I live in a nice middle class town. The upcycling shops and bespoke Chelsea bun bakers spread cinnamon and freshly tarnished nostalgia across the streets. Like many nice middle class towns, not everyone is middle class, but we don’t like to talk about that. Behind the Paramount studios facade, the overalled people mop and drive, so best to stay in front of the canvas. We have a youth centre. Last night, I took a decidedly minor part in a fundraiser for it before the band came on and mixed soul classics with Fleetwood Mac and Katrina and the Waves. I have seen gigs by those who hang around the youth centre forming bands of punk and ska and pop and punkskapop, and they are brilliant.
the sort of brilliance that reminds you of just how much you can’t do and how glad you are that others can.
The youth centre is also a place where the invisible, but solid, bricks between cultures and classes can slip. Despite living in “a classless society” and a “meritocracy”, many of us don’t silkily float from culture to culture on a daily basis, sometimes we are forced to clumsily meet “the others” due to a rewiring necessity or doorstep delivery.
The clunkiness and nervousness of conversations between classes and cultures has not slipped away with the 21st century. We still huddle with “our own”.
Therefore, anything that can break the bonds of each possible monoculture seems something worth striving for. The much maligned “multicultural experiment” (whatever that was, whoever keeps banging on about that forgot to set up a control group) has no choice but to be ongoing. Whatever the hungry desire for “border control”, the planet shrunk by rapid communication demands that you must try to empathise and understand the humans that aren’t necessarily from down your way.
My own middle classness can hamper my imagination. It is very easy for me to think that I have had “the mean average western human experience” in my upbringing and opportunities. But I have checked my privilege in the past and see that I have almost enough stamps on my loyalty card for a pony and two holidays a year in Cornwall. The politicians, the broadcasters, the producers, may have experienced a level of comfort and opportunity that we don’t realise not everyone has had. We may not realise that others don’t even think they can be a comedian, poet or undergraduate. This is why one of the organisations we give money to from the Christmas shows at Hammersmith with Brian Cox, is a scholarship fund for people who will be the first in their family to go to university.
Youth centres, as well as giving teenagers something to do beyond sitting at the war memorial drinking cider (I realise it is probably no longer the war memorial as the venue of choice or cider as the drink of choice, but I am 45, and my cultural references are aged), helps battle against the possible Dulux magnolia culture that will rein if it just people like me in making the art and forming the pop folk bands.
Culture is impoverished if it is only the comfortable who believe they can create it.
(it is that lack of variety of experience that leads to complacency where the cheeky, “it’s just a gay joke/misogynistic gag bla blah blah, no one cares anymore because the women and homosexuals and beggars are all equal now, at least they are in the bit of my town between my drive and my big car” columnists, pundits and phone in impresarios, and also that insularity that leads to so many being able to define themselves as “the real victims here”)
Perhaps, when I make that decision to broaden my horizons, I shouldn’t go to some spiritual beach in an Asian country where the mystics live and the temples glow, but I should walk a little out of my own town, where the cinnamon smell peters out and the broken bikes are not in shop windows as collectors items and possible art.
(mind you, most days I just want to stay in my loft and look through the skylight. It doesn’t happen, I am typing this sat on the floor by a train toilet as usual for a Sunday journey).
If we want a vibrant civilisation, then we need to encourage as broad a group as possible to feel they can create something, and that is exactly what the youth centre in my town, and hopefully the one that is in yours, is doing.
I am traveling to a town near you – Bristol, Henley, Southport Nottingham, Bridgwater, Goole, Manchester and on and on http://www.robinince.com for details
this is the youth centre I have typed about http://www.swanyouthcentre.co.uk
next tour show is in Bristol – http://www.thecomedybox.co.uk/site/index.asp
and doing a talk in Worthing http://worthing.skepticsinthepub.org/Event.aspx/2264/Anniversary-Celebration