thick-looking waists from rolling their skirts over in order to shorten them. The boys try to look tougher than they are. They swear self-consciously and often slightly incorrectly. But I’m sure they are all much prettier and more articulate than me and most of my class were.
If that’s not enough to convince you, then think hard about what you used to do on public transport as a teenager. No, really hard and not the stuff you want to remember…
OK, I’ll start. When I was fifteen, I used to snog my boyfriend in full public view on a Saturday afternoon on the train between Bourne End and Maidenhead. Usually while half a dozen friends looked on, bored. None of us had a ticket because it was in the few seconds before they installed gates at every single station. If there was no-one around, Vicky would smoke a fag. There’s a chance someone might have had a can of beer on the go. The boys would be noisy, and Ali and I would be gossiping inanely about boys (in between kissing them).
Yeah, we were obnoxious. But we’re all – mostly, to my knowledge – OK, functional human beings now. Easy to forget sometimes, yeah?