I’ve never been scared of teenagers. I was one once myself and I was about as frightening as a feather knife.
But on Saturday night, I found myself more than a little afraid.
The evening was going swimmingly enough. We’d put our three kids to bed, broke open Series 2 of my Sopranos box set, and settled down to a dinner of steak and chips.
And then we heard screaming and shouting outside our window.
‘Kids,’ I said, looking at my wife.
But the shouting got louder and more aggressive, which was followed by the sound of bottles breaking. And what at first sounded like half a dozen voices, now sounded like the equivalent of a football crowd.
We live on a busy through-street, so I thought these were just teenagers passing through on their way to somewhere else. But they didn’t move on. They stayed. Past 9pm, past 10pm, past 11pm.
At midnight I said to my wife: ‘This is getting beyond a joke.’
And then, sounding like the Old Fart I’ve become, added: ‘Where do their parents think they are at this time of night?’
I looked outside and saw around 30 teenagers – aged around 15-16, a mix of boys and girls, white and black. They were standing in the road, some of them jostling each other; others stumbling into cars. A few bottles were dropped and smashed.
I couldn’t work out why they were there, except the fact they were congregating around and in the front yard of a house that has been up for sale and empty for a while. And then I remembered that a teenage girl lived in the house next door to it. Two and two together = Parents Away Facebook Party.
There was no loud music. No criminal damage (from what I could see). There was no malevolence, aside from the rutting boy stags showing off in front of the girls.
But there was just lots and lots of noise. Inconsiderate noise.
‘Where else can teenagers that age go on a Saturday night?’ my wife reasoned.
And I could see her point.
But by now, all three of our kids – aged ten, seven and four – were awake and wondering what the noise was.
It was time for the Man Of The House to take action.
I went outside, stood across the road and had a good, long stare at the protagonists.
One-to-one, I could see that they would all be nice kids. But they were drunk and lairy. They had that look about them that even if I’d been ‘Excuse Me, Lads, But Would You Mind Keeping The Noise Down I’ve Got Kids In Bed’ reasonable, at least one, and probably more, would have felt the need to tell me to go procreate with myself as a way of showing off to their peers.
As I weighed up the situation, I remembered newspaper headlines of dads asking lads to Keep The Noise Down, and paying for it with their lives. I remembered a story last week of a young man who asked some other men to stop vandalising a street bin. And ending up paying for it with his life.
So instead of Getting Involved, I found myself Backing Away. I began to reason that if no other neighbours were being bothered by this rabble, then why was I?
And ultimately, I concluded, I was actually rather scared – afraid of the kind of boys I once was and no doubt the kind of boys my sons will one day become.
I went back inside and turned the volume up as Tony Soprano beat the daylights out of someone who had wronged him. And I couldn’t help thinking: ‘What would HE have done?’